Dementia charity to shut after council grant axed

Yo Tozer-Loft and her father, Reg.
Yo Tozer-Loft and her father, Reg.

As changes are made to the way Sheffield helps carers of people with dementia, Peter Kay reports on the concerns of one carer, who reflects on her own experience

A CHARITY that has helped Sheffield families to cope with dementia for 25 years is being wound up.

Volunteers have given their time to sit with elderly and vulnerable people in the south and south west of the city to allow their carers to take a much-needed break.

But now SWASS - the South West Area Sitting Service - is folding as a result of losing a £28,000 council grant that paid for two part-time workers who did the organisation. There will be no more sittings after Christmas.

The council says dementia services across the city have been restructured to make them more consistent for carers.

But Yo Tozer-Loft, who used the service as her father, Reginald, became increasingly ill with Alzheimer’s Disease, and who became a volunteer sitter herself, said: “It’s really big loss.

“SWASS was well established with a good number of faithful volunteers. For me, it was essential part of being able to care for my dad. Old people with dementia need proper care, and I couldn’t have done it without SWASS.”

Over the past year, the charity has supported 36 families thanks to its 36 volunteers, but it decided it could not adapt to compulsory competitive tendering introduced by the council last September.

“A very small organisation such as SWASS does not have the necessary infrastructure to enable it to compete in this new ‘market place’,” said Yo. “This meant that SWASS no longer received a grant direct from the council, and the task of raising its own funding every year was impossible. The trustees have had to make the very difficult decision to close the service.”

Referrals had come from social services, district nurses, the Alzheimer’s Society and carers and families.

As a small organisation, SWASS had been able to honour almost all its arranged sits, carefully matching volunteers with families, often resulting in long-lasting relationships, said Yo.

Some of those relationships will carry on without the formal backing of the charity.

But Yo said: “Wouldn’t this city be wise to maintain, and indeed replicate, an organisation that has the expertise of a quarter of a century, a good track record of mobilising precious volunteers, and a long history of supporting families at their most vulnerable? Why are we throwing this away?”

The council believes the reorganisation of dementia services will bring improvements, with money reinvested.

Instead of 22 original contracts - with 11 providers - a city-wide service was put in the hands of a not-for-profit organisation, Making Space, from October 1. All providers were offered the chance to bid in open market tender, but SWASS decided not to bid

All organisations affected were offered chance to transfer employees, but, again, SWASS declined, said the council.

Consultations are currently being held over the strategy for helping people with dementia.