A Wandsworth charity supporting the isolated elderly are appealing for the return of their unique dementia-friendly minibus after it was stolen over a week ago.
Charity volunteers had kitted out the one-of-a-kind minibus with a TV monitor that reminded passengers where they were going, the activity of the day, the lunch menu and what the staff looked like.
They had decorated it with butterflies and birds on the windows, fairy lights, fluffy cushions and coloured headrests.
Regenerate-RISE founder Mo Smith explained how people with dementia can recognise colours so pensioners were able to identify their seats by the coloured headrests.
Smith, 73, said: “It’s the first bus that I’ve ever heard about that is dementia-friendly in that way and we obviously spent a lot of time getting it ready for those people.
“If people have dementia it’s very hard getting into a minibus when you don’t know where you’re going.
“They loved their minibus, they really did.
“It was very familiar to them and it was part of the pleasure of the day to travel in it.
“To lose it at such a crucial time is devastating and it has such a ripple effect.
“It might only be a bus to the person who stole it but it means an awful lot to the people who usually use it.”
Husband and fellow charity trustee, Ray Smith, discovered that the minibus was missing from Darfur Street in Putney at 5.30pm on Sunday 18 April.
The minibus was spotted in Balham on the morning of Saturday 17 April and on two other occasions in Southfields later that day.
It was last seen on Darfur Street by a neighbour on the evening of Friday 16 April.
The charity has two older minibuses which they will use for the lunch club relaunch this week but these are not currently dementia-friendly.
The lunch club at St Michael’s Church will run four days a week and Smith hopes she can reopen the charity’s Putney base at the Platt Christian Centre for five days a week at the end of May.
Before the pandemic, 40 pensioners would attend the club but, due to current restrictions, a different group of eight will be brought in every day.
Visitors can play musical instruments, games, quizzes, bingo and dominoes or do art and crafts at the lunch club.
The charity has a ‘Magic Table’ which people with dementia use to play games where they can sweep up leaves, pop bubbles or catch fish.
Regenerate-RISE provided 33,262 responses to the elderly in their homes during the pandemic including lunches, supply bags, activity kits, knitting projects, gifts and individual help.
The number of elderly requiring regular service from the charity has risen from 160 people before the pandemic to 280 at the start of 2021.
Smith spoke of her concern for how the elderly have coped with lockdown over the last year.
She said: “The deterioration of old people over the last year is phenomenal, both physically and mentally.
“We don’t know until we pick people up how everyone is doing.”
Smith and her son Andy founded the charity in 2000, after a day centre they volunteered at in Roehampton closed.
The grey minibus is covered with blue stickers of the charity’s logo, phone number and website address.
The vehicle’s number plate is YT14UYU.
If you see the minibus, contact the police on 101 and email the charity at [email protected].
Credit for all photos: Mo Smith