MANCHESTER City Council has become the first in Greater Manchester to allow staff to have time out to attend a carers course to help them improve communications with loved ones living with dementia.

The council set up a four-week training course in conjunction with Empowered Conversations – a dementia communications provider that helps people stay connected or reconnect with someone living with dementia.

Eight employees from different departments at Manchester City Council attended the sessions in work time to learn new techniques to communicate better with their loved ones. And since attending the course they have stayed in contact with each other via a Google Hangouts group online – to support each other with emotional and practical advice, as well as meeting up in person.

This Dementia Action Week (20 – 26 May 2019) aims to unite people, workplaces, schools and communities to take action and improve the lives of people living with dementia – and start a conversation.

Here four of the Manchester City Council employees talk about their experience of the Empowered Conversations course and how having each other to connect with has helped them.

Jon Atkin, Area Manager for Parks and Green Spaces, attended the course to help improve communications with his mum, who has Alzheimer’s disease, and to support his dad, who is the main carer.

He said: “We feel grateful that work gave us the opportunity to go on this course within work time as it would have been difficult to have found the time if it was not.

“Everyone who was on the course, had not come across each other before. Now, after being on the course, we have formed relationships that mean we feel comfortable to ask each other advice on care homes, for example, and provide emotional and practical support and share information to support each other.”

Dianne Sakalas, who works in the South Neighbourhood team, cares for her dad, who is living with vascular dementia after having a stroke.

She said: “We learnt a lot together, and we now try to put that into practice. I have to keep checking myself to make sure that I don’t ask too many questions – but do use the technique learnt of the Empowered Conversations course called Invitation to Respond – which means I ask less questions and use a statement instead and don’t pressure dad to answer. The course has also helped to get more people talking about dementia – which is great.”

Janet Shaw, from Trading Standards, cares for both her parents, who have dementia – one with Alzheimer’s and the other with vascular dementia.

She said: “The course and the group that we have formed since has meant we have been able to share stories with each other and don’t feel like it is only us going through something. It has also made me open up more about what our family is going through with other colleagues in the office – the more we talk about dementia the better. There is a comfort in knowing that you not alone and you are not the only ones that it is happening too. The course has helped me to go with the flow more – and not force a situation with my parents.”

Hui Zhao, who works in the Financial Management department, is helping care for her dad from long distance, as her parents live in China.

She said: “The course was very helpful to understand how I can support my parents better and to connect with other people who have parents who are living with dementia. I use the course techniques on the phone with my dad – and talk to my mum about what I have learnt and will be visiting soon – so will be able to share even more then.”

The Empowered Conversations course, which is run by social enterprise – Six Degrees – is free to carers and takes a different approach to communication in dementia care that is designed to help people living with dementia and their carers to find ways to stay connected, handle emotional stress and navigate the day together.

Councillor Bev Craig, Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for Adult Health and Wellbeing, said: “We care about the wellbeing of our staff and want to be able to support them through what can be difficult times in their home lives. We were delighted to be able to put on the Empowered Conversations course for those who are caring for a loved one with dementia – and are so pleased that they learnt a lot and have continued to support each other.”

For more information on the Empowered Conversations course go to