Our Celebrating Communities project was designed to celebrate and build on the remarkable community responses to lockdown in 2020.  It was a short but critical project that made a bridge between conversations and aspirations generated during lockdown and whatever came next. The project explicitly focused on the whole community and including people with dementia and carers in plans and visions that were generated during lockdown. Celebrating Communities was led by DFEL Director Maya Howell and funded by Life Changes Trust.  It ran from January – July 2021.



During Covid, like many others, we focussed on providing practical help where could do that safely and helping other comunities provide support to people  with dementia and carers when we couldn’t.  You can read about the work we did with the North Berwick Community Emergency Resilience Team here. All through Covid, communities across the county (and everywhere) gave fantastic support to people with dementia and carers. Local volunteers delivered hot meals, picked up prescriptions, gave ‘thank you’ gifts to carers and kept isolated people connected with a smile and gifts. It was lovely to hear from our friendship groups just how much communities did and the new friendships and connections they made over this difficult time.  Communities did so much to keep people safe and well. They truly were dementia friendly communities and they built friendships that they value and want to keep going.

We kept in touch with people in the Friendship Groups  as much as we could – linking them to local community support in newsletters, e mails and phone calls. From May 2020, Maya ran a weekly online Friendship Group with space for conversations. As time went on, we invited musicians, artists, countryside rangers and some four legged friends too. They all made our times together special.

We heard many stories about how tough things were for people with dementia and carers in lockdown. People with dementia often didn’t understand the new social rules or why people were behaving differently  – no touching, walking apart.  People with dementia and families struggled without the reassuring patterns of daily life, essential informal support from people round them and became (more) socially isolated. We heard about neighbours complaining that people with dementia were not obeying the rules and who were frightened they were at risk. People with dementia and carers who were unable to go out and became deeply depressed as dementia symptoms accelerated.   Many carers struggled to balance staying safe and caring roles, having even less time to care for themselves.  Some carers faced negative comments for visiting family members or having ‘too much shopping’ when  buying for 2 households, or for travelling outwith their areas. There were sometimes assumptions that young people and men weren’t providing an important caring role.   And of course many of our friends died (not just of covid); many went into care homes  – often with very little time to manage the transition – leaving them and families lost. It was and for many still is, bleak, tough and lonely. And very sad.

At the same time we saw so clearly how small (and big) acts of friendship and kindness changed lifes for people – those that gave and those that received. We were inspired by the kind volunteers delivering food for the body and smiles for the heart.  If ever we needed proof that community and people are important and make a difference, it was there in front of us.

We wanted to honour and celebrate the power of community, help communities meet their hopes for the future and create stories and examples to make sure we don’t lose sight of their importance to us all. Many thanks to  the Life Changes Trust for funding that enabled us to do this. We also thank the North Berwick Trust for a project that emerged from this – Seaside Singers.

Celebrating Communities created a space for communities to come together and share ideas and experiences round community and lockdown. It enabled us to:

  • capture and build on what communities achieved during lockdown
  • support communities to become more dementia inclusive
  • connect the energy and learning from lockdown and community resilience work to recovery
  • develop our long-standing work on digital inclusion, physical activity and inter-generational working
  • connect Friendship Groups more strongly to their communities
  • keep conversations about Dementia Friendly Communities and Meeting Centres going
  • strengthen and deepen understanding of the importance of communities in the development of the East Lothian Dementia Strategy

What we did
We ran 15 monthly drop-in online conversations where people could bring up any issues they wanted to talk about.  The first conversation brought together over 40 people from a wide range of communities and organisations including new friends who had not engaged with DFEL before. People told us they enjoyed the open and informal friendly social setting. Over the project 165 attendees joined us from local and national groups. Conversations covered a wide range of themes and  allowed us to continue work we began before Covid, including Meeting Centres and Dementia Friendly Communities.

Through the conversations, we developed projects on:

  • Digital Inclusion
  • Walking
  • Singing

Digital Inclusion

Digital inclusion was a big issue for families and resilience teams during lockdown.  Celebrating Communities led to 2 digital projects: Digital Stories with the Pennypit Centre and Digital Buddies,  with Outside the Box.


Digital Stories – we worked with the Pennypit Centre and PSG Area Partnership to develop stories about digital inclusion projects led by communities across East Lothian.  See more here. Key messages were:

  • Digital inclusion must be meaningful and personal to each individual person
  • People must have choices
  • We need to go at the pace right for that individual – it can take a long time
  • We must focus on what support that person wants and what they want to get out of using a device
  • Relationships with people are at the heart of digital inclusion (DI) and are what make it work
  • DI must be linked to social inclusion and belonging
  • DI is not about devices, it’s about people.

“Getting the devices is actually the easiest part. But regardless of health or age, if you give anyone a tablet or computer they have no idea what they want to do with it…. Everyone will have a different reason for wanting to use it.”

