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New Radicals: Dementia Adventure four years on

In February 2012, Dementia Adventure was selected as one of 50 New Radicals - organisations changing the face of Britain for the better.

We were featured in The Observer with some great press coverage, especially for a relatively small organisation, alongside some inspirational and amazing organisations like Alex Fox of Shared Lives and Andy Bradley at Frameworks 4 Change. We were proud to be recognised in this way and happy that our positive message about living with dementia was reaching more people, but in part we were also slightly saddened – saddened because the idea itself should not be considered a “radical” one. 

As human beings we all need contact and connection with the outdoors, with fresh air and nature in all its various forms. A raft of evidence tells us what we intuitively know to be true: that activity and simply getting outdoors is good for us; and people with dementia are no different.

But the idea is radical when you understand the scenarios that thousands of families face with advancing stages of dementia where access to outdoor spaces and activities can be seen as a ‘nice to have’, or impossible for some. The idea that people living with dementia might want to go sailing, white water rafting, zip wiring, power boating and walking in the hills was certainly radical in 2012, and now by 2016 we have repeatedly shown that people with dementia can do many things that others feel are ‘beyond them now’.

With careful support, people with significant health and social care needs can get out into the garden, smell the flowers and listen to the birds. Additionally, people are receiving their diagnosis earlier which is opening more doors – again, with the right support anything is possible. For this reason, and more, we were delighted to be part of the New Radicals programme.

Since 2012, Dementia Adventure has gone from strength to strength. Recognition has added to our credibility, which was important in the early days of ambitious and innovative plans and much needed partnerships. As I am writing we are delivering our 31st holiday in the Isle of Wight with a young woman of 26 with a rare form of dementia on a bespoke activity holiday, including a powerboat trip on the Solent with Wetwheels.

Thanks to support from Players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Andrews Charitable trust and others, we are planning another 17 holidays this calendar year alone. Our adventure breaks have really inspired people to think differently about dementia and what people can do, and not simply to focus on clinical decline.

Shortly after the New Radicals award we were honored to be selected as winners of the Risky Business award in Sydney at the International Dementia Excellence Awards. Since 2012 we have been proud for our work to be further recognised by additional awards with:

  • Emerald Literati Network – Highly Commended Paper Award 2013
  • Scotland Dementia Awards – Most Innovative Partnership (with Visit Woods) 2013
  • Young Foundation Accelerator – successful social investment programme 2013-2014
  • NatWest SE100 Index Growth Champion – shortlisted 2015

But our adventures are only half the story really; since 2012 we have built our capacity to deliver training, support and research services to support those organisations that come into contact with people with dementia on a day-to-day basis to implement the benefits of nature-based interventions and positive risk-taking in the lives of people with dementia. In 2015, the training we provided directly benefitted 2,450 people.

Just this month we were pleased to see our latest research being published by Natural England under the title Is it Nice Outside? – sharing the results of the consultation of people living with dementia and their family carers about their engagement with the natural environment. People want to get outdoors, go to the park, be near water, watch and listen to the birds and enjoy a range of activities together outdoors, which they have done previously in their lives.

We are now looking for more volunteers to support our holidays and other roles, including fundraising, and are looking to expand our work through licensed partners with our new offer Dementia Adventure in a box. Our first licensed partner in Scotland has recently established DARE (Dementia Accessible Recreational Experiences) in Moray, with an A-Z activities list for local people with dementia to enjoy through Dementia Adventure trained local partners.

Our challenge as a society is to make sure that the right support, equal access and inclusive activities are on offer for people so that those living with dementia are routinely seen and are valued participants in our nature spaces, whether that is on a managed walk in a park, strolling along canals or sitting in a bird hide.  People with dementia have so much to teach us and offer our communities if we think differently about dementia.

Dementia Adventure is a multi-award winning social enterprise and charity. It provides trainingresearch, and consultancy services based around the needs of the individual living with dementia, being connected to the outdoors and the benefits of positive-risk taking. It also provide supported short breaks and holidays for people living with dementia and their carers to enjoy together. 

Part of
New Radicals


Neil Mapes

Neil Mapes is co-founder and Managing Director of Dementia Adventure CIC. He is a Clore Social Fellow, RSA Fellow, and was selected by an expert panel of judges at Nesta and the Obse...