Bluebells Celebrates Five Years as Independent Charity

Bluebells celebrated its five-year relaunch anniversary last Thursday (9 May), marking a significant milestone since its reopening as an independent charity. Previously run by Age UK for about 20 years, the Bluebells Day Care Centre closed in March 2018 due to funding cuts by Oxfordshire County Council. Councillor Glen Lambert spearheaded its relaunch, driven by a personal connection and community need.

Glen recalled, “In May 2018 I became Mayor of Henley, which seemed like a really good opportunity to try and do something for the town and bring it back. I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I announced in my Mayor’s speech that I wanted to bring it back. My Dad was an Alzheimer’s patient so I knew far too much about dementia, far more than I wanted to, so I knew how valuable Bluebells was and how tragic it was that it had gone. Shortly before I became Mayor, we also had a local lady with dementia who went missing, Beryl Flynn. It highlighted to the town what an important problem dementia was, so I said in my Mayor’s speech that I’d try to bring it back.”

Bluebells was successfully relaunched in May 2019. Within five months of reopening, Bluebells reached full capacity on its Thursday service and added a second day on Mondays. The centre provides a safe, engaging environment for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, offering activities like arts, crafts, musical entertainment, quizzes, and conversation. It also provides much-needed respite for caregivers.

Glen explained, “A lot of people we get do need full time care, so being able to leave them for a few hours and knowing they’re going to be safe is really important to the people who look after them. But not only that, I noticed first hand with my Dad that if he had a really good day – a fun day, a great day – although the following day he’d remember nothing about it, his mood was still good. He was still in a good mood the following day because that residual emotion of being happy did remain even though the memories didn’t. So we know from my Dad’s experience that having a good day actually benefits them the next day as well. Having fun at Bluebells, coming here and being entertained, we know does them good for the next 48 hours.”

Recounting the journey of setting up Bluebells, Glen shared, “It took about 9 months to get re-established as an independent charity. I had no idea what I was doing – I’d never started a charity before, I was just like, well how hard could it be, surely I’ll be able to bring it back – and it was quite hard work. But thanks to so many other local groups who all pitched in and got around the cause – the Christ Church Centre, the Henley Handybus, the Lions Club (they were really early supporters, and gave us our first donation towards the furniture).”

He reflected, “It’s amazing really; I can’t believe it’s been five years. It’s definitely the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m really proud of it.”

The anniversary event was attended by trustees, representatives from Henley Handybus, the Lions Club, and other supporters, including Philippa Sanders, who runs the annual Bluebells for Bluebells walk. They were treated to an incredible piano performance from one of the Bluebells guests.  Former and current staff members, including Julia Hayes, Julia Yeo and Suri Poulos, the Mayor, and community members gathered to celebrate with teas and coffees.  Glen said, “Thank you to everyone who came to celebrate with us and to Sherry Habasinski and volunteer Mick Yeo who couldn’t make it.

Glen expressed gratitude to all the people who have been involved in Bluebells in the past and the present, stating, “It really is a proper community project with everyone involved mucking in, doing their bit and contributing.

Looking ahead to the next five years, Glen said, “The first aim is always survival. When it’s such a tiny charity and you work with such small amounts of money, you don’t have big cash reserves. When Bluebells was running for the first 20 years, it was part of AgeUKwhich is an enormous national charity. If Bluebells here was losing money for a couple of months, it didn’t really matter, Age UK were able to absorb that and carry on. Smoothing out those peaks and troughs when you are a tiny independent charity is quite difficult. We don’t have big reserves, so we do rely on donations and fundraising.”

The centre charges £40 per day, including transport by the Henley Handybus and lunch, running from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. Despite keeping prices low, Bluebells operates at a loss and relies on grants, donations, and fundraisers to stay afloat.

Fittingly, the anniversary celebration came just ahead of Dementia Awareness Week (13 – 19 May). Glen noted, “A lot of people, myself included, we don’t like to think about our own mortality and what happens to us when we age. But people should take comfort in supporting Bluebells because if they one day need it, it will be there for them. Things like Dementia Awareness Week are very good. Dementia affects an enormous percentage of people. If you’re lucky enough to live that long, it will come for you.”

If you would like to make a donation to Bluebells to ensure they keep running for another five years (and hopefully many more!), visit their website. Bluebells are also always looking for volunteers and further support in running the charity. If you would like to get involved, get in touch.

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