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Landmark year for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia support group

PUBLISHED: 17:42 04 March 2013 | UPDATED: 17:42 04 March 2013

Alzheimer's support group, The Sycamore Tree, at Aylsham's Jubilee Family Centre. Volunteer Heather Webb giving a helping hand to Ellen Miller.

Alzheimer's support group, The Sycamore Tree, at Aylsham's Jubilee Family Centre. Volunteer Heather Webb giving a helping hand to Ellen Miller. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

On one side of the hall, a group of four were busy playing a game of bagatelle, and on the other, a painting session was taking place.

Many people would be forgiven for believing The Sycamore Tree was a regular luncheon club – and in many respects it is.

But this particular group at the Aylsham Jubilee Family Centre supports people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and their carers.

The organisation was set up by the Aylsham Community Church, based at the family centre, and will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary on March 25.

It was originally formed because there was a lack of dementia care services in the town and the family centre wanted to become a base for community groups seven days a week – which it has achieved.

Liz Hendon, 77, from Aylsham, has run the group with her husband Peter, also 77, since the beginning and said: “I cannot believe it has been 10 years.”

Since its launch about 35 couples have been supported. They come from north Norfolk, including Mundesley, Sheringham and North Walsham, as well as Taverham, Norwich and Postwick.

Mr and Mrs Hendon will be handing over the running of the group to Donna and John Smith in April but will join the 16 volunteers who support the sessions, held every other Monday, 10.30am to 1.45pm.

Mrs Hendon said: “The Sycamore Tree is a friendship group. When you have dementia or when you care for people with dementia, your friends fall by the wayside because they don’t know how to cope with it. Some people are on their own because the people they cared for have died. So this really is a social group.”

She added: “They find coming somewhere like this very helpful. They want to have fun because it is a 24-hour job for the carers.”

Mrs Hendon said even though holding the sessions was demanding and hard work, at times it was “amazing” because the sessions allowed carers to forget about their worries for a short time as well as make new friends because everyone was accepted.

As well as art, activities include gentle exercises, a regular bagatelle competition and cognitive work. The Alzheimer’s Society also provides advice for carers every three months.

The carers enjoy an annual ten-pin bowling trip and a hot meal is provided for everyone during each session.

Tony Connor, 68, from Thorpe Marriott, cares for his wife Patricia, 64, who started showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease in her late 40s and now has vascular dementia.

He said: “The Sycamore Tree has made a heck of a difference. Having somewhere to come is good. As a carer you do need a bit of help. I battled through long enough without any help but in the end it wears you down.”

Normandy veteran Frank Scott, 92, from Newton St Faith, used to care for his wife Jill, 84, before she moved into a home with Alzheimer’s disease.

The grandfather and great-grandfather has been coming to the group for nine years and said: “I have made a lot of friends. Liz makes you feel very welcome and always puts on something interesting.”

Sybil Brooker, 75, who lives off Newmarket Road in Norwich, has been coming to The Sycamore Tree since it started and continued to enjoy the sessions after her husband Harry Brooker, 84, died nearly four years ago.

He was head of presentation at Anglia Television and had Alzheimer’s disease for 10 years.

Mrs Brooker said: “Harry’s face lit up when he came to the group. It allows you to relax with your friends and have a bit of me time.

“In many ways it has been my saviour. I have made friends because whatever your background you have that one thing in common. It has been a lifesaver.”

The group is funded through grants and supported by Aylsham Family Church.

For more information, ring the family centre on 01263 734801 or email or visit

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