YOPEY is a registered charity that inspires, equips and supports young people from secondary schools to volunteer as YOPEY Befrienders in care homes local to their school, where many of the residents have dementia. Once we have trained them to relate to people with dementia, the young people spend time with the elderly in the care home. We have many of these partnerships across England, but the most successful is in West Bridgford, where sixth-formers from the Rushcliffe School have been visiting local care homes for SEVEN YEARS!
Each autumn we trained a new batch of 30 year 12s to replace the previous year's YOPEY Befrienders. Many past Rushcliffe YOPEY Befrienders have gone on to train for caring professions, such as healthcare, social work and teaching.
During lockdown, this year's YOPEY Befrienders have kept up their support for the residents of The Grand care home in West Bridgford by writing letters to them. They have also supported residents in other care homes nationwide by writing to residents too – even though they do not know these residents.
But the partnership between the Rushcliffe School and local care homes is threatened by a lack of funds. We need to raise money to train and support the eighth year of YOPEY Befrienders in West Bridgford or the partnership may end.
By spending time with the lonely elderly, the young enhance life for the elderly, restore their self-esteem, and reduce the stigma and isolation which still surrounds dementia. Our volunteers provide the social interaction the elderly need and restore a link to the community.
Students and staff alike at Rushcliffe School have thrown themselves into the project with real commitment. The Head of Sixth Form describes YOPEY Dementia Befriender as “integral to sixth form life” and says it makes a major contribution to the young people's education and opportunities. The project is oversubscribed every year.
Throughout every project we have seen and heard from the older people and from the professional staff how our young volunteers • brighten older people's lives • restore their links to the community • stimulate their memories • reduce the distress and anxiety linked to their dementia.
A resident said: “Having them come in really is a light in my life.”
Another, with dementia, said: “I'm not as bright as I was, but the visits encourage me to try to remember more.”
A resident's relative said: “The young people come in like a breath of fresh air and display great affinity, warmth and empathy.”
The care home professionals are just as fulsome in their praise...
An activities coordinator said: “The youngsters can be dealing with different people each week depending on how well they feel and whether they want company that day. It may be that they just sit and hold their hand or even give them a hug. Some sit and chat with the residents and swap stories about their different lives. Some residents like the youngsters to walk alongside them around the home. The results have been amazing. To see some of the connections that have been made is so heartwarming. It can even be that the residents become quite attached to the visitors. Some will get up and dance with the youngsters. When the youngsters leave the residents will say ‘where is my friend?’”
A care home manager said: “You can see their [the residents’] faces light up when the students arrive as they bring back some wonderful memories for them and also they love listening to the students’ stories. For some it takes them back to a very happy time in their lives and as we know with people living with dementia often the earliest memories are at the forefront of their thoughts.”
YOPEY is committed to the need to benefit wider communities, developing best practice with wider lessons to teach. This is why we work with young people, whose attitudes will shape the future. Planting and nurturing new perspectives in the young is the most viable and lasting way of ensuring that old age, infirmity and dementia will be less likely to isolate and stigmatise older people in the years ahead.
Our work's positive outcomes for young people are also striking. As we work with the young people to empower them at every stage and to develop their independence and skills, we are committed to drawing them in to shaping the project on different levels. We build the young volunteers' confidence to relate to elderly dementia patients, equipping the young to deal with new situations and settings and to understand that dementia does not define a person. We train them how to strike up conversations with people living with dementia and provide ideas for questions they could ask and activities they can try.
Yet we also realise that if the young people are to build lasting confidence and skills then they need to use their own initiative as well. So while we support them throughout, we ensure that the young people have the freedom and opportunities to make their own contributions and demonstrate imagination. This ensures that they make authentic connections.
We have clear evidence that volunteering as YOPEY Befrienders improves the young people's self-belief (as they respond to and overcome challenges and derive satisfaction and motivation from helping others), builds strong relationships and enables them to develop their communication and life skills as well as acquiring vocational and transferable experience. Teachers tell us that these skills and experience have “real educational worth” and that a YDB partnership goes further than other youth placements in covering personal as well as professional development.
One young volunteer said" “As an aspiring medic, YOPEY has helped me to see a realistic side to medicine as well as how important it is to support the vulnerable.”
Another added: “I've learned not to make easy assumptions.”
The YOPEY journey began back in 2005 when Young People of the Year was founded by national newspaper journalist Tony Gearing. Tony was fed up with the bad press his industry inflicted on the young, and decided to research, write and get published positive stories about young people giving to their communities.
In 2012 Tony became aware of the loneliness of the elderly and that this was often accompanied by dementia. Young People of the Year was by now the official charity YOPEY and it set up YOPEY Dementia Befriender to give young people the opportunity to help ease the isolation of elderly people, and learn vital lessons about dementia as this group of diseases afflicts more people as we live longer.
The Rushcliffe School was one of the first schools to join the YOPEY Dementia Befriender. Please don't let 2020 be the last year it takes part and brings comfort to people living with dementia in the West Bridgford community.
Here's how your donation can help...
£10 would help us to buy aids to help young people 'experience' life with dementia
£25 would support one YOPEY Dementia Befriender for a month
£50 would train a young person to become a YOPEY Befriender for a year
£100 would contribute to setting up a new care home link