Since I started my social mission six years ago I’ve struggled to get Health & Social Care stakeholders on board. The biggest issue has been the lack of evidence on the impact Golf in Society has on people’s lives.
Last year I was lucky enough to be accepted onto Sheffield Hallam University’s Wellbeing Accelerator programme. It’s purpose was to support start-ups working in the healthy ageing space to scale. Each start-up received a package of support and access to an amazing group of mentors.
When asked “how can we best support you?” the answer was simple. I requested a research study into the impact our golf sessions were having on the lives of the families we were supporting.
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, I’m pleased to say that the Impact Study has now been published. The qualitative and quantitative data is compelling evidence of how we transform lives.
To have a leading sports research institute produce this report will prove to be a game-changer for Golf in Society. It’s provided us with the vital evidence and credibility we lacked to engage successfully with Health & Social Care stakeholders.
Here’s the infographics that highly the key findings from the research.
2. Impact on participants according to carers
3. Impact on participants
This research has provided us with the “missing link” and will act as a springboard to get our pioneering social enterprise adopted more widely across the UK, taking us a step closer to making our social mission a reality.
Six years ago I sensed we could transform lives through golf, now we have the indisputable evidence to back up that gut-instinct.
Following on from Linda’s blog about the first day of their recent “Time to Relax” leisure break, I’m delighted to share the second half of Linda’s story with you.
So Linda, it’s over to you to take us through day two..
Linda Barnes – Wife to Carer
I’m getting some breakfast juice. I return to the table to find Ken trying to eat the cornflakes I’d left in front of him with a knife and fork.
No one else around the table bats an eyelid. There is no embarrassment. It is simply a demonstration of where Ken is in his dementia journey. I gently swap the cutlery for a spoon, and am given a smile by a fellow carer, no words are needed.
Ken woke this morning in a four poster bed of giant proportions. In fact the room and everything in it makes me feel small. It’s impressive and fabulous but not perhaps dementia friendly, it is designed for a far grander purpose.
There’s a huge gilt freestanding mirror. Perfect for a bride to admire her trousseau, but to Ken it has a menacing edge. He catches a glimpse and thinks there is some else in the room. I demonstrate my comedic skills and dance in front of the reflection, a reassurance there is no one but us.
The bath is an incredible feature, the stuff of posh magazines and footballer’s houses. I joke even if we could get in, we’d never get out. But it is the shower screen that is our biggest obstacle, a plain sheet of glass, very discreet and modern, but Ken can’t judge where it is and is frightened by it.
Dementia brains are different, spatial awareness can be compromised. What is obvious to us isn’t to Ken. It is the only negative I can suggest in our whole two days. I think perhaps the bridal suite would be better suited to a higher functioning couple than we are.
It’s raining, so plan B is put into operation. The boys go tenpin bowling. I’ve a little apprehension re the bowling shoes, but Covid measures mean changing footwear isn’t required. The boys have a fantastic morning.
Meanwhile we ladies take on the tasks of self care and preservation. We have a ‘wellness session’ which reveals deeply hidden emotion. I have a neck and shoulder massage. It is a mixture of pleasure and pain, as my lovely therapist tries to undo the knots in my muscles. I feel inches taller when it’s over.
We paint pictures with non dominant hands and are encouraged to make mess, it’s all about finding the child within us.
More food, delicious soup and sandwiches. Then more cake.
Our afternoon session is a lesson in meditation, all about the breath, all too soon it’s time to go.
The lads are having a sports quiz, prizes are awarded for the bowling, everyone is smiling, that positive buzz hasn’t faded.
A closure speech.
There’s thank you’s all round.
I don’t think the organisers can truly appreciate what they have given their guests.
We have felt nurtured, respected, understood.
Everyone has benefited from the experience and will hopefully carry its effect with them when returning to the everyday.
A social entrepreneurial experiment that has been a massive success. We have shown people living with dementia can still have a fantastic time if the venue and people are sensitive to needs.
