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Taking the fight to loneliness in community with dementia cafés, festive food and more

Patricia Thorpe has been nominated for a community heros award after opening a loneliness prevention cafe in Rackheath.
PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Patricia Thorpe has been nominated for a community heros award after opening a loneliness prevention cafe in Rackheath. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

(c) 2018 Archant Norfolk Prospect House Rouen Road Norwich

As part of a partnership with the East of England Co-Op to highlight Community Heroes, reporter Marc Betts spoke to Pat Thorpe about the work she has done in her community to tackle loneliness and support people living with dementia.

Patricia Thorpe has been nominated for a community heros award after opening a loneliness prevention cafe in Rackheath.
PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood
Patricia Thorpe has been nominated for a community heros award after opening a loneliness prevention cafe in Rackheath. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Pat Thorpe has gone above and beyond to bring her community together and help support those in need.

The retired special needs teaching assistant was able to bring together people from Rackheath, where she lives, with the creation of the Rackheath Community Cafe.

With the focus to combat loneliness the cafe proved to be a huge success.

Mrs Thorpe worked in schools across Norwich, including Thorpe and Sprowston High, before going on to write four books about autism. She said: “We decided that in the village there wasn’t much going on socially and in the Rackheath Church there is a lovely kitchen.

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“Together with my husband, Richard, we always thought it would be lovely to host something there because of the good facilities and the lovely building.

“We thought we would go with it and we were able to secure funding from East of England Co-Op’s Cuppa scheme.”

The cafe started small, serving simple meals like soup and bread, but was soon able to grow.

The 56-year-old added: “It grew to having cake, bingo and quizzes.

“It was all about just giving people the chance to come and spend time together. We have had people with special needs, the elderly and single dads. There is no age group, its just about getting people together.

“It has really escalated and we now have a full team who support each other.”

The community now comes together to fundraise for the cafe and the church which also hosts a fayre every year.

This, combined with support from East of England Co-Op, means the cafe has been able to host special events such as strawberry tea and roast dinners.

The author added: “At Christmas we were able to have everyone come down for a buffet and everyone got a little present of chocolates or little bits and pieces so no-one felt alone over the festive period.”

It was at this point that Mrs Thorpe and her husband of 31 years Richard Thorpe, were introduced to the Salvation Army in Norwich and heard about the work that it did with people with dementia.

She was inspired to want to launch a dementia cafe, a place for people with the disease and their carers to take time-out and meet other people who live in similar circumstances, relax and receive support.

Mrs Thorpe said: “In February we started a dementia cafe for people with dementia and their carers once a month, stepping back from the community cafe but as they were on different days I would often help out at both.

“Me and Richard opened the Sunshine Club at the Mile Cross Salvation Army at the Boundary pub. We thought it would be nice to for people to come and volunteer which we did through a number of social events before it opened.”

To prepare for the opening, Mr and Mrs Thorpe became Dementia Friends. This meant that the couple were able to host and go to events supporting people with dementia.

Mrs Thorpe said: “The group is low in numbers but high in support.

“We have about four or five people with dementia and their carers come on the first Thursday of each month.

“Although there are a lot of dementia support groups out there we are always happy to welcome people who do come for the first time.

“The cafe creates a positive feeling and everyone who comes has fun. We have really come together as not people in need of support but as friends who meet for lunch.”

Mrs Thorpe has been supported throughout her causes by the East of England Co-Op through donations to the cafes. The Co-Op nominated Mrs Thorpe to be a Community Hero which aims to celebrate those who make a positive difference to the lives of others.

Mrs Thorpe added: “I was shocked to be nominated to be a Community Hero.

“It is lovely but without the support of people and everyone working hard the work we have been able to do has been lovely and has created a real nice feeling in the community.”

The community cafe at Rackheath is hosted at Rackheath and Salhouse Church on Green Lane West the second Thursday of each month at 1pm-3pm

The Sunshine Club meets on the first Thursday of each month at the Boundary pub, Aylsham Road, Norwich, at 10am-12pm.

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