Four out of five people diagnosed with dementia before retirement age lose their jobs – but a new Channel 4 show is hoping to change that.
The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes has hired 14 volunteers – all who have been diagnosed with dementia – to cook and serve food to the paying public.
Their previous occupations range from a gynaecological surgeon to a mortgage advisor, but all bar one have left full-time employment, with some losing their homes as a result of the financial strain.
“We don’t look like we’ve got dementia, because we’re not 94 and sat in an old people’s home,” says one volunteer, Lorayne. “We’re written off, we’re ready to be swept under the carpet.”
The aim of the show, which airs tonight at 9pm, is clear: to show that people with dementia can make a valuable contribution to society. One episode in, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Episode one sees Bristol-based restaurateur Josh Eggleton and dementia specialist Dr Zoe Wyrko train the 14 volunteers to work in the restaurant.
“Even with a diagnosis of dementia, work could still be possible for some people as long as companies and employers make reasonable adjustments,” Dr Wyrko says.
If the four-week experiment proves her opinion to be true, it could make a huge difference to the 42,000 people in the UK under 65 with dementia.
One of the volunteers, named Joy, demonstrates just how simple it can be to introduce workplace adjustments. After watching a co-worker, Avril, become distressed because she can’t locate her belongings, Joy sticks a photo of each staff member on their locker.
“People living with dementia work better with visual aids,” she says. “I think it’s about adapting. Any workplace can do things like this for people to be able to benefit their working day.”
The restaurant’s grand opening isn’t plain-sailing, with a few forgotten and misplaced orders here and there. And we’re also reminded of the challenges the volunteers face: Avril fails to recognise her husband when he enters the restaurant and Roger momentarily walks out when things become too overwhelming.
But what stands out more, is the positive and productive contributions the volunteers do make – and the fun they have along the way.
As well as Joy’s problem-solving, we watch Lesley – who has worked in a school canteen and a bakery – find her stride managing the pass, while Sue shows she’s a dab-hand at taking orders, as well as supporting colleagues like Roger who are struggling.
“We need to feel valued,” says Peter, 54, a former timber mill owner. “Because we’re not at the end of our lives, there’s so much stuff we can do.”
In the coming episodes, the volunteers will hone their new skills and Dr Wyrko is hopeful the four-week experiment will provide many of them with a renewed sense of purpose, as well as improving their wellbeing and confidence.
After just one shift, some volunteers are already reaping the rewards. “I really feel good now today,” says Lesley, who started the shift tearful, but ends with a broad smile. “I can do something, and it is possible.”
The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes is on Wednesday 12 June at 9pm on Channel 4.