Highland Alzheimer team scoop community prize at Scottish Gaelic Awards

A delighted Alzheimer Scotland West Highland team are pictured with the Community Award. Left to right: Diane Smith, Lesley Hellon, and Margaret Nicolson. Photo credit: Stevie Welsh.

A West Highland project supporting people living with dementia to engage in their first language has scooped the top community prize at the 2021 Scottish Gaelic Awards in Glasgow.

The initiative, led by Alzheimer Scotland’s West Highland team was picked as the winner of the Community Award at the Duaisean Ghàidhlig na h-Alba 2021 during a glitzy ceremony held at the Glasgow Marriott Hotel on Tuesday 16th November.

Speaking to the Free Press, shortly after the project launched, Lesley Hellon, the Dementia Advisor for Alzheimer Scotland’s West Highland Team, said: “I learned that people living with dementia can often revert back to their first language which in this case is Gaelic.

“There were no Gaelic conversation groups that I was aware of, and so I decided to see if gaining funding could help us engage not only people living with dementia but their carers and their families.”

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Bòrd na Ghàidhlig contributed funding to enable monthly meetings to run online for a year, and Lesley and fellow colleagues have since engaged with local fluent Gaelic speakers and Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Phort Rìgh to deliver the project.

Having started as a monthly meeting in March, it has now increased to twice a month after receiving further funding which has improved the service for people living with dementia whose first language is Gaelic across the Highlands.

Touching on the positive impact it has had, Lesley said: “It was absolutely amazing to see the response, people moved to the front of their seats and their faces lit up, it was like a switch being turned on, I was blown away.”

Speaking after the award win, a delighted Lesley Hellon told the Free Press: “To win this award has been amazing.

“I have not only seen the difference in people with dementia engaging with the Gaelic conversation groups but also a confidence and excitement in the children of Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Phort Rìgh and Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Loch Abar coming along.

“Even the Alzheimer Scotland staff have found this empowering.

“Thanks must go to Margaret Nicolson and Anne Martin for their input – without this support we could not deliver such a high standard therapeutic work.

“I would also like to give a huge thanks to our funders Bòrd na Ghàidhlig and the Highland Council Gaelic team for believing in us and supporting us”

Councillor Calum Munro, who is chair of the Highland Council’s Gaelic Committee, welcomed the award and said: “I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Alzheimer Scotland West Highland on their recent success at the Scottish Gaelic Awards, this is a fantastic achievement for the organisation and the key partners involved in the project.”

He added: “The Highland Council Gaelic team is delighted to support such an important and worthwhile initiative that provides essential support to people living with dementia whose first language is Gaelic.

“It is fantastic that we also have our Gaelic medium pupils from Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Phort Rìgh and Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Loch Abar engaging in the project.

“Gaelic medium pupils delivering online sessions in Gaelic song and playing traditional musical tunes is a fine example of partnership working between our Gaelic medium schools and the wider Gaelic community.”

Article by Adam Gordon.