Printed Date: 16/04/2021

GLL pledges action to make leisure centres more dementia friendly


According to figures published by the Alzheimer’s Society, approximately 850,000 people live with dementia in the UK – a figure expected to reach 1 million by 2025. With two thirds of people with dementia living in the community - and one third living in a care home, steps are being taken to ensure that no one’s living circumstances or personal diagnosis should prevent an active lifestyle.

GLL – the UK’s largest leisure charitable social enterprise - works in partnership with several major UK bodies to provide activities and services adapted to facilitate people with dementia. This includes activities at its Better Leisure Centres throughout the UK – with specialist training to ensure that staff and buildings are appropriately accessible. Furthermore, this training has allowed GLL to bring activities to care homes across the UK.

CASE STUDY: Dementia-friendly Tea Dance in Tower Hamlets

Last year, GLL hosted a Tea Dance event at York Hall Leisure Centre for older and disabled people. The event helped support older people in Tower Hamlets to combat isolation. Invitees had a chance to socialise, make new friends, watch the entertainment, and dance with the GLL staff.

The event was organised after consultation with Tower Hamlets Council and the wider community. Around 175 people came – including 50 people who live with dementia. Age UK also supported the event by transporting older people to York Hall.

Part of GLL’s wider commitment to providing accessible facilities and services, the Tea Dance was also an opportunity to raise awareness of the Dementia Friendly Swimming Project GLL delivers in partnership with Swim England (formerly the Amateur Swimming Association) and to promote the Young@Heart Older People’s Programme in Tower Hamlets.

GLL takes the lead in dementia friendly leisure centres

With dementia diagnoses on the rise, it is becoming increasingly important that public buildings – as well as staff, adapt to the necessary requirements. As such, all buildings undergo a full building checklist to ensure that we have considered all aspects that may affect a customer’s experience. Additionally, dementia training is now given to staff working in centres that provide activities for older people. Working with the Alzheimer’s Society, GLL staff are informed of the different types of dementia and how individuals may be affected. This improves communication between staff and customers, and makes staff more aware of how facilities can be adapted to improve every customer’s experience. Designated trainees upskill colleagues through internal education programmes.

By providing additional training to staff, GLL has also been able to take activities to those who are not able to access leisure centres. This includes a council-funded initiative in Barnet, where residents were able to take part in dance classes led by a visiting group of instructors. In Swindon, a link-up between Zurich Insurance and GLL is developing an exercise programme staffed by youngsters on an apprentice programme, to bring fitness classes into care home settings.

This commitment to dementia awareness extends beyond GLL’s own offering, and strives towards a wider social influence. GLL’s Corporate Health Manager is the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Task Force for Sport, Leisure and Recreation. This group is responsible for undertaking a review of the industry and producing guidance to operators and organisations to support individuals to access Sport, Leisure and entertainment services.

The task force has brought together a collaboration of specialists from research and industry including: The Richmond Group, Later Life Training, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, UKActive, SPORTA as well as the Alzheimer’s society. The group is drawing together an analysis of research, as well as service users’ experiences to help operators achieve a better understanding of opportunities to support and upskill staff to provide services that are more inclusive and widely accessible. 

Caitlin Thomas, Corporate Health Manager, GLL commented: “We want to make sure that our Centres are accessible and welcoming to all in particular those with Dementia and their carers. We understand that dementia isn’t an inevitable part of ageing and that there’s a lot that we can do to support others to be more active and lead healthy independent lives.”

As the medical profession continues to search for a cure for dementia, it is crucial that facilities and services are as accessible and welcoming as possible, in order to allow those living with dementia and their carers to maintain an active life. While great strides are being taken, it is also important that we raise awareness of the plethora of activities available in communities across the UK.