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Ben BanoBen's Blog

July 2018: - I was pleased to be able to take part in Deal's Good Neighbour Week through providing a stall on the work of Welcome Me as I Am. It was a good opportunity to discuss how Faith Communities have an important role to play in combatting loneliness and isolation. And it was good to be able to listen to the experiences of people whose lives have been toucched by dementia and mental health issues - long may Church communities play their part in helping to develop a more caring community.

And to mark Volunteers Week I was invited to contribute a feature article to the Catholic Universe on the many ways in which we can offer our services as volunteers and the needs for Faith Communities to play an active role in supporting as well as training volunteers. 

April 2018: - 'Lets organise a great get-together'.
Loneliness and social isolation are increasing burdens in today's society and are themes reflected in our parish communities. In a digital and increasingly depersoniised world it is all too easy to feel isolated and out of human contact. The great get together, organised in the wake of the murder of the MP Jo Cox, is an opportunity to cross barriers and organise an event whch will draw all sections of the community together. This years dates are in late June and you will find an article which I wrote for the Catholic Universe recently here.

February 2018: - The time is mid afternoon on a Sunday, the place is a local care home where I am privileged to be able to bring the Eucharist to those who desire it.

As we complete our prayers and wish each other a good week, I notice a group of familly members who have been observing our Eucharist. They approach me hesitantly and the staff member asks if I may say some prayers for their father who is dying in a bedroom along the corridor.

Of course ! I ask for a few details, his name and anything else it would be helpful to know. As I enter the bedroom I see that MIchael is losing consciousness and I pray that God as a loving father will welcome him and that he will find peace and comfort in God's loving hands. 

As I lay my hands on his forehead I ask the Lord to bless him and his family as he makes his final, journey in this life. And we all say the Lord's prayer together.  A truly humbling and emotional experience which I will carry with me as we commit another soul to God's loving embrace.

Requiescat in Pace.

January 2018: - In my younger and perhaps more idealistic days in the 1960's I was much influnenced by  the growing commitment of the Church in France to understanding and working with the challenges faced by people on the margins of society. In fact it was through participation in a meeting to discuss these issues that I met my future wife - 45 years ago !  A French priest - Michel Quoist - was inspired by his ministry to write 'Prayers of LIfe' and other prayers which focussed on the daily struggles of people in his home town of Le Havre.

Over the last year I have made a small attempt to capture some of these challenges in our every day lives in  short prayer collection, which no doubt will grow over time. 'Prayers for our Time' offer a fleating glimpse of the some of the challenges ith which we are still confronted more than 50 years after 'Prayers of Life' were written. They are a small and modest voice in response to seeking Jesus in the complexities of our modern world.  And if there are any prayers you would like to contribute please contact me here.

December 2017: - Christmas is a difficult time for many people and I am pleased to have been able to contribute some thoughts to the 'Catholic Universe' on how parish communities can understand and work eith the problems of loneliness in our midst. You will find the article here.

It's always good to good to receive feedback on our sessions and a recent card read: ‘The study day was wonderful and made me reflect on the older person with a dementia and their spiritual needs. What a special person you are to be so understanding and sensitive to these people’.

November 2017: -  was delighted to work with several large groups last month on spirituality and dementia, including 65 members of the Sisters of Mercy Order as well as 75 members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. It's always a pleasure to discuss the "spiritual self in dementia with this type of audience and  our discussions were meaningful and far reaching.  And I was pleased that 93 of the SVP delegates rated the teaching "knowledgeable and helpful".

October 2017: - I am pleased that World Mental Health Day on 10th October is finding an increasingly high profile in our Churches and Faith Communities - perhaps it is the effect of recent contributions such as those by Prince Harry and Prince William but I find that it is now much easier to talk about issues which preiously might have been talked about in whispered tones. 

In my recent comments to the 'Catholic Universe'  (click here) I listed some positive actions which can be taken within Faith Communities to put mental health more firmly on the agenda. Let's hope that we can build on the progress made to make mental health an easier subject to raise for the good of all.

September 2017: -

I was delighted to take part in the recent meeting of the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum where I gave a talk on 'Lessons from the Holocaust - the contribution of Victor Frankl to spiritual assessment'.

