Woman With Dementia Helps Make Teesside International Airport More Inclusive

Posted in: News

Published on: 25th April 2022

A woman with dementia is playing a vital role in helping Teesside International Airport make improvements for customers living with the condition.

Former special needs teacher Lorraine Dunn, of Darlington, visited the airport at the invitation of key staff to conduct a detailed audit of the customer journey.

The 68-year-old, who was diagnosed six years ago, suggested changes to signage, lighting, layout and other aspects of the environment to make it more welcoming and inclusive for people with dementia.

Staff have been working closely with Alzheimer’s Society, Dementia Friendly Darlington and Dementia Friendly Middleton St George to make Teesside a dementia-friendly airport.

Inviting Lorraine on the visit enabled them to gain valuable insights into how welcoming and inclusive the airport appears from the perspective of a person living with dementia.

Armed with a clipboard, Lorraine was accompanied on the ‘walk through’ by Faye Parry, Service Delivery Manager for Teesside International Airport, Helen Pearce, a passenger services consultant, and Alzheimer’s Society employee Shirley Gray, the lead for Dementia Friendly Middleton St George, where the airport is located.

Faye and Helen made notes of Lorraine’s observations as she visited the airport’s check-in facilities, shops, bars and cafes, waiting areas, toilets, baggage claim and more.

Faye said: “It gave us a unique opportunity to visualise the customer journey through Lorraine’s eyes”

“We’re determined to get it right. My own grandad, who passed away in 2011, had dementia, so that’s definitely part of my motivation to make this a success.”

She added: “It’s important to us to do all we can to meet the demands of all our passengers. None of us are experts when it comes to dementia, so that’s why it has been so valuable involving Alzheimer’s Society and Lorraine to help us improve the experience for those who come here. It’s all about making little changes that can make a big difference.”

Despite having lived with dementia for six years, Lorraine – a self-confessed ‘wee fiery Scot’ – remains a resilient and formidable character.

She said: “Being told I had dementia came as a huge shock to me. I had been having memory problems for some time and just thought it was part of getting old.

“I’ll admit I cried the night after my diagnosis, but when I woke up the following morning I thought ‘stuff it – it’s not going to beat me’.

“I was thrilled to be asked to visit the airport and to share my insights. People with dementia are a valuable part of communities and should not feel shut out.”

It was Shirley Gray who made the initial approach to the airport, working closely with Dementia Friendly Darlington and Alzheimer’s Society’s dementia friendly programmes to make Middleton St George a dementia friendly community.

She said: “From the outset we’ve had wonderful support from Faye and Helen. It’s been a pleasure working with them.”

Chloe Hanlon, Head of Service and Transformation for Teesside International Airport, said: “The airport is very much part of the community and we have been working hard to make it as inclusive as possible.

“We want it to be welcoming for everyone including those with disabilities, whether they are physical or hidden.

“However, we were conscious that we might be making assumptions about people with dementia, which is why inviting Lorraine here was so important to us.

Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, said: “The airport has been through a major transformation in the past 12 months, making it easier and smoother to use than ever – and it is striving to be welcoming and accessible to everyone, no matter their circumstances.

“Living with dementia can be very difficult but, thanks to inspirational local people like Lorraine, the airport is now well on its way to being more inclusive and accessible. I’m delighted that our dedicated airport staff have grabbed this opportunity for improvement and are becoming educated on the subject, so everyone coming through its doors gets five-star treatment.”

Belinda Williams, Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friendly Communities Coordinator in Darlington, said: “Dementia Friendly Darlington works together with people affected by dementia, local communities, businesses and people of all ages to make Darlington a place where people with dementia are included, have a voice and can fully participate, as they choose.

“It’s fantastic that Teesside International Airport and Dementia Friendly Middleton St George are working with Lorraine to take action and change the way we think, talk and act about dementia.”

As part of their commitment to inclusivity, management and staff at the airport have also taken part in Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends Information Sessions.

Alzheimer’s Society launched its Dementia Friends and Dementia Friendly Communities initiatives in 2014 to create a society where people affected by dementia are supported and empowered to live the lives they want for as long as possible.

Dementia Friends learn about the condition and how it impacts on those it affects by taking part in the sessions, which are either delivered in person by a Dementia Champion or via Alzheimer’s Society’s website.

There are currently more than 3.4 million Dementia Friends in the UK. To find out more, visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk

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