Digital Buddies – Maya developed this project with Christine Ryder from Outside the Box and Dunbar Grammar School. This intergenerational enabled people from the Dunbar Diners Old and Young group to stay in touch over lockdown.  The Diners is an an inter-generational social club run by Dunbar Grammar School, Dunbar Rotary and DFEL. Over lockdown, the school and Dunbar Rotary have continued to deliver meals to older guests. Maya got funding from Connecting Scotland for devices and Outside the Box came on board to provide advice and support. 12 older people got tablets, wi-fi and weekly digital classes.  Read more here.

“It’s great having a buddy, she doesn’t just do it for me like my family tend to. She shows me what to do and it’s ok if I don’t remember, she just shows me again! She is so patient. “

You can read more about the Outside the Box Project here.

We are very grateful to the funders and supporters of these projects. Thank you!  🙂




People with dementia and carers wanted to get out and walk as soon as they safely could. Many people value getting out not just for fresh air and exercise but also company (socially distanced) and nature – all things that we know help people with dementia and carers. Celebrating Communities provided a space for communities to take these ideas forward.

Priorities for walking projects included:

  • Information: maps, accessible, up to date information in the right places
  • Mobility: access to benches and short and long walks so people could find a walk they could manage
  • Motivation: buddy walking, themed walks

We had 2 walking projects led by community groups, in particular the Health and Well Being Groups who are part of community planning: the North Berwick Coastal Walking Festival and Buddy Walks. Partners included Paths for All, Ageing Well, Enjoy Leisure, Carers of East Lothian, North Berwick in Bloom and the East Lothian Countryside Rangers.

The North Berwick Coastal Walking Festival


Conversations acted as a catalyst for several events including the North Berwick Coastal Walking Festival aimed at encouraging people to experience the benefits of outdoor physical exercise. Walks  were developed for all ages, levels of fitness and mobility, including people using wheelchairs. Celebrating Communities provided a catalyst for this:

“One of the benefits of the [Celebrating Communities] project for me was actually pushing me to take an idea and out it into action…it made me focus down and get things organised.”


Buddy Walks

Walking also provided opportunities for being with others safely. For people with dementia and carers, walking with other people also provides respite – either walking together or separately. Ageing Well runs walks for people with dementia and carers but communities wanted to run their own. Ageing Well responded to enthusiastic requests for Buddy Walks by providing free training and developing a resources pack for communities. Celebrating Communities also contributed to the development of guidance for the North Berwick Coastal ‘On the Move’ Group’s All Area Plan



Singing – where would be be without music! Celebrating Communites supported 2 connected singing projects: Seaside Singers and Seaside Memories.

Seaside Singers was developed to bring joy into the lives of older people across North Berwick and give them something to look forward to after a long period of lockdown. We also wanted to support artists and performers unable to perform in our local care homes and day centre. It was the idea of Khlayre Cairney who led the project with funding from the North Berwick Trust . Maya provided support, so a big thank you again to the Life Changes Trust too.

Khlayre worked closely with staff in  local care homes and managers of housing for older people across the town. They helped people to join the 5 themed performances Khlayre ran from March 2021 to July 2021. To help ensure everyone could join in, Khlayre helped with digital inclusion, liased with staff and provided song sheets. The song sheets were a very simple but remarkably effective way to help people join in. Not only did they give people the words, but for some, simply holding the songsheet along with everyone else, enjoying music, was a powerful and embodied way to be included.   You can see performances here.  Because of lockdown, we were unable to run any real life events, but hope to in 2022.

Seaside Memories – grew from Seaside Singers. Unable to run the real life events we’d planned, Khlayre wanted to find a way for people to be actively involved in creating something together and as performers, in an event for the whole community. You can read more here.  Seaside Memories enabled us to create connections between people, through music, when they were unable to meet in person.   The idea came from a resident at a local care home who wanted to write a poem. The Activity Coordinator was planning a reminiscence project on seaside holidays and worked with Khlayre to develop a project for the whole community. People in care homes and the day centre held local workshops to talk about the sea and collect shared memories. These were collated and a local musician – Penny Stone – turned them into a song that was performed by her and shared online. They also inspired a poem by Jane, a local poet. We have saved the memories and are talking with the community how we might use them. The Seaside Memories Song can be heard here.


Celebrating Communities was great fun and helped us to suppport and encourage people to build on the friendships, skills and choices available. We hope it brought joy and fun.  Maya and Khlayre did a fantastic job to create conversations, friendships and projects. And we couldn’t have done it without the energy and enthusiasm of communities, perforrmers, partners and funders. The project has helped us re think how we work and how we better support communities and has provided an excellent basis for re-starting the work on Meeting Centres, Dementia Friendly Communities and Friendship Groups.

But the real stars are people across East Lothian who helped each other during lockdown and who continue to create warm and welcoming communities for us all.

Thank you to everyone who was part of this amazing project!


Take care


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