Victor Frankl was a pioneering psychiatrist from Vienna who developed the technique of logotherapy - that all of us have an inherenet sense of meaning which needs to be discovered or rediscovered. He was a prisoner at Auschwitz and learnt that those who were able to survive those horrors of Auschwitz were people who had a sense of purpose or meaning. As such this therapeutic method had a profound effect on approaches to assessment which explore not just whether we have a religious faith but equally if there is anything in our 'inner being' which gives us a sense of hope, or purpose and meaning. I will be making a similar presentation at the PRIME conference on 13th October when we will be exploring Frankl's contribution in relation to recent work on sadness, depression and the dark night of the soul. If you would like me to provide a link to the presentation, please click here.

August 2017: - It's always a pleasure to facilcitate our Chapel Service for patients on the Older Peoples Ward of our Mental Health Unit where I am a member of the Chaplaincy Team. 

We would normally have a short service on the ward itself but patients wanted a more peaceful and prayerful environment for the service. We started with sharing our prayer intentions for loved ones and as the chosen theme was 'peace' we shared moments when we had been able to experience a sense of peace in this troubled and challenging world of ours. With a short reading from St John and some suitable hymns our service was no longer than twenty minutes  - probaly the right length of people whose span of concentration is not as long as it used to be. 

I have developed a list of resources together with points to include  for these types of services - if you are interested please click here.

July 2017: - Good news - Caritas Social Action Network has now launched the on-line  spirituality and dementia toolkit which we have been developing with them over the past six months. It provides a series of modules on different aspects of spirituality and dementia, including outreach to residential care as well as end of life care

There is a free training workshop on 24th July to launch the toolkit You will find details of the toolkit as well as on  the event on here.

Caritas Westminster

And I am delighted that we have had such a successful series of mental health awareness workshops in the Archdiocese of Westminster. In four venues across the Diocese, in collaboration with Caritas Westminster and local MIND groups we have discussed how we can raise awareness of mental health issues in our Church Communities and provide a genuine place of welcome and support for those experiencing mental health problems. The slide presentations will be available shortly and we will discuss in the Autumn how to roll out the learning from these events.

April 2017: Some 50 people gathered in the Cathedral Centre at Salford recently to discuss how Churches in the Diocese of Salford and beyond can become communities of welcome for all those whose lives have been touched by dementia. The day workshop was organised by Caritas Salford and the Society of St Vincent de Paul and facilitated by myself and was sponsored by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales as part of their 'Day for Life' scheme.

Salford meeting

All the participants were enrolled as 'dementia friends' and in the course of a stimulating day discussed the many ways in which our parishes can become more 'dementia friendly', for example through ensuring that people with dementia can continue to play an active part in parish life and making church buildings more dementia friendly. There was also interest in further support and training for Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist.The participants committed to developing an action plan over the next six months. The action plans will be supported by an on-line toolkit developed by the Caritas Social Actiion Network which will be launched shortly.

t was really encouraging to see the commitment and level of interest in the Diocese to taking this important agenda forward. We really can make a difference in our parish communities to the lives of all those whose lives are touched by dementia. In the course of the day we focused also on how we can empower people with a dementia to feel a sense of purpose at a time when it is so easy to feel undervalued.

The next workshop will be on 31st May at Romero House, HQ of CSAN and CAFOD. Details will appear shortly on this website.

January/February 2017: We start the New Year with news of some exciting projects in which we will be involved over the coming year.

We are partnering with Caritas Westminster to deliver a series of mental health awareness workshops across the Diocese of Westminster with the help of a grant from MIND and Faith Action. This will help in tackling some of the stigma and misunderstanding which can sometimes be present in Church Communities.

And together with Caritas Social Action Network we are developing an online toolkit focusing on spirituality and dementia, with some practical examples on how our Parish and Church Community can become a dementia friendly Church. This will supported by a series of workshops in a number of different dioceses.

And finally I will working with the Diocese of Birmingham on developing skills and expertise on working with mental health issues for priests and deacons involved in pastoral work.

A truly exciting year ahead !

October 2016: As I write this in Lourdes where I am with 1400 people with disabilities and their carers, I have become conscious of the important role of Faith in sustaining people whose lives have become ever more challenging as they confront long term and life threatening conditions.

