25th May 2021

For Sharon Cooper, returning to work for Alzheimer’s Support after more than a decade, has been ‘like coming home’.

The new manager at Mill Street Club in Trowbridge started working at the charity’s first day club, Polebarn House, just three weeks after it opened in 1999. She left the charity more than a decade ago to pursue a career in care home management, and has now returned to take the helm at Mill Street which replaced Polebarn six years ago.

“I love what we do here. It’s relaxed, it’s small scale, we have such good ratios that we can truly engage with our club members. Polebarn was a fantastic concept when it opened back in the 90s. Now it’s grown and developed into this wonderful setting, with that same core idea of family, and normality and still doing stuff and having a good time together. Here people have the freedom to be themselves.”

Changing perceptions of dementia

The club welcomes 10 members at a time for a day of stimulation, small group activities and plenty of conversation, including quiet chats and cuddles with club’s therapy whippets Dottie and Higby. And as the club has developed over time, so Sharon can see the difference in how society now views dementia.

“There is more understanding now. People are more respected and that is because of organisations like Alzheimer’s Support which promote the idea that dementia does not have to be the end of the line. People still have so much potential. We knew it then and now it’s a more mainstream understanding, which is fantastic.

“I’ll always remember at Polebarn when they pulled the old Police Station down and built the new one. We watched the progress from the club and when it was ready I went over and asked if we could have a look around. So our members got the full guided tour – even before the divisional commander had seen it! We were always on the look out for ways to stay part of the community. Here we invite the community in and I’m looking forward to having more visitors once lockdown lifts.

“The biggest difference with Polebarn is that we have volunteers in the club. They are amazing. They add so much to what we can offer and are such an important part of our team, I can’t praise them enough.”

Empathy for family carers

Sharon’s background gives her a genuine empathy with family carers. She became a child carer at the age of 14 when she was sent from Australia to Scotland to care for her grandmother who had dementia.

That early experience awakened an interest in care as a career. She travelled as a Forces wife and later took a domestic job at Bradford on Avon hospital as a way into the sector. After leaving Polebarn, Sharon worked in care homes, most recently at Staverton House and she relishes the thought of returning to the charity where management is still balanced with a hands-on caring role.

Her father, still in Australia, now has dementia and Sharon keeps in touch with daily phone calls. “He is quite independent and has support, and we talk every day. But I know first hand how tough it is for carers and I understand how difficult it can be. We’re here to make a difference for them and it is so rewarding to be part of that.”