‘Talking to others who understand is a blessing’

Shouts of victory and peals of laughter echo around the room as an avalanche of blue and red balls fly through the air.

“Yes!” says Tina, doing a little jig. “I’ve scored!” She leans over to her husband, Keith, and gives him a smack on the lips. “Brilliant,” he replies, grinning.

We are with Friendship At Home, at the regular Thursday morning Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) group. This week, special guests Neil and Jane from 2020 Community Sport are leading a session of soft bowls – perfect for hand-eye co-ordination, gentle exercise, and a whole lot of rivalry… all friendly, of course!

“I’m going to beat the lot of you,” cheers Tina, winking. Later, she tells us how finding the charity has been a blessing following Keith’s diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But for now, she’s concentrating on the game in hand…

It’s Dementia Action Week (May 16-22), and as sponsors of Friendship At Home’s St Hugh’s Project – which funds two dementia care specialists and activities – we are here to learn more about Cognitive Stimulation Therapy, and how it makes a difference.

Mandy Sparkes, one of those specialists, a Dementia Community Support Worker, explains. “The CST group is one of Friendship At Home’s newest and is funded by St Hugh’s Hospital. This type of therapy is evidence-based and is separate to the medication side of things; this is really good for dementia as not all medication is suitable for people with the condition.

“CST sounds really posh but it’s basically brain exercise, so we do activities that stimulate different parts of the brain and also some element of physical exercise, too – all designed to get the blood rushing to the lungs and really gets things going. We also carry out orientation therapy, which is talking about how things were in the past – which really engages people as it’s what they relate to – and then compare the past to how things are today… things like how much a bag of sweets cost when they were little and how much they are now. It really orientates people, which is really good for the brain.

“This is a really competitive group. They’re a great bunch of people and love pitching themselves against each other. They really get involved and that’s lovely to see.”


Mandy isn’t kidding when she says this… today’s group are competing in pairs to become the soft bowls champion – the prize, a coveted bar of chocolate. And they’re in good hands: Neil Wheeler and Jane Mansfield, who make up 2020 Community Sport, are the perfect tutors. Neil has a background in cricket and Jane is a qualified bowls coach.

“The benefits of soft bowls to the kind of people who attend this group are numerous,” said Neil. “It takes hand-eye coordination and grip to bowl, for a start, and then there’s the fact that we are exercising without really noticing, not to mention that it’s also just great fun! It’s almost health by stealth.”

“The idea is gentle movement and keeping people active,” Jane added. “We are privileged to do what we do. It’s a joy.”

The pair founded 2020 Community Sport, a not-for-profit community interest company, in 2014. It’s based in Grimsby but works all around the county and further afield, delivering a wide variety of inclusive activities and sports, both indoor and outdoor, for all ages. They have all the kit they need to bring the games to whatever organisation needs it; in this case, a large bag full of bowls and some ‘high score wedges’… and it’s safe to say it’s going down very well indeed.

June Dadd and Ruby Jackson, both 89 and from Grimsby, have become firm friends since June joined Friendship At Home following the pandemic lockdowns. “It’s a good bit of fun, bowling,” says June, as Ruby nods in agreement. It’s the first time 2020 Community Sport has visited the CST group. “Yes,” adds Ruby, “I want to win!”

Other participants include husband and wife team Christine and Alan, Friendship At Home regulars. But of course, it’s not about the winning but the participation… and the game ends with a big cheer all-round for everyone involved. After all the soft bowls excitement and a tea break, the group resumes with a game of bingo and reminiscing, using images and other documents relating to the many theatres which used to operate in Grimsby and Cleethorpes.

We take the opportunity to catch up with Tina Mitchell and her husband, Keith. They joined Friendship At Home late last year, after Keith was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The couple live in Grimsby now but met in Rugby, where Tina worked as a barmaid at the pub Keith was a regular at.

“We met 23 years ago, and we’ve been married for 19,” Tina grins. “I had a twinkle and he had an itch, as we like to say! Keith was a lorry driver, and I would travel with him, to Europe and all over. We’ve had some great times.

“When Keith was diagnosed, I didn’t know where to turn. There are so many things you’re not told about; private things you have to deal with as the spouse of someone with this kind of diagnosis.

“Then I was told about this group and how it aids mental stimulation, and we gave it ago. We’d never look back now – Keith loves it here, and so do I. I wish I’d heard of Friendship At Home sooner, but I’m just very glad we are here now. It gives Keith the support he needs, and I get it, too – just being able to talk to people who understand and have experienced similar is a blessing.”

Mandy added: “The CST group is a great success, and we are delighted with it. It’s going from strength to strength.”

For more information about joining Friendship At Home and/or participating in the CST group, call the charity on 01472 602500, email admin@friendshipathome.org.uk, or visit www.friendshipathome.org.uk

Get in touch with 2020 Community Sport and find out more about Neil and Jane at www.2020communitysport.com

To find out more about Dementia Action Week, from the Alzheimer’s Society, visit www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-involved/dementia-action-week