It reflects on society as a whole, if more people understand dementia then we are all the richer. The support staff undoubtedly had as good time as we did. It just takes understanding, and a bit of a gamble, I’m so glad they took a chance on us .
For the first time for a very long time we felt like any ‘normal’ couple.
I wish the project every success, and hope it will go from strength to strength so that more couples get the chance to experience the positivity
An opportunity to make a difference?
This certainly was.
Thank you so much.
Wow, what can I say. Linda’s insight, as well as the feedback from her fellow wives and carers is priceless to me. Without it, how on earth could we design services that create opportunities to be “normal”.
For those of you like me who cannot imagine a day without sport in your life, you’ll quickly realise why meeting George and his wife Gillian was a very special day in my life.
passed away recently but has left me, and many others, with some very special
memories that will last a lifetime. My life is richer for knowing him.
George was one of my first clients when I started as a Caregiver with Home Instead Harrogate. In the early days I used to take him to enjoy group exercise sessions for people with Parkinson’s. We also spent many an hour catching up on the sports news and the state of politics.
George enjoyed sport throughout his life, especially cricket and football. He also enjoyed his career as a cricket umpire and football referee. The George Haydon Cup that we will play for is a very special piece of silverware as it was presented to him for services to refereeing in the London area.
Gillian told me the significance of the trophy that she was dedicating in
George’s memory it moved me to tears.
George’s interest in politics stemmed from a career as a public servant in the Treasury. One of his claims to fame was playing cricket with John Major. As an MCC member and an Arsenal season ticket holder, you can imagine the lovely moments we enjoyed chatting, debating and watching sport together.
favourite footballer was the late, great Charlie George.
It was an absolute pleasure to support George enjoy the sporting banter he had loved throughout his life.
one of George’s greatest legacies is that our Parkinson’s Golf Days would never
have happened without a “light-bulb” conversation in his living room.
away with Gillian and George about my dementia golf days in Lincoln resulted in
this question “Have you ever considered doing something similar for
they say, the rest is history with over 20 people enjoying our fortnightly golf
days at Rudding Park.
regret is that the golf days started too late for George. However, his legacy
is that so many others are enjoying better lives with Parkinson’s as a result
of discovering golf.
It will be a very emotional moment when we hand The George Haydon Cup to the winning team at our fundraiser on the 14th August.
The last place many families living with dementia would think of going for an enjoyable day out would be their local golf club. An uncomfortable truth for the golf industry is that public perceptions of golf clubs remain unchanged despite numerous campaigns to change them.
That’s why we’re so proud of leading the way in proving how much golf can offer families facing the challenges of dementia.
We’ve broken down so many barriers along the way and have many more to overcome.
The good news is that our pioneering work is gathering momentum and proving how golf clubs can benefit from engaging more with their local community.
Here’s a great feature by the Alzheimer’s Society about our work and how we’ve made golf the highlight of the week for the families we support.
Who would have thought it would be happening at their local golf club?
Who would have know that golf is one of the new wonder drugs. It has the power to reduce chronic illness, improve healthy ageing, reduce loneliness, give people a sense of purpose and reduce the inactivity timebomb facing our nation.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of listening to the attached presentation by Dr William Bird from Intelligent Health. It was the most compelling and thought-provoking medical presentation I’ve ever witnessed. A wonder drug called FITERIX was introduced to us that has all the necessary ingredients to transform the health & wellbeing of our ageing popualtion.
During the presentation we all took part in a poll as to how much moderate exercise we had completed the day before. The audience of nearly 200 people were all asked to keep their hands up as Dr Bird kept increasing the number of hours achieved. Most people had their hand up at the 30 minute point. Half the people put their hand down at one hour. Only twenty people still had their hands up at the two hour mark. I was one of only six people left with their hands up as achieving more than three hours moderate exercise.
When asked to explain how I’d managed to fit so much exercise into my working day my reply was simple ” I play golf every day and support others to enjoy the game too”.
