Ahead of World Alzheimer’s Day 2020, we spoke with Everton in the Community about their Pass on the Memories programme and the impact it has on people with Alzheimer’s.

Everton in the Community is the official charity of Everton FC and is recognised as one of the English Premier League’s leading community schemes, due to the quality and reach of its various programmes.

Since 1988, Everton in the Community has been at the forefront of social intervention across Merseyside, offering more than 40 programmes covering a range of social issues including health, employability, anti-social behaviour, crime, education, dementia, poverty, youth engagement, youth justice and disability.

One such programme is Pass on the Memories – a pioneering project supporting people living with all forms of dementia as well as those close to them.

Michael Salla, Director of Health and Sport at Everton in the Community, told us how the programme is changing lives through the unique power of football.


Where did the idea for the Pass on the Memories programme come from?

We recognised back in 2013 that there was a real need to create a support provision for people living with dementia and their families. At the time, we were working with our local National Health Service (NHS) mental health provider, Mersey Care. They diagnose people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and it worked well that we could provide a direct pathway for them to then refer people to us.

The programme was born out of identifying this need for support, but also us recognising that we could play a significant role in this. Through our connection to the football club, we have access to a number of assets that can help to stimulate conversation. This includes club memorabilia, the rich history of the club and also the city.

Using music, the arts and landmarks around the stadium and the city, we can bring people together in a venue to speak, connect with new friends and relive moments of their lives.


What are the main aims of the programme, and how does it support people with Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Dementia is such a complex condition, that affects people in many different ways. There are over 100 different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s .

The main aim of the programme is to improve the quality of life of people with dementia, as well as those living with them. We do this by providing a number of interactive activities, giving the opportunity to connect with people in similar situations.

We aim to improve their lifestyles, encouraging physical activity (including singing, dancing and visiting landmarks and parks) and healthy eating. We also create networking opportunities, in turn tackling isolation and loneliness.

The NHS Clinical Director for Dementia and Mental Health commented lately that programmes such as ours do improve the quality of life and also extend life.


Is the programme just for Everton fans, or can anybody get involved?

It is for everybody. Across Everton in the Community, we deliver over 40 programmes and all of them are open to everybody regardless of the team that they support.

We have participants on board who are Everton supporters, but also Liverpool fans, fans of other clubs and also people with no football allegiance at all.

“The sessions give me a chance to expand what was a shrunken world, to a larger network.”


How would you say the programme utilises the power of football?

We are based in a hugely passionate footballing city, with a rich heritage and love of the game. This certainly helps with engagement, and helps many people to feel closer to their football club.

We are fortunate that we have access to current Everton players as well as past players, club staff and historians who can all share different stories. We also have access to the stadium, so participants get the opportunity to see the pitch and many of the different lounges that are available here all with their own stories unique to each person. A lot of participants are Everton fans, so it is great for them to come in and see what happens at their stadium, but for others it is an opportunity to see a whole new world.  

We use pieces of memorabilia, such as old footballs, boots and tickets, as well as archive video footage, to help stimulate conversation and bring up memories of these items. The footballs and boots in particular seem to bring up a lot of memories, of participants playing with them in their younger days.


How does Everton FC support the programme?

The club and Everton in the Community are very closely aligned, and we work together in a number of areas. The club provides fantastic support for us.

Supporting the Pass on the Memories programme, the club readily provides access to the manager and first team players, former players and club ambassadors, and access to the stadium. They also support by providing the memorabilia and video footage we use to trigger discussions, which includes older footage but also video from more recent times too.

The club have also supported us through its official social media platforms, and have produced videos for us to raise wider awareness of the programme.

“I like meeting people but I’m not very good at making friends. I now have six good friends.”


What have been your personal highlights of the programme?

For me, it is the personal stories that really stand out and stay with you for a long time.

Very early on, just a couple of months after we launched the programme, we were contacted by the wife of a participant who asked, “What have you done with my husband?”. We began to panic thinking that something bad had happened. She then said that he very rarely speaks, and even when he does it is only a word or two, but since he came home from one of the sessions “he hasn’t shut up”!