And this is what sustains us at the Welcome Me as I Am Project - helping the Church and Faith Communities to understand their important role in spiritual accompaniment with people with conditions such as dementia and how they can put this into action.

We are delighted to be working with Caritas Social Action Network in developing an online learning resource on spiritual accompaniment with all those whose lives are touched by dementia - we anticipate that this will be ready by the end of the year and it will provide a helpful update to the film 'Its still ME Lord' which was produced in 2009 and which is still available on the CSAN website.

Take a look also at our new resource 'Walk with Me' which you will find here for those of us who need spiritual comfort at a time when we are feeling depressed or weighed down by life's challenges.

Finally there is an issue which has preoccupied myself and many others here in Kent and beyond. We cannot work work alongside disadvantaged people here without realising the desperate plight of migrants in the Calais 'jungle' just 20 miles from the Kent coast.

For this reason I founded an organisation 'Seeking Sanctuary' just over a year ago. You will find details on Do take a look at our website with a view to looking what you can do in to help to address this increasingly disturbing situation.

August 2016: In these challenging and uncertain times its not surprising that there may be times when we feel down or even depressed. Take a few minutes with 'Walk With Me Lord' - our reflections which you will find here.

July 2016: We have had a busy time here at Welcome Me as I Am as we seek to respond to a variety of enquiries some from as far as field as the United States and Australia about spirituality mental health and dementia and with the key role that Faith Communities can play in this work. Last month Liz Sheehy and I addressed to conferences in Huddersfield and Preston organised by Peer Talk. They are developing peer based mentoring programs and we were pleased to be able to contribute to the discussions on the important role that Faith Communities can play in breaking down the stigma of mental health problems.

April 2016: The Welcome me as I am Project is in for a busy time in the next few months as I prepare to speak at a conference for Faith Communities on Mental Health in June as well as workshops for religious communities on working with dementia and mental health issues.

While there has been progress in being able to talk about mental health issues in Parishes and Faith Communities there is still so much more to do in order to make mental health a subject which is ok to talk about.

Why is it that while we are comfortable in talking about physical illnesses in our faith communities there is still a block in talking and praying about mental health issues ? These are some of the issues which we will be raising in our activities and programme for this year. Watch this space for further details...

December 2015: After a few months of being out of circulation though the unintended consequences of an accident I am happy to report that things are now gradually getting back to normal and that we look forward to getting back to our programme from March onwards. We are currently working on our Summer and Autumn programmes - if you have any particular requests or requirements, do let us know.

July 2015: Ben writes: 'I was delighted to work with Caritas Salford at the beginning of the month in facilitating a workshop on 'Our Church as a Dementia Friendly Church.

Ben Bano with Mark Wiggin, Chief Executive, Caritas Salford, and Edward de Quay from Caritas Westminster
Ben Bano with Mark Wiggin, Chief Executive, Caritas Salford, and Edward de Quay from Caritas Westminster

The 35 participants represented a cross section of those involved in taking the dementia agenda forward, including cCergy, Eucharistic Ministers, members of religious communities as well as members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Its great to see the enthusiasm for making our Church communities places of welcome for all those whose lives are touched by dementia. And a special thanks to members of the SVPfor your committed and sensitive approach to working with dementia in your outreach work - I look forward to addressing your festival meeting in Spring next year..

Read the report on the event from Caritas Salford: (

“Despite it being the hottest day of the year so far, we had an amazing turnout at the Cathedral Centre in Salford on 1st July. Every seat was filled for the seminar on dementia, led by Ben Bano, director of ‘Welcome Me as I Am’, a non-profit community-interest company that promotes mental health awareness in communities - both faith communities and wider. Ben has been leading a series of diocesan based training days all across the country and today stopped by at Caritas Salford’s headquarters.

Ben’s overarching message is that there is life after a diagnosis of dementia and that it is important to remember that any sufferer is still a human being with a personality, a family and needs, stressing: “see me, rather than dementia”.

