Vandyke teenagers trained to befriend lonely people with dementia at Leighton Buzzard care home

Teenagers from a Leighton Buzzard school have been trained to be ‘YOPEY Dementia Befrienders’ and make friends with elderly people living with dementia.

The sixth-formers from Vandyke Upper School were recruited by the charity YOPEY and trained by YOPEY founder Tony Gearing and his wife Jo at the Vandyke Road school.

The Vandyke sixthformers

The Vandyke sixthformers

Since passing checks by the Government’s Disclosure and Barring Service, the young people have started visiting residents at Carrington House, also in Vandyke Road.

About two-thirds of Carrington House’s 60 residents have dementia, many are lonely and some do not get any visitors.

At the end of their training the 25 students (aged 16-18) were given ‘YOPEY Befriender’ badges Mr Gearing, who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2017 “for services to young people in the UK”.

“Having served young people,” said Tony, “I now want to help young people to serve the elderly and possibly create the best intergenerational scheme in the country.”

Yopey Befriender

Yopey Befriender

Tony added: “The partnership between Vandyke school and Carrington House is in its early stages, but I hope it will become a well trodden path between school and care home.”

YOPEY, which is based in Suffolk, is short for Young People of the Year. Tony, a former national newspaper journalist, has previously run Young People of the Year campaigns in Bedfordshire and other counties. The charity now focuses on YOPEY Dementia Befriender and is running a dozen schemes across the country but most are in the East of England which Tony wants to make a ‘Beacon for Befriending’.

This is the first YOPEY Dementia Befriender scheme in Bedfordshire, but Tony hopes there will be more.

To the young volunteers from Vandyke sixth-form, Tony said: “It can be quite daunting at first to make conversation with someone with dementia. But following the training and with further support from YOPEY and the care home staff, you are already beginning to fill the gaps in the hearts of lonely residents.”

Tony training the Vandyke sixthformers

Tony training the Vandyke sixthformers

The young volunteers write reports about their visits on the web app yopeybefriender.org where the public can see leaderboards of the top YOPEY Dementia Befrienders in the country.

Callum Betley, 16, of Hockliffe Road, wrote: “We played song bingo with the residents and then we sang songs and were dancing with the residents.

“After this I sat with Sheila and spoke about school. Sheila told me about how when she was at school she

was good at drawing and swimming.”

Rhys Dale-Peerman, 16, of Meadow Way, wrote: “I talked to a hard-of-hearing elderly person named Evie. Whilst chatting to her I found out that she used to walk two miles to and from school when she was five, that both her father and uncle served in the Second World War, that she used to like art and that she is 83.”

Director of Sixth Form, Sean Downey, explained that the students were very moved by Tony’s presentation on dementia during a recent visit to the school. “This spurred a huge response from the sixth form students who were keen to become part of this programme.

“Achieving excellent academic results is clearly an important aim of sixth-form life at Vandyke but we want our students to benefit from a wide range of life experiences that will support them in growing into rounded young people, ready to take their place in society.

“The YOPEY Dementia Befriender scheme will, I am certain, prove to be an amazing experience and I would like to thank Tony for providing our students with this invaluable opportunity.”

Alex Roberts, the manager of Carrington House, said: “We are really looking forward to the young people from Vandyke sixth form forming friendships with our residents. We are sure both generations will get a great deal out of the the YOPEY Dementia Befriender scheme.”

Ms Roberts took over running Carrington House last year after the the Care Quality Commission found it required improvement. YOPEY Dementia Befrienders have contributed to another care home being rated outstanding by the CQC.

The Leighton Buzzard scheme is supported by a grant from Bedfordshire Police Partnership and sponsorship from international recruitment company Guidant.

Carrington House is owned by Holdcare Limited. It is hoped the owner will contribute to the scheme continuing after the grant runs out.

YOPEY Dementia Befriender is also taking part in the Bags of Help competition in Tesco stores in south Beds until the end of February and will win £4,000 it if receives the most votes from shoppers.