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The Cara Group: friendship, sharing food and fun

January 2023 saw the launch of our much-anticipated Cara group, funded with £250,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund. We caught up with Clare Mone, Cara Community Worker, for an update on how the group has evolved over the last five months.


“The aim of the Cara group in a nutshell is to provide person-centred support, aimed at improving health and wellbeing, encouraging independence and reducing isolation and loneliness within the elderly Irish community,” says Clare.


So what does that look like in reality? Well, Clare and colleague Jamie have been working hard since January to listen to what community members want and feel they would benefit from.


“So far, we’ve been offering one-to-one home visits, telephone calls and encouraging people to attend LIHH groups,” says Clare. “We identified the need for a Memory Group and so we’ve been focused on setting that up, and we’ve organised some brilliant social outings. And that’s just the beginning - we’ve got lots more ideas in the pipeline.”



The Cara group launches with food, friends, music, Irish newspapers, manicures from Jamie, iPad support from Anne and much more



Some community members were already known to Leeds Irish Health and Homes; Clare and Jamie have discovered others by reaching out to care homes.


“We know there are plenty of people living in Leeds with Irish connections who aren’t known to us yet, and we’re always keen to hear from more,” says Clare.


The monthly highlight is the Cara Coffee Morning which is open to all Cara community members free of charge one Thursday each month. Guests enjoy live traditional music, tea and coffee, sandwiches, Irish soup and bread and cake.


“Last week we treated everyone to a fish and chip lunch followed by ice cream and their favourite toppings, which everyone loved,” says Clare. “And we have the Irish papers each week and our book exchange is continuing to grow.”


Then the other three Thursdays in the month are dedicated to the Memory Group, which Clare has christened the Anam Cara group.


“Anam is the Gaelic word for ‘soul’ and cara is the word for ‘friend’. So ‘anam cara’ in the Celtic world meant the ‘soul friend’,” Clare explains. “I chose it because the soul is the spiritual principle embodied in humans - it doesn’t rely on memory. It’s the lasting part of a human being that continues onto eternal life when the physical body - or mind - is left behind.”



Healthy snacks at the Anam Cara group; apps and games to keep the mind active; one group member shares some of the photographs he's taken and memories of making a suit for Richard Whiteley.


Clare is passionate about promoting a greater awareness of dementia and providing better care and support for those living with dementia as well as their carers. Estimates suggest that there are 10,000 Irish people living with dementia in Britain.


“A diagnosis of dementia can bring on many emotions. Every person is different - some people feel angry; others might be confused or frightened,” says Clare.


“It’s important to remember that you can live well with dementia, and that’s the reason the Anam Cara group exists. The sessions adhere to the principles of Cognitive Stimulation Therapy, which is focused on encouraging new ideas, thoughts and associations, and we can see the positive impact it’s having.”



Puzzles and activities are specially designed to prompt new ideas and associations; and at both the Cara group and the Anam Cara group there's a focus on having fun, sharing food and friendship



Research has shown that having the space to talk about their experiences and opportunities to connect socially is important for people living with dementia. “Isolation can have a very negative impact, and so we really encourage people to come along to the Anam Cara group as well as the other sessions and activities offered at Leeds Irish Health and Homes,” Clare adds.


Feedback from community members has been very positive. “We enjoy ourselves, there is an awful lot of laughter,” said one group member; “It helps us know we are in the same boat,” said another.


Family members and carers have also seen a benefit. ““My mum is so happy each time she comes home,” said one; “He is more animated and motivated,” said another. “Mum has been showing me her amazing fish and chips,” said another family member. ”Thank you for making her so happy.”





A couple of recent Cara outings to Lupe's Mexican and Murgatroyds fish and chip restaurant



To find out more about the Cara (Friend) group and the Anam Cara (Memory) Group, contact Clare Mone at clare.mone@lihh.org.uk , Jamie Burke on jamie.burke@lihh.org.uk or call the LIHH office on 0113 262 5614


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