Ben opened the seminar with a moving story about his recent meeting with a woman with advancing dementia and how he tried to find a way for her to connect with God by listening to her individual needs. Sensing that she was not responsive to reciting prayers, he gave her a crucifix and let her have a moment holding it in her hands. There they sat for a little while, before she thanked him for letting Jesus into her room, which is for some suffering with dementia a major breakthrough. We gave thought to how the familiarity of a particular prayer, hymn or symbol can spark recognition and response in a person with a dementia. It is important too, he says, to say “a dementia”, as there are many different types. It is just this kind of education and careful thinking around the subject that needs to be spread to the wider community.

This story underpinned the rest of Ben’s presentation where he touched upon working in the present moment and calling upon people to be more creative when visiting or communicating with someone with a dementia. Ben also gave some helpful tips for the parishes in the diocese of Salford and beyond:

  • Be positive about what people with dementia can do
  • Support people with dementia make choices
  • Listen to what they are saying and avoid confrontation and correcting them, which may confuse them more
  • Think about the practicalities - consider signs and having large-print documents to help people with dementia when possible
  • Encouraging and including ‘spiritual boxes’, boxes of memories and objects that are important to the individual in a spiritual sense
  • Finding meaning during death, being sensitive to relatives and prompting God’s presence at the end of life
  • Recognising the important work that carers do and providing a place where they can be recognised, supported and able to share their experiences being touched by dementia.

It was a great morning and afternoon - thanks to Ben and all that attended; the work you do is greatly appreciated and let us hope for a future that bears the welfare and treatment of people with a dementia increasingly in mind.”

June 2015: I was delighted as Co-Chair of the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum to take part in the inaugural Peter Gilbert Memorial Lecture in London on 21st May.

Ben Bano, Jan Mann, Tom Berrie, Janet Berrie
Prof. Paul Gilbert with colleagues at the lecture on 21st May

Our theme was compassion based approaches to care, and our speaker, Professor Paul Gilbert, gave and eloquent and moving account of the ways in which compassion based approaches are so important in the care and suppport we provide. This was one of the most successful events for the Forum to date - for further information visit

May 2015: I am pleased to be supporting CSAN's call for proper working conditions of staff working in dementia care as part of the Dementia Awareness Week, It's so important to provide proper training and support if we are to raise standards in care and support. Click here to see my contribution to the campaign.

April 2015: As Dementia Awareness week in May draw's near I am delighted to be backing Caritas Social Action Network's appeal for better working condition for home care workers supporting people with a dementia. Welcome Me as I Am takes as one of our core values the need to provide person centred care - and this cannot be done by workers who lack recognition and training and who are often on zero hours contracts and the minimum wage. Let's all fight for proper conditions of work and training to enable all those whose lives are touched by dementia the best care and support possible. For further information on CSAN visit their website.

March 2015: This promises to be a busy year as awareness of mental health and dementia related issues appears to increase year by year. For the last 12 months I have been a 'dementia champion' and as part of our training sessions every participant has become a 'dementia friend' - I am delighted that Welcome Me as I Am has been able to contribute to the magnificent achievement of a million dementia friends. We look forward to continuing with our work of developing awareness of mental health and dementia related issues in Faith Communities: Here are details of just a few of our activities in the coming months.

  • 14th March: A workshop for the Diocesan Conference in Clifton on dignity and dementia
  • 21st March: A workshop on dementia for Faith Communities in Blandford Forum, Dorset.
  • 15th May: 'Our Corps as a Dementia Friendly Corp' a workshop for Officers in the Salvation Army.

We are currently planning a series of workshops in Central London - the first in July will focus on the implications of the Mental Capacity Act for Religious Communities -watch this space for further details.

January 2015: A happy and fruitful New Year to all our Friends and Associates ! In 2015 we will continue the task of developing awareness of mental health and dementia in Faith Communities - there has never been a more important time and although much progress has been made we must not be complacent. I am looking forward to continuing to raise the profile of this work through advice and running workshops in a variety of locations throughout the year - do contact us if we can be of help.

September 2014: As the summer holidays draw to a close and we look ahead to the Autumn I am pleased that WMAIM has such a full and interesting programme in the months ahead. 'Our Church as a Dementia Friendly Church' has clearly struck a chord an workshops will be run in the Dorset Deanery over the Autumn (in Poole and Weymouth) as well as in the Archdiocese of Westminster. I am looking forward also to joining colleagues in running a workshop in Rotherfield in East Sussex for the Church of England - it's so good to be able to work together with colleagues from other Faith Communities in sharing our experiences in taking forward the dementia agenda.