Here’s the link to Dr Bird’s full presentation. It’s the most compelling argumentation ever as to why GOLF FITERIX should be socially prescribed and made more accessible to families throughout the UK.
Walt Disney famously said “if you can dream it, you can do it”. When I started Golf In Society three years ago I never dreamt that my golfers would have three holes in one in a calendar year. In the golfing world a hole in one is known as an “ace”.
On Wednesday at Rudding Park, Brenda became our third golfer to ace a hole. She hit a lovely 7 iron and one bounce later it was in the hole. For those of you that have achieved and ace you will know the sheer joy of the moment.
Brenda got the chance to sign the “hole in one hall of fame” book in the clubhouse, her name and achievement etched into golfing history for all to see. The wonderful memories of the day will stay with her for a lifetime.
For the golfers reading this you will know that some people play for a lifetime and never get a hole in one. To know that we’ve had three this year is nothing short of a minor miracle. This achievement is even more amazing when you consider that one of my hole in one golfers had never picked up a golf club before he joined us two years ago.
Rob, my first “hole in one hero” this year is a great example of how golf can transform a life. Rob has been diagnosed with PD and is challenged to control his movement and maintain his balance.
He was referred to us by a Parkinson’s nurse at Harrogate hospital. Improving muscle strength, balance and co-ordination are important aspects of living well with this neurological disease.
When Rob joined us we worked on his balance, posture and movement control. Once his confidence grew we introduced him to the golf swing. Building this confidence to swing a golf club was crucial. Interestingly, the more he concentrated on the golf swing the more controlled his movement became.
Here’s a photo of Rob preparing to swing a club during his first golf day with us.
Rob has now been golfing with us for just over two years and has already achieved the incredible feat of having a hole in one. He now has his own set of clubs and trolley that he brings to every session. Rob would never have discovered how much golf had to offer him without programmes like ours. He’s so grateful for the support and new purpose we’ve given him.
It’s a perfect example of how a game that is regarded as too difficult for most people can be enjoyed when the right encouragement, coaching and support is made available.
We now have three “hole in one acers” in our golfing family and I’m sure there will be more joining them in the years ahead.
And finally, here’s a great photo of Rob and Brenda celebrating their incredible achievement. Priceless memories.
Here’s a lovely guest blog from the Alzheimer’s Society following a recent visit to see the special work we’re doing to support families living with dementia.
Recently, Programme Partnerships Officer Steven McFadyen visited people with dementia who enjoy playing sport and being active together. He is looking to support leisure centres, gyms and sports clubs to be more dementia-friendly.
Here, Steven shares his experience of visiting a group of golfers who are living with dementia. He learns why activities, such as golf, are important not just for the players, but also their carers and family members.
Golfers and volunteers at Lincoln Golf Centre after a fun morning of golf.
What is Golf in Society?
I’d heard a lot about Golf in Society before I had the pleasure of visiting a golfing session in Lincoln.
This fantastic initiative is designed to give people living with dementia access to supported golf sessions in a local club.
By providing a person-centred approach, Golf in Society allows people with dementia to continue (or start) playing golf. They ensure the environment is safe, social and – most importantly – fun! A social event
On a weekly basis, golfers come together and enjoy a welcoming session. They spend time on the driving range, on the putting green and out on the course.
It was wonderful to see the golfers greeting one another. Together they have a cup of tea, some lunch and enjoy being outside. It’s an ideal way to spend a morning for anyone that likes sport! Initially, he didn’t want to go because he thought it was going to be competitive. There was an Alzheimer’s Society meeting at the golf club that opened him up to a conversation about golf. Then he came along and has loved it ever since.’ – Carer of person with dementia Golf ‘fore’ all
While the golfers took part in a group warm-up on the driving range, I spoke with their carers in the café. We talked about the golfing sessions and dementia-friendly sporting clubs.
