Dear people of Ballarat, I am writing to thank you for your big, beautiful heart – and all you have done to make this city a better place for people living with dementia.
I grew up in Ballarat, completed my HSC at St Martin’s, moved to Sydney age 18 to train to be a teacher in Papua New Guinea, then returned five later to teach in a secondary school in the western suburbs of Melbourne. Almost 27 years ago, I moved back to Ballarat with my married partner Edie to support my parents as my mother had Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
I had good feelings about moving back and you exceeded all my expectations. You have been warm and open hearted and offered a sense of welcome that we have loved. It immediately felt like home to both of us, even though Edie had only ever lived in Melbourne. You accepted and embraced Edie and I as a couple from the beginning, something we hadn’t always felt in Melbourne. You made us feel we had place here – that we belonged.
In 2010, when operating as Stayin’ Alive driving instructor, Edie was diagnosed with younger onset dementia Alzheimer’s disease. It was such a difficult time for us leading up to her diagnosis. There was no explanation for her withdrawal or other changes and challenges she was experiencing. Not knowing the cause or what was happening made it extremely difficult for both of us. As Edie’s dementia progressed, she needed you to be there for her.
One person or one family is not enough when someone has dementia. We needed friends and services and community. And you were there. For that, you will forever have a place in my heart.
In August 2016, we asked you to join our Bigger Hearts campaign to create a more dementia-friendly Ballarat. We wanted every Ballarat resident living with dementia to feel valued, respected, included, supported and engaged. And you responded with true Ballarat warmth and spirit.
I want to thank every single Ballarat person who has helped us.
I want to thank the 300 people who filled out postcards telling us their ideas for a more dementia-friendly Ballarat. I want to thank the 20-plus businesses who became local dementia hubs and put up posters welcoming people living with dementia. I want to thank the 14 of you who participated in our film to show that talking to people living with dementia is not only possible and meaningful, it is also a basic human need and can be enjoyable for both.
I want to thank the journalists from The Courier and WIN TV who covered our work and took our message into your loungerooms. I want to thank the 60 or more people who attended gatherings at the Turret Café to build a network of support, particularly those who came and shared their diagnosis publicly for the first time.
I want to thank service providers who’ve supported us, including Eyers House, and government departments that have found a way to help us with kindness, compassion and empathy. I want to thank our local government, state and federal politicians who have been there for us when we’ve needed them and have taken broader dementia issues to council or parliament. I want to thank the Bank of Melbourne, which recently became Victoria’s first accredited dementia-friendly bank.
To the artists, filmmakers, police, ambos, businesses, neighbours, family, friends and community members who have stepped up to learn more about what they could do to help those with dementia: we also say thank you. To those impacted by our presentations, signed-up for research projects, become volunteers, offered messages of support, checked-in with us, delivered cooked meals and put their arms around us, I will be forever grateful. To the families living with and alongside dementia, thank you for your trust and for becoming part of our dementia team. Our motivation is for you and future families facing dementia to feel you belong here in this community and that it understands and supports you.
The Bigger Hearts Dementia Alliance was established in 2017 with the support of the City of Ballarat and other community leaders to create a more dementia-friendly Ballarat. To these leaders, we say thank you. We’re on our way to our target of 5000 Ballarat dementia friends, pushed along recently by the passionate Nick Locandro who is drawing a great response from a young generation of hospitality providers signing up to be dementia friends. This commitment is embraced by the 22 partners involved Woowookarung Dementia Sensory Trail project, the City of Ballarat, Ballarat Health Services and others.
Ballarat is working towards compassionate city status. We have personally experienced Ballarat’s care and compassion since moving here, but particularly so since Edie’s diagnosis. The importance of compassion shown to us and others living with dementia cannot be overstated. You have given us confidence to go out and live our lives and know that we live in a safe, supportive, friendly and kind-hearted place.
Ballarat people love and feel pride in their city and happily live here. While there is much about Ballarat to love, I think it is our heart, our generosity, our compassion for others and kindness shown in times of need that draws people in, draws them back and makes them want to stay.
Thank you, Ballarat.