Project of the month

81st Belfast Beaver Colony

Issue picked: Dementia

The Beavers behind this brilliant A Million Hands project have helped older people in the community, and even received an award from Alzheimer’s Society.

‘My mother-in-law has dementia, and other leaders have first-hand experience,’ Jacqui Berryman, Beaver Scout Leader, says. When she and the rest of the leadership team at 81st Belfast were planning their Programme, doing a project around dementia for A Million Hands was suggested and quickly agreed upon. ‘More people are being diagnosed, so we wanted to make a difference,’ Jacqui says.

The young people soon began to embrace learning about dementia, using activities from the downloadable pack, and others that the leadership team developed to suit the needs of their group. They tried to run activities that really helped the Beavers put themselves in the shoes of someone with dementia, and imagine what life might be like. ‘Having dementia is a bit like Dory in the film,’ one Beaver commented at the time. 

Over the course of a year, the Beavers participated in activities to better understand the issue of dementia and how it affects individuals, families and communities. As part of this, they made several visits to a local care home, taking memory books with them that they had made.

‘The memory books were full of songs, rhymes and poems, all illustrated by the Beavers with bright, colourful drawings,’ Jacqui says. ‘We thought we would focus on things the Beavers remembered from their childhoods, and that might help someone with dementia to bring back memories of their own childhoods. Their achievement in making the books was inspiring.’

Once the books were made, the Colony visited residents at Sydenham Court in Belfast, and spent several afternoons sharing their memories, chatting about their Beaver badges, singing songs and eating buns together. 'We used lots of bright colours because people with dementia like bright colours,' one Beaver said at the time. 'I loved drawing pictures for our books to help people remember songs and poems they liked a long time ago,' explained her friend.  

‘Some of the songs the Beavers sang really unlocked a door and helped the residents to tell us about their own childhoods,’ Jacqui says. ‘It was nice to have something to look at together and have something to talk about, to bring back other memories.’ For everyone, the visits were a truly positive experience. The Colony donated the memory books to the care home, for the residents to look through and enjoy many more times, and they are now being used by the staff during reminiscence sessions.

Finally, to raise awareness of dementia in the wider community, the Beavers planned a bike ride, inspired by Alzheimer’s Society’s 20:20 cycle - a challenge to cycle 20,000 miles, to acknowledge the 20,000 people living with dementia in Northern Ireland. ‘We cycled laps of our church, where every lap represented 1,000 people with dementia, and handed out leaflets,’ Jacqui says.

The efforts of the Colony didn’t go unnoticed, and at the 2016 Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friendly Awards, they won ‘Youth Contribution of the Year’. Daisy Robson, Youth Engagement Officer for Alzheimer’s Society, described 81st Belfast as ‘a shining example for community impact, not just in Northern Ireland but across the nations.’ The leadership team are rightly proud of everything they and their young people have achieved.

As more young people come up through the Colony, and others move on to Cubs, Jacqui is determined that this project will continue. ‘Being involved with A Million Hands has made the Beavers more tolerant, and helped them realise that people are different,’ Jacqui says. ‘If we can have an impact on the Beaver Scouts with what we’re doing, and to be a ray of sunshine for people with dementia, then we’ve helped. I think if we all did a bit, we’d have a better society in general.

Tell us about what you’ve been doing in your community through A Million Hands by recording your actions and stand a chance of the being the next A Million Hands Project of the Month.