Sat around the table, the carers shared a sense of peer support. They told stories and explained how Golf in Society helps not only the golfers, but also the carers.
These weekly sessions provide the opportunity to create a support network for carers. The partners and family members told me how this three-hour activity gives them and the golfers much-needed time to do their own thing. They both have the chance to relax and do things they love. The carers felt this was a huge positive in their lives.
They felt these supported golfing sessions have given their loved ones with dementia a new lease of life. It is something to look forward to every week that helps to increase social confidence and improve physical fitness. His fitness has improved enormously. He used to use the buggy to get around the course and now he walks and carries his own golf bag. We’ve even started doing our own walks too.’ – Wife and carer of person with dementia
Team photo with Golf in Society Founder, Anthony Blackburn.
Out on the golfing range
It was great to watch the golfers in action. Golf in Society maintains structure and consistency to the regular sessions. This is found to be beneficial for the participants with dementia.
I watched some target practice on the driving range where there were plenty of jokes and smiles.
We headed to the putting green where golfers took on long and short putt challenges. Then, they played a few holes on the course to make the most of the sunshine. It’s given my Dad a new lease of life.’ – Daughter of person with dementia A positive experience
Throughout the morning, golfers enjoyed the challenges, teamwork, high-fives and celebratory air-punches.
The differing levels of golfing experience didn’t matter. The session brought so much fun, laughter and positive experiences for everyone involved.
For the people living with dementia, this wasn’t about their diagnosis. It was about golf. It would be brilliant to see more projects take on a similar model and create dementia-friendly initiatives in their sports clubs. I don’t even think he registers it’s about his dementia, which is great, and it’s not about dementia. For him, it’s just about golf.’ – Wife and carer of person with dementia
This article was recently featured by the National Carers Association in their newsletter that goes to over 2000 people involved in the independent care sector. I hope you enjoy the read.
Dementia is a growing crisis in society. In this special report, we look at Anthony Blackburn, social entrepreneur and the founder of Golf in Society and explain his efforts to make a difference in the lives of people living with dementia and Parkinson’s disease by using the unique attractions of golf.
Every Thursday morning for the last three years, light permitting, Anthony Blackburn has headed out first thing to play nine holes of golf at Lincoln Golf Centre.
Later on that morning he and his team will welcome a bunch of eager recipients to one of his dementia focused golf sessions. After his nine holes, he goes to his car office and prepares another day of development for his social enterprise – Golf in Society. He has approximately two hours, (depending on how he has played his round) to not only make early contact with the ever growing myriad of partners and stakeholders involved in his project but is also mindful of who his attendees are that morning and what he needs to do to make their day special. Lincoln is just one of his centres of excellence.
Moving off the tee
With an impressive care background and equally inspirational approach to people living with dementia and Parkinson’s disease, Anthony has no truck with people who have to live with these conditions being told that their golfing lives are over. He believes that too many golf clubs have turned their backs on members who have spent a lifetime supporting them and its an attitude that has to change. He states “Gone are the days of waiting lists for most clubs and if clubs realised their investments in these lapsed members, they would be contributing to the social good for their locality”.
Anthony even has many examples of clients who had never hit a golf ball before. Put simply, we golfers are all aware of those precious moments when we are playing golf, that we fool ourselves into thinking we know exactly what we are doing with body, club and ball and it feels great but we also know it won’t last too long. He decided that by using golf, he was going to help people feel that moment when perhaps they had forgotten it was possible ever to do so again.
As a carer, he has always looked for ways of providing mental and physical stimulation to make his clients’ days better and whilst he still uses golf to unwind for himself, (we all do don’t we?) he realised that there was absolutely no reason why people with so called limited cognitive skills couldn’t be helped to maintain them or, who knows, get them back? It wasn’t exactly a light bulb moment but certainly it was akin to finding not one but maybe two brand new ProV1’s nestling together in the rough. We all know what that means. A quick look round for errant tee shots and they’re in the bag.
