Published: 5 April 2022

Senses Wellbeing Centre DBS-130 - Older adults dementia-friendly group with DBS manager Lisa Sidgwick, third from left and Karen, centre back

Older adults dementia-friendly group with DBS manager Lisa Sidgwick, third from left and Karen, centre back

In 2020, Senses Wellbeing Centre applied through Darlington Building Society’s 5% Pledge and was awarded £5,000 to install central heating. Today, we catch up with founder and fitness instructor, Karen Winspear.

Karen was just about to fulfil her dream when the coronavirus hit.

She converted a former joinery workshop into a wellbeing centre to support every age and ability. The centre provides accessible inclusive sessions, including sensory play, immersive 4D sensory cinema and music therapy.

But the building was freezing cold, and she used the Darlington Building Society donation to install heating. As Karen says: “It was baltic!”

Just after she signed the lease, everything shut down.

A hive of activity

Now, however, the centre is a hive of activity, and in use seven days a week. It provides activities for children with special needs and their families, and for older adults.

KTS Academy, a special educational needs school in Broughton, brings in three classes a week. Kirkleatham Hall School brings in two classes from Redcar. There is also a profound learning disability class, with youngsters predominantly in wheelchairs, coming in once a week.

Karen is working with Redcar & Cleveland Lead Inclusion to be involved with every SEN school in the Tees Valley.

Keeping the unit warm is perhaps more important for the older adults that come to the sessions. Many of them have dementia, a pacemaker or arthritis, so Karen has to ensure the right level of exercise for everyone.

“Our older adults are often not raising their heart rate, but they have to be able to reach and exercise to help their muscles to protect their joints. They’re more prone to falling, so we offer seated classes, and they need to be warm,” says Karen.

Something for everyone

The centre also has a dementia cinema holds dementia tea dances, and has a sensory garden.

Providing somewhere for families to meet is very important to Karen. “We’ve got a really calm environment for children with diverse needs. Families come in and share the space, volunteers help run the classes.”

Lisa Sidgwick, manager of Darlington Building Society’s Redcar and Guisborough branches, has championed the centre from its inception. She also volunteers there, along with some of her staff, on a regular basis.

She says: “It is wonderful to see how Karen’s dream has become a reality – despite being delayed by Covid. We are proud that the Society has been able to help to bring this extraordinary facility to the community, and are delighted to be able to stay involved as it grows.”

Despite setbacks and her struggles for funding, Karen’s natural optimism shines through: “We need some positive out of Covid – and we can only go from strength to strength now,” she says.

For more information about Senses Wellbeing Centre please visit their website.

For more information on Darlington Building Society’s 5% Pledge please visit our community page.