Jenny's husband has dementia. After a lifetime of conversations, it's now hard to have anything above a basic conversation with him. Leaving the house with him is now too hard to manage regularly; he normally spends each afternoon asleep in his chair. 

At a carol service hosted by Together Middlesbrough and Cleveland Jenny was able to see him out of the house, full of life, sharing conversation and memories. 

For Jenny, her husband, and many like them, the dementia friendly carol services hosted by CUF's Together Network in Middlesbrough and Plymouth breathed fresh life into Christmas. 

Why host a dementia friendly carol service? 

Often it can be very difficult for carers to get their relatives with dementia up and out of the house on a Sunday morning to get them to a church service. Even if they did, it could prove difficult for anyone in the later stages of dementia to maintain concentration through a church service or to understand when is the right moment to speak and when to keep quiet. It can also be quite intimidating and confusing to be in an environment that can be noisy and full of activity. 

This is a great shame as church is something that many people hold very fond memories of; the music and the liturgy in particular can spark happy memories. This is even truer with Christmas, when Christmas carols can be hugely evocative and bring back cherished memories. 

How are these services different from normal services? 

These services are uniquely tailored to people with dementia. Each service starts with a very warm welcome so that everyone there feels welcome and understood. 

If you have dementia then your memories are from when you were younger, so for a lot of these services the carols will be those that have been sung for generations and were sung by those people with dementia when they were younger. 

They are also broken down into smaller chunks with no long readings or prayers and with more interaction. In these services questions might be asked and an opportunity to share memories given. In Middlesbrough this took the form of a Memory Box for each of the nativity characters (Mary, Joseph, wise men, etc.). Memory Boxes are tools used by those with dementia; they contain objects that would bring forward happy memories. In these Memory Boxes there were objects that each of the nativity characters might have had which prompted discussion.

Have they been helpful? 

the feedback they received was overwhelmingly positive

Yes, hugely so. Both Heather in Middlesbrough and Chris in Plymouth have said that the feedback they received was overwhelmingly positive. 

Chris received fantastic support from the whole community with churches coming together and even the Navy from the local barracks coming down in uniform to act as stewards - the uniforms being another great way of sparking memories. All in all, Plymouth had 95 adults attend and 27 children from the local schools come and sing the carols. 

The service in Plymouth was so successful that, due to high demand, the carol service will return this year as well as a series of other dementia friendly services throughout the year. Chris told me 'this service was a great way to show churches in Plymouth the amazing good they can do when they work together.' 

In Middlesbrough, Heather was running her second dementia friendly carol service and expects it to return each year as the feedback has been amazing. For the carers, it made it so much easier to get to church at a time of year when church is particularly important to them, for the churches it was a fantastic opportunity to work together, and for the 'Dementia Friends' (people in local churches who have been trained as Dementia Friends) – it was a great opportunity to make the most of their new skills. 

All across England, the Together Network is making a difference to both lives and communities. This is just one example of that. You can help to expand this work by donating today.