World Mental Health Day is coming up shortly on 10th October and WMAIM will be marking this locally in Deal with a morning workshop - 'There's no health without Mental Health' - for details click here.

July 2014: I am greatly looking forward to our next session on 'Our Church as a Dementia Friendly Church' - this time in Central London on 18th July. These sessions provide an opportunity to become 'Dementia Friends' as well as to discuss with other like minded members of Church Communities how we can make our Churches places of welcome and inclusion. There are so many ways in which Churches can play a role in the network of local services for people with dementia and their carers, including developing dementia cafes and cognitive stimulation groups. In the workshop we also discuss how we can play an effective and constructive role in our outreach to local residential homes, as well as making our worship and prayer as dementia friendly as possible. Click here for further details of the July workshop.

May 2014: Earlier this week on 29th April we marked a special occasion as we gathered at the House of Lords to mark the publication of the book 'Crossing the River' to mark the unique contribution of Peter Gilbert to spirituality in leadership, health and social care and interfaith relations. The event was hosted by Rowan Williams who spoke about the importance of understanding the contribution of spirituality to human endeavour. Kerry Boetcher, the Managing Director of Pavilion Publications and Arthur Hawes who coordinated the project also spoke at the event. Ben spoke about the influence of Peter in 'humanising' services and gaining recognition for the important role that spirituality has to play in influencing human endeavour. Click here to read Ben's tribute to Peter Gilbert at the event. Also see Tony Lobi's piece in the Huffington Post.

April 2014: On 5th April twenty of us from Kent and Outer London gathered for a workshop at Aylesford Priory for a morning workshop on the theme: 'Theres no health without mental health'. The session was one a series of three in the Archdiocese of Southwark focusing on mental health issues and was facilitated by Ben with Deacon Tom Berrie and his wife Janet.

Ben Bano, Jan Mann, Tom Berrie, Janet Berrie
Ben Bano, Jan Mann, Tom Berrie, Janet Berrie

We discussed how we might 'break the barrier' and discuss what is often a difficult topic to bring up in our Church Community. We looked at how we become communities of inclusion and welcome as well as some of the difficulties people might have in talking about mental health. We also looked at how we can understand and meet the pastoral needs of people experiencing problems with their mental health. Those present agreed to discuss practical initiatives to take this agenda forward in their parishes and to meet for a follow up session to discuss progress in the Autumn.

After the workshop Ben said: 'I am delighted to have been involved with the facilitation of this really worthwhile initiative organised by Jan Mann and her colleagues of the Marriage and Family Life Commission for the Archdiocese of Southwark. There is a real commitment to understand the issue of mental ill health more deeply as well taking practical action in our parishes. I look forward with interest to hearing about progress in our parishes at the follow up meeting.'

March 2014: 'Crossing the River'. This month sees the publication of the new book 'Crossing the River - the contribution of spirituality to humanity and its future', edited by Arthur Hawes with Ben Bano. Crossing the River honours the incredible contribution that Peter Gilbert made to the world of spirituality.

The book captures his life’s work and ideas to encourage others to continue, develop and research the role of spirituality in the 21st century. The 16 chapters in this handbook are written by those who personally knew and worked with Peter. Covering key areas of spirituality in health and social care this book aims to reveal the role of spirituality and the way it uncovers a dimension that challenges, humanises and values human life and experience, which was the aim of Peter’s work.

Ben commented: 'It has been a real privilege to take part in the editing of this new book which not only honours Peter's memory but provides opportunities for all of us to take forward on how we can reflect on the importance of spirituality in so many areas of human endeavour. You can find order details on:

February 2014: We are planning our programme for 2014 and I am looking forward to some exciting events in the coming year. Following a series of workshops on mental health awareness in the diocese of Southwark we will be putting on a seies of events for religious communities in response to several requests, including a residential 'Living Well with Dementia' in the peaceful and inspiring surroundings of Mount st Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire on 23rd and 24th June. We are linking wth the Dementia Friends initiative of the Alzheimers Society in plannng a series of training events to promote awareness of this and related initiatives in parish and deanery communities - please let us know if you would like a session for your area. Both I and our administrator Sophie are dementia champions and keen to sperad the word and recruit dementia friends !

