Stray Ferret Christmas Appeal 2023: ‘There’s no light at the end of the tunnel’
Last updated Nov 28, 2023

This year’s Stray Ferret Christmas Appeal is to raise £30,000 for a much-needed minibus for Dementia Forward in the Harrogate district. 

The appeal is kindly sponsored by Vida Healthcare.

Please give generously to support local people and their families living with dementia. Let’s not forget who needs our help this Christmas.

Today, Flora spoke to someone on the helpline team.

Hundreds of families in the Harrogate district are losing their loved ones to dementia every day and now, more than ever, specialist support services are needed.

Today, Keith Townson tells us about swapping his working life in Qatar for a role on the Dementia Forward helpline.

“I was working as a mechanical engineer in Qatar.

“The maximum working age there is 60, so when I reached that, we moved back to Burton Leonard and I took on the role as chairman of the parish council.”

It was then that Keith spotted George Armitage House, Dementia Forward’s flagship hub in the village, and realised he wanted to give something back in his retirement.

He was offered a position as a volunteer bus driver in 2016 and spent five happy years transporting people across the county.

The minibus allows people to access vital care that they may not otherwise be able to access, and helps to combat loneliness those living with dementia may feel. It is also used to take people on day trips out and to social events, like going to the beach, to art galleries or even just to a café for a cup of tea.

Keith added:

“I loved driving the bus so much – it’s so lovely when clients are singing.

“What better thing can you do than help people?”

Two years ago, Keith was offered a position on the helpline.

“I actually originally suggested my son apply for the role – since he was out of work at the time – but after he was offered a job, Dementia Forward offered it to me.”


The helpline is the first point of contact for those with dementia-related enquiries.

The advisers help anyone in need — including family members, clients and medical practitioners — whether it’s providing emotional guidance to people losing their loved ones, or support on how to find dementia care.

It covers the whole of North Yorkshire and refers people to dementia experts in their local area or district.

Keith said:

“No two days are the same. You can receive some pretty horrible calls relating to very sad situations.

“But then there are some really lovely ones too — it’s a real mixture of emotions.

“The most common call is from a family member or loved one that has just received the devastating diagnosis and is looking for the next step.

“That’s what we’re here to give them.”

Dementia Forward’s flagship hub, George Armitage House

The helpline is one of many amazing services on offer for those living with this life changing disease, as well as their loved ones. Keith added:

“The helpline is a reason to get out of bed in the morning and come to work – it’s the best feeling I’ve had from a job.

“It can be heart-breaking though. No two people with dementia are the same, and I’ve learnt there’s no real light at the end of the tunnel…that it doesn’t get better.”

Dementia Forward helps hundreds of families across the Harrogate district every day. The charity eases the pain as much as it can – but it can only do so with the help of charitable donations.

Every donation to our campaign will go directly to Dementia Forward, helping us hit our £30,000 target to buy the charity a new minibus and bettering the lives of those living with dementia and the people around them.

Dementia Forward’s current bus is old and tired and urgently needs to be replaced. The charity would seriously struggle to afford a new one, which is why they need your help to keep this vital service going. Without it, many people living with dementia wouldn’t be able to access the help and support they need.

Click here to donate whatever you can – you never know when you, your family or your friend may be in need of Dementia Forward’s help too.

Thank you.

The NHS found 1 in 11 people over the age of 65 are living with dementia in the UK. For those who need urgent help or have a dementia-related enquiry, call 0330 057 8592 to speak to a helpline adviser.

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