She told us that she felt like she had got her husband back, and that was such a powerful thing to hear. You cannot really speak any more highly of the programme than to say that it is having such an impact and is making a huge difference to people’s lives.

There are probably a lot of similar stories to that one. We have engaged over 750 people living with dementia, 1,500 including their carers and companions, since the launch of Pass on the Memories and we have a very high retention rate of participants exceeding 90%.

A lot of people who joined the programme when it launched in 2013 still attend today on a regular basis. This shows us that what we are doing is working, and people continue to come back because they gain so much from taking part.


The impact on family and friends can sometimes be forgotten about. What would you say the impact of Pass on the Memories has been on those closest to people with Alzheimer’s and dementia?

It has been huge. Carers and companions often say to us that it is great to see their loved ones happy and smiling again, and able to speak with other people again.

The programme also offers a degree of respite to families, friends and carers of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Living with someone with the condition can have a huge impact on their own lives, and because of the nature of dementia it will often completely take over the lives of others.

An important aspect of the Pass on the Memories programme is the creation of a support network for those who offer care to people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. They are able to come together, discuss their own experiences and share ideas for coping with and managing different situations.

“It’s nice to hear him talking to other people about the group, both inside and outside, especially if ex-players attend – he boasts to his brother about meeting them!”


How has the ongoing global pandemic affected the programme?

It was a challenge early on, but we have worked to overcome as many of the issues that the pandemic has caused as possible. With the nature of our participants, being elderly and at a higher risk of coronavirus, we began to implement measures to allow the programme to continue remotely.

We faced some issues in terms of digital poverty and digital literacy – some participants were well set up or had family members who could help to get them online, but others were not and realistically would not be able to do so.

We decided that we would deliver provisions online each week, holding events such as coffee mornings and virtual matchdays where participants and staff would watch matches virtually whilst talking together. This has worked really well, but we were mindful that not everybody could access these services.

For those who are not able to join online activities, we have continued to support them through weekly phone calls and sending letters and activity boxes through the post. We have also provided support with more practical areas of life, such as providing books and food for those unable to get out to the supermarket.

It has been a challenge, but we put a good model in place very early and this continues to provide for people now.


The theme for World Alzheimer’s Day 2020 is around breaking the stigma and stereotypes associated with the condition. How has Pass on the Memories helped to achieve this?

I think that this programme really helps people to better understand Alzheimer’s and dementia, and raises wider awareness of how it can affect people in different ways.

It also helps to be mindful and think about the support that both people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and those closest to them, may need.

Having access to the club’s social media platforms has been particularly useful to achieve this. Together with the club we produced a video with a project participant named Tommy Dunne. At the time, we were looking to produce a toolkit to help people in offering support, until Tommy came to us and explained that that wasn’t how dementia worked for him.

In the video, Tommy shares his own personal story of how his life has been affected. The club published the video and hundreds of thousands of people got to understand more about the condition.

We also deliver accredited Dementia Friends training, which helps to improve peoples’ understanding of Alzheimer’s and dementia. This raises wider awareness and helps people to understand how prevalent the condition is and how to best support people living with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

“Seeing my husband enjoying himself - it is such a long time since he was so happy. He has always liked his football and now watches it on TV again.”


Finally, what would your message to other clubs be, about how they can support fans with Alzheimer’s and dementia?

I would encourage them to look for local contacts who are already working in this field, whether a health provider or support network, and link up with them. Take educational courses to develop a good, sound knowledge of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Ultimately, I would urge clubs to open their doors up and bring people in. Take the time to talk with people and understand their lives better, and ask them what support would be useful to them.

Give them the opportunity to engage with your club. Football clubs have such a wealth of assets available to them, including the stadium but also the history of the club, and there is a lot to give that is already in place. Clubs can share important messages, which in turn help to stimulate conversation and connect people in reliving their memories.

We would like to thank Michael and everyone at Everton in the Community for their support and cooperation with this interview.

You can find out more about Everton in the Community and the Pass on the Memories programme.

If you would like to discuss your ideas for similar programmes at your club, please email us at [email protected] or call +44 (0)208 065 5018.

Published 21/9/2020