Food for thought.
There are seven stages to dementia. Why do you, the reader, need to know this?
Here are some surlyn proof facts for you. Current statistics are that there are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. In addition, it is estimated by the Alzheimer’s Society that 45% of people who are likely to have the condition, haven’t been diagnosed yet. For reasons of guilt, denial, ignorance and other circumstances.
There are no grey areas with dementia. If it is part of your life either as somebody living with it, or as a carer, it dominates every aspect of your daily living. The chances are that if you haven’t come across the condition on a personal or professional level, you have no idea what that entails.
Such is the emotional turmoil the condition engenders, there are many health experts calling for national minimum wages for family member carers. This might have something to do with the estimation that it costs the government £1.2 billion in lost taxes and making social care payments to people who are cheaper than the NHS and care homes, but it seems some greens are difficult to read easily.
But just to get back to the figures momentarily, imagine that for every one of those 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, there are at least another six people (family members and professionals) involved in their care programmes either directly or indirectly. Add in the undiagnosed, and you have at least nine million people in the UK trying to get on the first tee. With 15% of our population dedicated to dealing with dementia, it’s a fair assumption that a similar percentage are members of golf clubs, or used to be. Given the age profiles for a lot of clubs, the chances are that they are higher. There is a growing body of clinical evidence that shows that the early longer gestation periods of dementia (stages one to four) can be increased by good diet, a level of regular exercise and plenty of mental stimulation. Golf and Health’s outstanding installations at this year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie is a green light as to how the medical industry is beginning to approach the situation for our elder citizens.
There is unlikely to be a clinical cure for dementia for at least two decades. That’s going to be too late for the people needing help now and for some time to come.
Whilst cancer research receives ten times the investment versus finding the answer for curing dementia and Parkinson’s (and all power to its elbow for their extraordinary success rate in treatments), it is likely that we are on our own in dealing with the day to day lifestyles we have to adopt for our family members. Who’s listening?
But it’s not just the medical industry that buys into what Golf in Society is doing. Over the last two years, Anthony has developed working relationships with the European Tour, England Golf, Rudding Park GC, Lincoln Golf Centre, Mearns Castle Golf Academy near Glasgow, the Golf & Health project, Life Changes Trust, UnLtd, Howard Swann at Golf Business International and the Alzheimer’s Society. All these organisations recognise the opportunities that exist to make lives better for people living with dementia and Parkinson’s and also that there are business benefits to be had for all if the fourteen clubs in the bag are clean and ready for use.
There is another analogy to make here. The putter and the carer. Officially, your putter should be taking care of about 40% of the shots in your round. If you are living with dementia, you depend on your carer totally. The carer, very often a family member, is the one club in your bag that you can’t do without, day or night. But when Anthony runs his sessions, he supplies a new putter that enables the weary putter some time to recuperate and recharge the batteries for the inevitable crazy putting course later on in the day.
In an encouraging development recently, our new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Holland, has pledged £4.5 million to the concept of social prescribing by general practitioners. This idea has been around for a number of years now, and GP’s recognise the benefits of using social prescribing in dealing with their workload and helping their patients. The media announced the news with main headlines of people getting involved in gardening and cookery courses to help avoid being prescribed drugs to alleviate their symptoms and in general just using common sense to “feeling better”. Many of these sorts of courses take time (and money) to set up but with golf and the available facilities all over the UK, all you have to do is just pitch up and hit the ball. Feedback and the future
Anthony sees golf as a perfect addition to these various activities and is passionate about the effects he sees day in day out with his Golf in Society “Golf Days Out” sessions. Here are just a few examples of the sort of feedback he receives: “I can’t get him to a day centre, but I can’t stop him coming here”, “He’s happier and he’s more relaxed so I’m more relaxed, it’s priceless from my point of view to see him happy and doing something because he was always so active” and “They help each other on the golf course so you have this chap with dementia helping another chap with dementia….. they know how each other feels”. A further comment really hit home to Anthony recently from Alan at Lincoln Golf Centre…. “I remember now why I enjoy golf so much”. Obviously it was nothing to do with the fact that he had just won the monthly Texas Scramble competition. Pure joy from Alan. Strike a chord with anybody?
