Channel 4 is aiming to change people’s perceptions of dementia through a ground-breaking new programme. Following on from the success of ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, ‘The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes’ traces how a group of people with early onset dementia were trained to run their own restaurant.
Set in the heart of Bristol, the two-month Channel 4 project took place at The Kitchen restaurant in Silver Street. CHP was one of the lucky few to be asked along to sample the unique dining experience.
My waiter for lunch was Roger, a 64-year-old former truck driver, who shared his story with me.
Roger told me he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in February 2017.
“I was losing my concentration. I started feeling dizzy and knew I wasn’t right,” Roger told me.
“I thought I had a brain tumour.”
Having checked out his symptoms on the Internet, Roger went to see his GP who confirmed his fears.
“My wife was upset when I was diagnosed but I had prepared myself for it,” Roger said.
“I had never heard of Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know what it was.”
Roger was soon out of work having been forced to return his driving licence and left to navigate the tortuous benefits system.
“Lots of companies just don’t want to know,” Roger confided.
“It took me 12 months to get a benefits hearing. It’s like they don’t want to believe you and just want to save money.”
Since leaving work, Roger has gone on to lead a local Alzheimer’s Club which offers support on how to gain benefits and how to deal with solicitors and Power of Attorney.
“People just don’t know what to do when they are in this position,” Roger said.
It was through his work with the Alzheimer’s Club that Roger was contacted by Channel 4 and asked to take part in the programme.
The innovative project, which is the first time a restaurant run by people living with dementia will be broadcast on national television, was led by Matt Dodge, Executive Chef, of Innovative Aged Care’s Chelsea Court Place, dementia specialist care home in London. Matt was brought in by Channel 4 to train 15 people aged between 23 and 67 who have been diagnosed with some form of dementia.
“We have been on this journey together,” Matt said.
“I didn’t know if it was going to work. No-one did really.
“Early on every day I thought ‘am I going to have to go over the same thing?’ but I don’t think I have had to repeat myself once.”
The project made a big initial splash offering two days of dining for celebrity guests, including Paddington and Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville, Countdown presenter Rachel Reilly and comedian David Baddiel.
“There was a lot of pressure but the team handled it really well,” Matt said.
Within a few days the restaurant was fully booked. As well as serving the local community, guests have included friends and family of the volunteers and local school children.
“We’ve had a great reception from the local community,” Matt said.
The restaurant’s team included people with a wide range of backgrounds, with only one person having any experience of working in hospitality.
Channel 4 employed dementia specialists to ensure that tableware, flooring and signage was sympathetic to the volunteers.
Rest spots were provided around the restaurant to offer maximum support for the staff.
The volunteers included two women with partial vision who worked in the reception area.
The impact of the experience on people’s lives and self-confidence has been enormous.
Matt told me the story of Shelly, one of the chefs who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“She had no real support from the NHS after being diagnosed,” Matt said.
“She started to doubt everything. She didn’t want to leave the house. There’s been a huge change in her confidence. She doesn’t feel useless anymore. People get diagnosed and think they can’t do anything anymore. Shelly has been preparing the main courses here on her own and has started taking her grandchildren out for walks. I am so proud of what she and the others have achieved.”
Having seen the success of the programme, Matt now hopes to see similar schemes rolled out elsewhere across the country.
“I would happily introduce this to Chelsea Court,” Matt told CHP.
“It could easily work with us. Just to bring someone in a couple of times a week and do something.
“Companies are not set up to provide support for this condition. What’s to stop any café employing someone with dementia for three days a week to serve tables or help out in the kitchen? There’s no reason why it can’t happen. Hopefully this changes a bit of the stigma and things like this pop up in certain places.”
It’s an inspiring vision, offering the prospect of a world where people living with dementia are no longer isolated and can become truly integrated within the wider community to the benefit of all.
The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes will be broadcast on Channel 4 in March.