New study looks at success of Harwich Library Memory Café

A group of young people singing whilst a crown of older residents watch on

Our successful Harwich Library Memory Café is the focus of a new research study. 

Titled 'How co-production impacts integrated care design and transformation: Library Memory Café', the study looks at what can be learned from the success of the regular event.

During the study, café participants became the co-researchers. This included colleagues from Adult Social Care, Libraries and Age Well East, alongside carers and volunteers themselves.

The memory café was launched in Dementia Action Week in May 2022. It is for people living with dementia, their carers and families. 

The café offers a safe and supportive space to relax, chat, join in activities and receive advice and information. It’s success has led the launch of similar groups elsewhere in Essex. 

Between June and December 2023 seven co-researchers, recruited from the café, explored how the café has been designed in co-production. 

This is where service providers and users work together to reach a collective outcome. 

The research’s three key findings were:

  • ‘Keeping it real’ the life of the group – how its simple method of production allowed improvements to be made each week and made it more authentic. 
  • Mutual benefits and trust partnerships – partnerships are based on trust and goodwill, creating a positive environment which promotes learning, communication and collaboration.
  • Community-based service delivery – how the group helps ensure health, care and wellbeing needs are met in the community. 

The preliminary paper sets out the background to the study, a visual presentation of the findings and a summary of key learning points.

This study has been part of a wider PhD at the University of Suffolk, through the Integrated Care Academy, with the full thesis write-up due to be completed in September 2024.

One of the co-researchers involved, who is a family carer, said: Interesting, it's given me a lot to think about. I have learned that people who work at the council are really involved in supporting people.” 

Councillor John Spence, Cabinet Member for Health, Adult Social Care and ICS Integration, said: 

“Our Harwich Library Memory Café has proved hugely successful since it launched. By providing dementia support and social engagement within a shared space, in addition to achieving its primary aim of helping people living with dementia. It has also encouraged positive connections between children and young people, older people and the wider community.

“We hope this research study will help others learn from its example, promoting the importance of working as a system, and with service-users, to achieve desired outcomes.”

Councillor Mark Durham, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for the Arts, Heritage and Culture, said: “Our libraries are more than just places where you can borrow books, they are also a social space where residents of all ages can learn new skills and access new opportunities.

“The Memory Café at Harwich Library is one example of how our libraries are able to provide extra support to those who need it and even connect people across generations. I’m delighted to see its success continuing to be recognised.”

Read the early findings of the study