Danny Walsh, Senior Lecturer (Mental Health Nursing) at the University of Lincoln chips in with his views “This is a marvellous initiative, which is likely to make a significant and very positive impact upon the lives of those people living with dementia and their carers who take part in it. The University is proud to be evaluating this venture from an academic and medical point of view, but I have seen the pleasure and grins on the faces of the participants and that’s about as good an evaluation as you can get”.
Anthony’s plans are ambitious and like the good caddies out there who know their charges well, they are infectious to those around him. He is currently applying through the relevant government departments to start a trial of local GP’s near his assigned centres of excellence to encourage social prescribing. Training programmes are being prepared for clubs to not only be dementia friendly but run his courses on a regular basis for lapsed members or any local residents who fancy some easy cost effective respite. A policy of adult safeguarding is being prepared to help clubs instigate his programmes and he is well aware of the potential financial implications for clubs that adopt Golf in Society policies. The blueprint that can be created to facilitate a network of “age-friendly” golf clubs throughout the UK already exists and surely it’s just a matter of time before we see his concept at clubs everywhere.
A bit like defibrillators possibly? The importance of holing out well
Throughout his caring career, Anthony has always believed in the old notion of treating people as you would expect to be. His team are reminded regularly to treat their clients as if they were helping their own fathers or grandfathers and he believes it’s an approach that pays off in all his sessions.
As he states, ” I see golf leading the way in person-centred sports coaching for people living with dementia and Parkinson’s and from what I have experienced in the growth of the concept, it’s the utter joy of not only the participants but also their carers, many of whom rely on our sessions to keep them sane”. This is not an understatement.
The cathartic nature of getting involved in the fearful world of dementia is demonstrated by the thousands of people worldwide who have had personal experience of it and are now leaders all over the world in social care with their research and knowledge on the subject and are keen to make sure their stories are told to help others. Mr Blackburn senior was a great judge of pace and direction when it came to his putting and Anthony uses his Dad’s putter all the time because he knows it gives him inspiration in the dark arts of the wand. It’s no accident that he is a very good putter. A fact about which he is extremely proud.
If you, your club or anybody you know needs help or further information about Golf in Society and its mission for the future, visit http://www.golfinsociety.com . Alternatively, call Anthony on 07491 694938. He’s very happy to take your call and if you have to leave a message, it’s probably because he has a club in his hand and is chatting to somebody who needs some help. Or he could be reminiscing about his Dad on the practice putting green.
It’s taken a long time to get golf onto the health agenda of policy makers. Today we finally got a great mention during “Health Questions” in Parliament.
A few weeks ago I was invited by the golf & health project to present our work to health minister Steve Brine at Wentworth. Steve was very impressed with our project, especially how we had engaged successfully with vulnerable adults and people who had never considered playing golf.
It was great to get the chance to prove how golf can be used to facilitate healthy ageing, especially in families touched by dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
At a time when policy makers are looking for new ways to integrate health and social care and keep our ageing population living well for longer, it was the perfect opportunity to prove how golf can play it’s part.
Our SINGLE INTERVENTION addresses at least FOUR SOCIAL CHALLENGES, cutting across four government agendas, health, social, community and sport.
To be more specific…
Our three hour golf sessions improve physical, mental and social wellbeing whilst providing carers with priceless respite support. At present it would take at least four separate interventions to deliver the support that we provide in a single one.
Our single intervention is a fraction of the cost of the current health & care interventions available to families and it delivers higher quality, longer-lasting outcomes..
This is why we are so proud to be proving the power of using golf to facilitate healthy ageing, especially at a time when new thinking and radical approaches are needed to solve the social timebombs facing local communities…