And we will mark World Mental Health Day in a special way this year through a Conference at Amigo Hall, Southwark - 'Theres no Health without Mental Health - Parishes and Deaneries as Communities of Welcome'. Speakers who have already agreed to address us include Baroness Sheila Hollins and Ged Flynn, Chief Executive of Papyrus which focuses on Young Peoples Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. The conference is being organised in partnership with the Mental Health Reference Group of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. Theres much more being planned - watch this space !

January 2014: Etty Hillesum – a remarkable life - I recently attended  a conference in Ghent in Belgium to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch mystic of Jewish origin who died in the Holocaust but not before leaving us with a very rich diary in the midst of the hell of the Westerbork concentration camp in Holland.

Etty has become known for the way in which she integrates suffering into human experience and how she can experience the beauty of creation in the midst of the horrors of the Holocaust. In the course of three years, much of it spent alongside thousands of people who were waiting to be deported on the weekly trains to the extermination camps, Etty was able to find an inner peace and to learn to genuinely ‘love our enemies’.

“The barbarism of the Nazis evokes in us the same kind of barbarism that if we could do these days what we wanted to do, would work with the same methods. We need to turn away from our own barbarism, we should not foster the hate in us, because it will not help the world to rise above the mud”.

She gradually learned to develop her ‘inner life’:

“Deep inside me is a bottomless well. That is where God resides. Sometimes I can reach it, but more often rocks and grit are covering the well, and then God is buried. Then he has to be excavated again”.

Towards the end of her time on the camp, when she knew that she and  her family were soon to be deported, she wrote:

I cannot find the right words…for that radiant feeling inside me which encompasses but which is untouched by all the suffering and all the violence.’

As she tried to make sense of the place of God in all this human suffering, she wrote:

I will help you, my God, so that you will not fail in me, but I cannot guarantee anything beforehand. But this is becoming more clear to me: that you cannot help us, but we need to help you and by that we can help ourselves. And the only thing that we can save in this time and the only thing that matters is that part of you in us, God. And perhaps we can also help to dig up that part of you in the shattered hearts of others.’

Etty never lost faith in humanity as the following words show:

‘The misery here is quite terrible: and yet late at night when the day has slunk away into the depths behind me, I often walk with a spring in my step along the barbed wire. And then, time and time again, it soars straight from my heart – I can’t help it, that’s just the way it is, like some elementary force – the feeling that life is glorious and magnificent, and that one day we will be building a whole new world’.

Perhaps there is a  lesson here for those of us involved in supporting those who find forgiveness and reconciliation a barrier to their view of the world  and their relations with others.

December 2013: Ben Bano writes: It was with deep sadness that we learnt of the death of Professor Peter Gilbert on 12th December 2013. Peter had been battling with a debilitating illness for some time and we all admired his courage in the face of adversity,

Peter GilbertPeter was Emeritus Professor of Social Work and Spirituality at Staffordshire University, and Visiting Professor with the University of Worcester. Peter had a long career in social work and was Director of Social Services for Worcestershire County Council. Peter was the NIMHE Project Lead on Spirituality from its inception to 31st March, 2008, and worked to the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum. From 2008 to 2010 he was Chair of the National Development Team for Inclusion and Visiting Professor at the Birmingham and Solihull Foundation NHS Trust, leading their Spirituality research programme. A former Director of Social Services for Worcestershire, Peter was a registered Social Worker with 13 years of direct practice. Between 2003 and 2006 he was NIMHE/SCIE Fellow in Social Care with Professor Nick Gould. In recent months Peter received several honours to mark his unique contribution to health and social care as well as interfaith relations.

Peter constantly strove to bring the 'human' dimension into health and social care. His work on the importance of spirituality in all of us inspired the creation of Telos Training and the 'Welcome Me as I am' Project and he was always a source of wisdom and good advice. We are grateful that we will be able to honour Peter and his work in a forthcoming book, 'Crossing the River', the title of which Peter himself has chosen. May he rest in peace.

