Supporting people with dementia through work skills, not care

An organisation that teaches people with early stage dementia how to frame pictures professionally is helping stabilise their quality of life and winning awards as a result, discovers Natalie Valios

Frame of Mind teaches service users practical and business skills

“Any day is a good day if I can do this,” says 84-year-old Ron Davies, who attends Frame of Mind’s sessions for people with dementia. (see box)

Based in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, the community interest company was set up by husband and wife team Ian and Theresa Bates. The idea stemmed from Mrs Bates’ own experiences: a mental health service user herself, she had started picture framing and found the process therapeutic. The non-profit making organisation was set up in 2007 with a contract from Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust to fund sessions for adults with mental health problems, and adults with learning disabilities and mental health problems.


New skills and a positive feeling

“I came to Frame of Mind because I wanted to do things with my hands again,” says Ron Davies. “I’m enjoying being able to do things that I couldn’t before because there are people here who can point me in the right direction. The people I work with are easy to talk to and are prepared to help me. I feel like it’s helping my memory.”

Ron’s daughter Janis Gadd says: “It was obvious from the moment he stepped into the workshop that it was right for him. Frame of Mind looks at what people can do, that’s the main difference from other services I’ve come across where it’s all been chat and sympathy and a bit of craftwork.

“Dad used to be an electrical engineer but it got to the point where he couldn’t remember how to rewire a plug. He felt negative about himself but coming here has turned it around. He still can’t rewire a plug but that doesn’t matter anymore because he has got something he can do and he has learnt new skills which is even better.

“He has been going for four months and he will tell you that Monday is the best day of the week. The decline [from dementia] is still there but he is more positive about it because he is producing things. They are turning out a professional product and that validates them as people who are still capable.”


Sessions were extended to include people with dementia earlier this year when Frame of Mind put in a bid to provide services for older people from West Sussex Council’s social enterprise fund. The result was a one-year contract from March 2012 to work with eight people with dementia once a week. These sessions have been so successful that Frame of Mind recently won the outstanding dementia care product/innovation category at the National Dementia Care Awards 2012.

Work skills, not care

The judges said: “We have chosen Frame of Mind because they offer people with dementia something new by focusing on work skills rather than care. Frame of Mind demonstrate a real commitment to empowering people with dementia and involving them as equals in the activities and running of the organisation.

Additionally, Mrs Bates has just been shortlisted in a local newspaper group’s most inspirational woman of the year category in its Woman of the Year awards.

She is a Fine Art Trade Guild commended framer and she has two staff and volunteers working with her. As well as practical framing skills – cutting glass, making the mount, cutting the frame, and assembling it – trainees, as clients are called, also learn general business skills in a real business environment. They have to think creatively, make accurate measurements, which helps with numeracy, take and follow instructions from support workers, solve problems, work as a team and meet deadlines. There is also a digital printing workshop where they learn how to use Adobe Photoshop, photographic printing and canvas printing.

Professional standards

Although trainees can bring in their own photos and pictures to frame, Frame of Mind is run as a business. Trainees work to a professional standard, providing frames for local artists and businesses, including the nearby Butlins, where trainees have recently framed over 600 pictures for its new hotel.

The criteria for those with dementia is that they should be in the early stages of the degenerative condition. Staff have dementia training but are not health or social care professionals so trainees need to be independent when it comes to personal care, be able to eat and drink unaided, and mobile.

Val Kiln-Barfoot, a nurse researcher at the University of Surrey, has been seconded for one day a week to evaluate the dementia programme. “It’s a three-step process. I interview the trainees to talk about general things on how they are doing. I also carry out a mini-mental state examination, (MMSE) which is used by clinicians to assess how memory is improving or declining, and observe them in the workplace to look at whether they are interacting with other clients and communicating effectively.

Stabilising quality of life

“Their carers are sent a short questionnaire asking about their well-being and quality of life to look at whether that improves or stays the same now that the cared-for person is at Frame of Mind one day a week. The hope is that when those three parts are put together we will see a plateauing of quality of life for the person with dementia and their carer, and hopefully an improvement. But it will still be an achievement if we keep quality of life stable because dementia is always declining.”

Results will be fed back to West Sussex Council in March and the hope is that funding for the dementia sessions will continue. In fact, says Kiln-Barfoot, “we would really like a second day funded for dementia clients because we have a waiting list”.

With the accolades that Frame of Mind is winning, it should have a good chance.

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