When I leave here to go home I feel different. Taller and more confident in myself. There is a glow about me.

Stephen Passfield, a retired MoD engineer, is not a typical day club volunteer. For a start he is a man, and here are far too few of them in dementia day care, even though around half the members of Alzheimer’s Support’s three day clubs in Wiltshire are male.

The clubs, Mill Street in Trowbridge where Stephen volunteers, Sidmouth Street in Devizes and Old Silk Works in Warminster, each have their distinct 'personalities', but all are relaxed, happy environments where people living with all types of dementia find camaraderie, take part in small group activities and enjoy a whole day out while their husbands, wives and wider families take a break from caring. 

Stephen came to the club after the pandemic, looking for more structure and purpose in his life after the isolation of Covid.

He said: “After the second lockdown I was not sure what to do with myself, and to be honest I was feeling a bit down. I looked at the Wiltshire Council website for volunteering and saw this and another opportunity with a different charity. I talked to Annie [Alzheimer’s Support’s dedicated volunteer manager] first and she went through the options here and the day clubs appealed. Then I came to Mill Street and met the manager Sharon who snapped me up and I haven’t looked back. I come in every Friday and it is something I wouldn’t miss now.

“My mother had dementia and she was in a care home before she died, so I had had some experience of people with dementia as there were others there too that I saw.

Starting to volunteer at Mill Street Club

“When I came to Mill Street I realised it was so different to that care home environment. With my mum I had tried to treat her as normally as possible, as a human being first and to not worry about the dementia too much. That doesn’t happen everywhere but it is what happens here in the club. Everyone is respectful and we have a lot of laughs, it’s all in good humour and everyone does get on so well.

“When I started the group was much quieter as it was still building up after Covid. Now there are more men and we have the group doing practical projects and people join in more. 

“I am aware that most of the other club volunteers are women, and that caring is often seen as traditionally women’s role but here the volunteer role is all about making connections and companionship. We have a group of men here on a Friday who particularly enjoy practical activities and I tend to support with that, our mini Men's Shed we call it. It’s nice for the men to have another bloke to chat to and to help them. The ladies are great too – I do get teased a bit but it is all in good heart."

Joining the team as a day club volunteer

Stephen is part of a team of more than 16 regular volunteers who give their time to support members in Mill Street Club, and similar teams work in the charity’s sister clubs. Their contribution is essential to creating the relaxed atmosphere where every member has genuine choices of activity and virtual one-to-one attention. 

“The staff here do rely on the volunteers to do day the day-to-day stuff. Teas and coffee, clearing up the place, we take the initiative if someone needs something and we can bring our own ideas for activities. It’s very light touch and we all support each other.

“It has made me come out of myself. On my second week Sharon got me up in the middle of the room saying ‘Stephen is going to demonstrate the Superman song’ - well there is no going back from that. What happens in Mill Street stays in Mill Street, we like to say!

“Volunteering here has made me happier. When I leave to go home I feel different. Taller and more confident in myself and there is a glow about me.  I am always learning stuff from the members. Like John who used to work at the town museum. It is so interesting to hear what they got up to in their lives and to see a bit more of the person they have always been.

“Then there is all the banter and leg pulling. The other day I was bending down to look at a pipe in the corner of the room and there was Brenda who must be well into her 80s creeping up to put a bag of frozen sprouts down my back!

“Grant (Alzheimer’s Support’s head of day care) said to me when I started ‘if you’re still here after two weeks, you’ll be with us forever’.

"I think that may be true.”

Stephen with two ladies at Mill Street Club 

More about Alzheimer's Support's day clubs

Become a day club volunteer

More about volunteering at Alzheimer's Support