Helm Housing has been since 1975 one of the largest non-profit associations in Northern-Ireland dedicated to the provision of affordable housing and a range of associated support services.
Helm’s key role is to develop and manage rented accommodation for single people, families, the elderly and various models of supported housing for people with special needs. Overall, it provides suitable housing and associated support services for over 10,000 people across Northern Ireland.
40 per cent of Helm tenants are over the age of 60 and many require special support that enables them to live independently. The increasing rate of dementia is a huge challenge in terms of scale and impact for Northern Ireland.
New research by Alzheimer’s Society shows that there are over 20,000 people in Northern Ireland living with the condition and likely
to rise to 60,000 by 2050. Hemsworth Court, a 35-apartment development in Belfast’s Shankill area, provides assured tenancies to those with cognitive impairment
and dementia and is an innovative scheme which helps to meet this need and first of its kind in Northern Ireland. The scheme is a specialist facility, designed to deliver 24 hour medical care and support services to its residents whilst enabling them to be as active and as independently as possible.
The aim of the project is to provide essential support services and create a comfortable living environment for those living with Dementia, by developing a world-class facility which meets the needs of those with dementia and their loved ones, and creating Belfast’s first dementia friendly community.
The initial objectives were to:
▶ Raise awareness and promote understanding of the supported housing model with Housing, Health and Social Care colleagues,
the wider Shankill community and other agencies aiming to reduce stigma associated with dementia;
▶ Support tenants living in Hemsworth Court to build links with and feel an integral part of the local community;
▶ Develop and offer an educational programme for local business to promote a better understanding and support to customers
living with dementia;
Early in the process it was decided that this project must be focused on delivery and outcome, ensuring that the ideals that we set
out with were not lost.
The Dementia-Friendly ethos has been adopted throughout Helm. All staff trained in dementia awareness helping the
organisation to become the first Dementia-Friendly Organisation in the housing sector. 12 Dementia Champions completed specialist training & deliver dementia awareness training to new employees & other businesses. The Shankill area, where Hemsworth is located, is a single-identity community surrounded by ‘peace walls’, separating loyalist/nationalist
communities in Belfast.
Helm’s Dementia Friendly project & Social Sofa have helped reduce stigma associated with dementia, creating better understanding of the condition within the community. The
scheme has won a number of awards and received significant
media attention being featured across national, regional, online & broadcast media.
Hemsworth Court is an example of successful partnership working, as well as careful & considered involvement of tenants and is a trailblazer in the development of specialised solutions for the needs of a changing population in the housing sector at European level.
Residents are offered a range of social activities to try to combat the progression of dementia and are supported
in engaging with their local community.
This was not just a home; but become part of a greater social inclusion plan, creating a ‘community hub.’ On-site care for tenants is provided
24/7 by staff from Belfast Health & Social Care Trust. Hemsworth Court also employs an Activity Coordinator who offers a
range of social activities for wider engagement within the local Community & beyond.
A Community Integration Group (CIG) was established to work in partnership to secure the integration of the scheme within
the community. This CIG attracted membership from a range of local organisations & embraced the concept that Lower
Shankill would become the first Dementia Friendly Community in NI.
Local residents were involved in a unique project called
the ‘Social Sofa’. This large stone sofa was designed by Hemsworth Court tenants & local residents.
92 front-line staff have been trained on dementia awareness, many becoming Dementia Champions who work with others to
provide awareness training.
Following an environmental audit carried out by Alzheimer’s Society, all Helm public offices have become dementia-friendly compliant.
While this project meets the needs of this specific area in Belfast, it could be replicated anywhere in Europe with the support of relevant partner organisations.
Hemsworth promotes a person-centred facility that helps maintain independence, normalisation & social inclusion. The service is pioneering as it’s not just a bricks and mortar facility for people with dementia. As well as integrating residents with the local community, the local community also shapes services & promotes a Dementia Friendly ethos. The Social Sofa tells residents stories the local community helped capture in mosaic tiles.
Working in partnership with new tenants, care providers & other interest groups Helm Housing set about making the Shankill area a Dementia Friendly Community.
The Social Sofa became a powerful symbol of bringing people together & represents positive, inter-generational & cross community working relations hips. Schools volunteered to work on the sofa & formed friendships with tenants whilst gaining an understanding of people living with dementia.