How to set up and run a memory cafe

Living with dementia can be tough.

Aside from the challenges imposed by the dementia itself, many people experience isolation and loneliness. Many describe a shrinking of their social life and a sense of separation from family, friendship and community that may have sustained them their whole lives.

Memory cafes provide a chance for people to stay connected, or rebuild connections with their communities, and to spend time in the company of others who understand dementia.

Many memory cafes provide information and support from local professionals, and most engage in activities for those that want them, which bring people together and help build new relationships.

What all cafes provide is the chance to simply relax, share experiences and enjoy the company of others for whom dementia is an everyday reality.

Who might benefit from memory cafes?

Memory cafes are for people with dementia or memory problems and those that care for and about them.

Many people will have a diagnosis, some may not.

Some people with dementia will come with a carer, relative or friend. Others will not, either because they live alone, or perhaps choose to come alone.

Cafes can’t provide support for people that need help with personal care for legal reasons.

The ability of cafes to support people as their dementia progresses will vary. The better and more accessible the environment, and the more skilled the volunteers, the easier it will be to support people as their needs increase.

For some people with dementia, it will be the first time they have come into contact with others who have dementia. Many describe the support and inspiration they derive from meeting others in the same boat, and many new and enduring friendships have been formed. For many, the sense that they are not alone, and that there are others that understand is a revelation, a relief, and offers encouragement and hope.

For carers too, cafes offer understanding, support and camaraderie in a world that can often feel like a cold and uncaring place. Most carers will come in the company of a person with dementia, but many will continue to come along long after their caring role has ended. Many former carers will become volunteers in the memory cafe.

For volunteers, cafes offer many opportunities and benefits. Many volunteer because they are motivated by the ‘cause’ and want to support people with dementia and carers. Many have been affected by dementia in their personal or professional lives. Others gain valuable experience, learn new skills, and make new connections. All have the opportunity to spend time in fantastic company, doing the most important job of all – just being with people.

About this bit of the ‘hub’

You’ll have already seen the dementia awareness part of the hub. It should be completed by all volunteers, regardless of their experience. It will give them the understanding and information they need to provide great support for cafe members.

If you’ve not looked at it you’ll find it here.

The part of the hub you’re in now is more for cafe co-ordinators or those thinking of setting up a cafe.

All cafes are different, in response to varying local needs, as well as available resources, so we didn’t want to be too prescriptive. For this reason we’ve tried to steer clear of lists of ideas, or too many dos and don’ts. Instead we’ve tried to explore the issues, and help you to ask the right questions yourself.

Here’s what you’ll find inside this part of the Memory Cafe Hub

(Click the green buttons to go to each page)

Getting started

In this section, we lay out the things you’ll need to do to get started.

We have tried to lay things out in a loose chronological order. Life is messy though, and it’s likely that in the real world, things will be not quite as neat.

Legal nuts and bolts

This section lays out some of the things that you have a responsibility to have in place. Whether you will need policies and other things will depend to some extent on the kind of structure you decide to adopt.

If you are part of a larger organisation, then your host organisation will already have these things in place. BUT – it still makes sense to review them to see what they mean to your cafe, and whether they need to be adjusted to fit your needs.

Publicity and outreach

How do you make sure people in your community know about your memory cafe? How do you make sure that they feel motivated to come along – or to recommend the cafe to people in the community who might benefit?

You’ll need to publicise your cafe, and actively reach out to others in your community, and this section will help you to think about that.

What happens at a memory cafe?

Memory Cafes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very focused on activities, whilst others are more focused on people enjoying each other’s company and chatting. Most combine the two.

In this section we look at some of the basic practicalities ‘on the day’, giving out information, and some of things to think about around the idea of ‘activities’.


Volunteers are the life blood essential to the smooth running of a memory cafe.
How we use them, how we get them, and how we value and support them are the focus of this section.


This section looks at the thorny issue of funding.

It looks at issues around fundraising, as well as securing funding though grants and other sources

First module: Getting things started > > >