A dementia centre of excellence in Caernarfon has been hailed as “naturally Welsh” by the country’s language supremo.
The £7 million Bryn Seiont Newydd, was opened a year ago by Mario and Gill Kreft of the award-winning Pendine Park care organisation on the site of a former community hospital in Pant Road on the outskirts of the town.
At the end of an official visit to the flagship development, Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws congratulated the couple for their “innovative” approach to care provision which means more than 80 per cent of its staff are Welsh speakers.
The Commissioner’s role is to promote and facilitate use of the Welsh language and ensuring that in Wales it is treated no less favourably than English.
Ms Huws, who has held the position since 2012, studied law and politics at Aberyswyth and Oxford Universities before starting her career as a social worker in Caernarfon. She later lectured at Bangor and Newport Universities and was Deputy Vice-Chancellor of both Bangor and Trinity St David Universities.
After being shown around Bryn Seiont Newydd and meeting residents and staff, who she chatted to in Welsh, she said: “My interest as Commissioner is the real life experiences of people, and doing all I can to make it possible and easy for them to live their lives through the medium of the language. Perhaps this is partly because of the time I spent working as a social worker in Caernarfon in the early 1980s.
“Since I became Commissioner I have dedicated a lot of time to study how people in social care are allowed to use Welsh as their first language.
“One of the key messages that comes through from people and their families is that when someone is suffering from dementia it is critical that they communicate in their first language, which is very often at this stage their only language.
“Language is not a matter of choice in this case, but a real and serious clinical need. Often, a person’s ability to use their second language deteriorates when they have dementia.
“Providing care through the medium of Welsh may enable patients to understand and respond to assessment and describe their symptoms better; also it can ensure respect and dignity for patients and help to reduce the anxiety felt when receiving care.”
She added: “This is my first visit to Bryn Seiont Newydd and I was interested to come here because of its Welsh culture.
“It’s a lovely environment. It is restful and naturally Welsh and it just feels very homely.
“One of the main messages is that we need to support this sort of innovation. We need to think outside the traditional boxes of residential care and Bryn Seiont Newydd does that.
“It’s also important to create and support a bilingual workforce.
“We need people with the innovative ideas which Mario Kreft has had for Bryn Seiont Newydd but we also need the resource of a workforce which can work in a bilingual way.
“Why haven’t we been doing things like this for the past 50 years?”
Mario Kreft explained that 96 of Bryn Seiont Newydd’s 114 staff – or over 80 per cent – were Welsh speaking, which had been a “deliberate policy”.
Of the Commissioner’s visit he said: “The home has been open now for 12 months and has settled down to become part of the community.
“We are delighted that she has come to see the work we’ve been doing here and what the team has achieved.
“It’s been a great pleasure to show the Commissioner the thinking we have about how care can be better delivered in the future.
“It has also been important to discuss with her the importance that language has, particularly in dementia care, where we know that people do revert so often to their first language.
“We believe it’s vital to promote bilingual innovation in our training and we are striving to get Welsh speakers involved in social care as a career, helping their communities and enabling people to receive the best quality care and quality of life as possible.
“With that mind, there is a huge emphasis on the importance of the arts and our enrichment programme is central to daily life at Bryn Seiont where we have a musician in residence and an artist in residence.
“We have regular visits from musicians, choir and performers. Among them is the legendary Welsh folk singer, Dafydd Iwan, who comes here every month and is extremely popular with the residents.”
He added: “It’s absolutely crucial to have a large proportion of bilingual staff. The concept from the outset of this project six years ago was that we were going to provide a fully bilingual dementia care centre in an area where there had been little or no development in many years and we believe the investment we put in provides these extra services at a time when social care is under a great deal of pressure.
“We know the trend is for homes to close and not to open and we believe that Bryn Seiont Newydd provides very important community based services in the medium of Welsh for people from within this community.”