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“An absolute, total lifeline”: Parson Cross Memory Café thrives on Zoom

12 months ago, the Parson Cross Forum’s Memory Café, for people with dementia and their carers, had to move online. I joined in with their one-year celebrations.

Memory Cafe

Parson Cross Forum Memory Cafe meets on Zoom.

Parson Cross Forum Memory Cafe

Slotting between a singer and a game of bingo, I talked to the staff and attendees of Parson Cross Forum’s Memory Café during a celebration of 12 months of Zoom sessions. Three times a week, people with dementia and their carers have been gathering online to chat, keep each other’s spirits up, and give and receive support.

Prior to the Covid lockdowns, the Memory Café met at the Parson Cross Forum building on Margetson Crescent, led by Louise Ashmore and Louise Askew. It was group member Howard’s idea to move the group to Zoom, at a time when members of staff hadn’t even heard of the platform.

Howard himself lives with dementia and has become a campaigner for people with the diagnosis.

Before the pandemic. The forum was family, extended family”, he said. “And unlike a lot of organisations, especially bigger ones, they haven't shut down. They didn't just embrace the Memory Cafés on Zoom, they expanded their services. They've listened to members.

Other members were just as complimentary. Nigel said:

One thing about Zoom is that if we hadn't got it, we wouldn't hear from anybody until after six o'clock, because all my family's working. It'd be a land of silence. But three days a week, we've got Zoom so we can chat with everybody.

Keeley May

Keeley May sings on Zoom for Parson Cross Forum Memory Cafe.

Parson Cross Forum Memory Cafe

In fact, despite Memory Café members missing physical contact and the cooked breakfast the Forum normally provides, the move online has even had some benefits compared to in-person meetings because rather than only speaking to the people sitting next to them, members are talking to everybody who attends. Gordon said:

My wife passed away two years ago now. Prior to that, we used to go [to the group] regularly [...] After she passed away, without this café and the support I got from them, I don’t know what I’d have done without them.


It’s been a fantastic support for me. And while we’ve been on Zoom, it’s broadened your field of friends, because we used to sit on the same table and now we talk to everyone and we’ve still got the support there. It’s been a great thing.

David, who has had to seriously limit who he is in contact with due to being “bubbled” with his parents, also appreciates the community and friendship the group offers.

This Zoom is the only time I ever see anybody really, apart from my parents.


Just to see people's faces, to listen to people talk, it's made a massive difference to me. I don't know what I would have done without it, to be honest. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Several Memory Café attendees have partners with dementia who now live in care homes. Lockdown and the resulting ban on visiting has made this especially difficult to cope with.

Gordon told me that not being able to have visitors was having “a huge impact” on the mental and physical wellbeing of people in care homes and their families. Other members mentioned inconsistent visiting rules between homes and some people having to visit their loved ones from behind a screen as particularly difficult to cope with.

As well as being very confusing for people with dementia, Louise and others fear that the lockdown has had a severe impact on the mobility of members, who can no longer go to Parson Cross Forum for a dance or exercise class.

The group is close-knit and mutually supportive. Louise Ashmore explained:

All of these ladies and gents on the screen in front of you are like our extended family.


They're not people that we deal with in work, they’re people that we go on holiday with. We go away on holiday together. We all jump on a coach and we go wherever we decide we're going, and we're going to Paignton in September.

It’s not just the Memory Café’s attendees who appreciate the project; it has been shortlisted for ITV’s National Diversity Awards and it's down to the final eight in its category. 64,000 groups were nominated.

Learn more

To find out more about Parson Cross Forum’s Memory Cafés, phone 0114 3279727 or email louisec@pxforum.org

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