There are some who lead a community, and others who serve. Then there are some special individuals who just glue it all together. People like Joe O’Malley.

Joe’s our window cleaner. Every couple of weeks he comes to the door to get the key for the back alley gate – and we chat. He’s told us the history of our house – how the woman who used to live here was one of the first female bus drivers in Salford. I tell him we’ve got two dozen sacks of coal after cleaning up our basement, and he finds someone who wants to take them off our hands. We talk about our dementia project and he immediately reels off a list of people who might be interested.

A few weeks back, he told us about his new scheme to clean up Salford. Volunteers taking to the streets once a month armed with brooms and spades and pick-up sticks and plastic sacks. So the last couple of months Lena and I have gone along to lend a hand. I wanted to go because it’s Joe. And I wanted to go because it’s perfect for Lena. It’s getting out, getting active, meeting people, having fun … everything that Ctrl+Alz+Shift is all about.

But more than that, helping Joe and his team gives Lena the opportunity to show that even with Alzheimers she still has a role to play in the community … in a non-pressure situation where she feels comfortable. That’s a big win.

Salford may have cleaned up its act as far as industrial pollution is concerned. But with the rubbish piled up in some of our residential areas it’s still the archetypal ‘Dirty Old Town’ – and a handful of volunteers isn’t about to change that. But take a look at our photo gallery. We had sunshine, good companionship, a real sense of achievement … someone suggested offering holiday packages for people who want to come and join us. Then we could fix things!

Seriously though, volunteer jobs like this can be a perfect way for people with dementia to stay connected, to feel they’re adding value. There may be no better way to make our communities dementia-friendly.

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