December 2013: Since our recent conference in Liverpool and Fr Daniel's recent article in the Tablet I have received a variety of messages from those whose lives have been touched by dementia. Our new set of reflections 'Walk with Me' seeks to provide comfort and assurance that the Lord is always with us in our journey. Click here and find yourself a few minutes 'quiet time' to reflect further on the journey...

October 2013: Ben Bano writes: 'I was pleased to be able to facilitate a workshop recently on behalf of Rethink for members of Faith Communities in the Maidstone and Medway areas.

Professor Christopher McCrudden, Professor Daniel Sulmasy, Ben Bano, Professor David Albert Jones, Dr Jan Deckers, Dr Sylvie deKermadec
Ben Bano and colleagues from Rethink

We discussed the ways in which Churches and Faith Communities can be inclusive and welcoming for people in mental distress and it was heartening to learn of the many initiatives being taken in the area, for example in having members of Churches available to be available as supporters and listeners. We also discussed the role of Churches as part of a network of services and resources available locally as well as the ways in which we can use the recovery model in mental health with its focus on hope and rebuilding lives.

A focus on the mental health of older people: World Mental Health Day was marked this year on 10th October and I was pleased to be able to take part in a podcast to mark the event. You can listen to it here:

September 2013: I was privileged to be elected earlier this week as Co-Chair with Dr Chetna Kang of the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum. The purpose of the Forum is to act as a vehicle to bring together the main faith communities throughout the country, with the world of mental health. Spirituality is not only a vital element in a person’s life experience and mental health but also a major factor in any holistic approach to supporting individuals in their environments.

NSMHF (The National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum) is, as its name suggests, a forum – and those who attend the open meetings reflect on the actualities of how individuals and services integrate spirituality with mental health. The Forum aims to enable space for that diversity to be expressed. The Forum recognises the current discourses among religious, belief group and secular lines, and welcomes participation from all. The Forum includes organised expressions of humanism alongside religious belief in its invitation to participate. We also comment on key developments in the area of spirituality and mental health. Click here for more information.

August 2013: I'm really looking forward to our forthcoming Conference, organised with Caritas Social Action Network in Liverpool on 2nd October - 'Its still ME Lord' on how we can be communities of welcome and inclusion for people with a dementia and their carers. Our keynote speaker, Fr Daniel O'Leary is sure to inspire us with his reflections and we will have the opportunity to hear from two key Bishops involved in taking forward the dementia agenda in the Church. Workshops which have been confirmed include: 'Setting up a Carers Support Group' with Edna Hunneysett, 'Hearing my Story' - a Spiritual Approach to Life Story Work', with Polly Kaiser, and 'Dementia Friendly Worship and Prayer' with myself. Participants will have an opportunity to take part in two workshops. Click here for the programme and here for booking form to register your interest.

Spirituality and End of Life Care

June 2013 Ben Bano writes: The new book 'Spirituality and End of Life Care' will be appearing next month in July. I have contributed a chapter on spiritual accompaniment in end of life dementia care. The book has been edited by Professor Peter Gilbert who has himself been suffering with Motor Neurone Disease. We are grateful to Peter for completing this task in spite of the challenges he has been facing. The book is published by Pavilion Publications.

May 2013 Its been a pleasure to work with a variety of different groups and faith communities in promoting understanding on mental health and dementia. Last month I was in Paisley in Salvation Army FlyerScotland with a group of very enthusiastic members of the Salvation Army. In the course the day we worked through some of the myths around dementia as well as focusing on how we can understand and meet the spiritual needs of people with dementia through a person centered approach. We also focused on how we can provide a ministry of support for carers, families, and all those whose lives are touched by dementia. This is particularly relevant to our ministry to residential and nursing homes where we need to be able to develop 'dementia-friendly' worship.

February 2013 - 'In the footsteps of Jesus - my journey with dementia' - I have written this short book inspired by the experiences of people whose lives have been touched by dementia. As we follow the way of the Cross, we reflect on how our journeys are filled not just with challenges but equally with love and hope. As we learn to share the load, we journey alongside our loved ones in recognising the many gifts and talents which are present even as dementia advances. The book is available for £3.95 from McCrimmons -

December 2012: What an interesting year this has been ! Welcome Me as I Am was established as a Community Interest Company in March and we have continued to provide input and facilitation for a variety of local and regional training events, including sessions in London, Brighton, Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire - there is a growing interest in dementia and spirituality and this is reflected in the lively discussions we have had in our sessions. Its been particularly fruitful to have representation from a range of faith communities in our sessions. I have been involved in providing input to a number of national events and in November I provided input on spiritual accompaniment at the end of life in dementia.

Next year promises to be equally exciting as Welcome Me as I Am reaches its first birthday. My new book 'In the footsteps of Jesus - my journey with dementia' will be published in February and the Conference in Birmingham on 6th March on meeting the pastoral needs of people with dementia will be a really good opportunity to meet others involved in this area and to share good practice - you will find further details on the future events page of this website.


October 2012: October has been both a busy and stimulating month. The series of deanery based dementia workshops continued with a fruitful session at New Malden when 10 of us met to discuss how to understand the spiritual needs of people with dementia as well as their carers as well as how to make our parishes 'dementia friendly' communities. A few days later I was in Leeds with a group of Salvation Army Officers as well as hostel staff looking at the diagnosis and treatment of dementia as well as some of the wider issues in welcoming people with advancing dementia. These are always lively and interesting sessions and I am looking forward to working with Salvationists from the Paisley and Glasgow areas on the same theme next April. And at the end of the month I was fortunate enough to attend the National Dementia Congress in Brighton and provide input through a posterpresentation on meeting spiritual needs at the end of life in dementia care.

Ben Bano with colleagues on the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum
Ben Bano, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Inderjit Bhogal at the seminar at Lambeth Palace

Perhaps the highlight of the month has been my attendance with colleagues at the seminar organised by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace with the Time to Change Campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues in Faith Communities. Through this and other sessions I have been learning more about the rich insights of other faith traditions on spirituality and mental health and I look forward to understanding more in coming months on Sikh, Hindu as well as Muslim perspectives.

Here at the Welcome Me as I Am project we are in the middle of planning several exciting events, including a conference on 6th March next year on dementia and pastoral outreach - more details elsewhere on this website.

September 2012: September has been a busy month for the Welcome Me as I Am project. On 8th September I spent time with a group of volunteers who are part of the St Dympna's pastoral care project in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. We were joined by members of other Churches in the area and in our session we explored how we can break down stigma and make our parishes and deaneries places of welcome for people whose lives are touched by mental distress. Using the project's Working with Mental Distress booklets we looked at tools and techniques in working with people suffering from depression or feeling suicidal. Its so heartening to see interest like this at a parish level. Over 1200 copies of the booklet have been distributed and you will details of how to order these booklets elsewhere on this website.

On 13th September I was one of the guest speakers at the Spirituality and Mental Health Forum in London when I talked about 'My Spiritual Home' - a programme of awareness raising for care staff in residential and nursing homes on spirituality and dementia which developed from my own pastoral experiences in several care homes. It was particularly interesting to share experiences with members of other Faith Communities, for example the Sikh community. Last but not least I was elected as one of the two Vice Chairs for the Forum and I look forward to this exciting role in helping to promote the spirituality and mental health agenda.

On 20th September I facilitated a session for volunteers working with the Irish Chaplaincy Older Peoples project in Islington, North London on understanding and meeting the spiritual needs of people with dementia. interesting to discuss the cultural needs of Irish elders and how we can use reminiscence work to understand and bring out their particular identity.

Ben Bano with colleagues on the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum
Ben with colleagues at the Ashford session
on 22nd September

And on 22nd September it was back to my local patch to facilitate a session on spirituality and dementia in Ashford, Kent. We were small in numbers but there was great enthusiasm to take this agenda forward and we discussed how the parish might develop a pastoral support group for people whose lives have been touched by dementia. After each of these sessions I feel a real 'buzz' as I sense the enthusiasm of those present to take forward these initiatives.

And now I need to get down to work - three chapters for forthcoming books on spirituality and older people need to be written !. And next year's plans are even more exciting - on 6th March 2013 we will have a major conference in Birmingham on understanding and meeting pastoral needs in dementia - put the date in your diary. And in early March McCrimmons will be publishing my newly written Lenten devotions: 'In the footsteps of Jesus - my journey with dementia.'

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