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Nurses seeking to raise money for dementia by using their house as competition prize

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A nursing couple is offering their £600,000 home as the prize in a competition in a bid to raise money for a ground-breaking dementia project.

District nurse Marty Pumbien and his partner Annie Brown, who works in accident and emergency, say they took the unusual decision to put their home up as a competition prize after witnessing first-hand the lack of support for people with dementia and their carers.

“We’d all like to make a difference. And this is a chance to make a difference”

Marty Pumbien

For just five pounds, anyone in the UK can enter the competition to win their four-bedroom semi-detached period property in Northampton.

The pair hope to sell enough tickets to raise more than a million for a new nurse-led support centre for those recently diagnosed with dementia being piloted by the University of Northampton.

Mr Pumbien, who qualified as a nurse in 2005, said he had become interested in the idea of offering the house as a prize having read about similar schemes elsewhere.

“There was a chap in Lincoln who did it and I just thought it was a really good idea and so looked into it a bit,” he told Nursing Times.

“I had a word with Annie at the time and she wasn’t overly keen – she thought I was just having one of my silly moments,” he said.

It was about a year later that he had what he described as a “lightbulb” moment, when he met a confused and distressed elderly woman while out walking the dog in the park.

“We bumped into this old lady in the park – she was lost and confused and a bit upset but the dog calmed her down and started playing with her,” said Mr Pumbien.

“To cut a long story short, I brought her back to the house, gave her a cup of tea and eventually ended up driving her around until she recognised something and we found her house,” he said.

“For me, it had to be something that had an emotional, personal and financial impact”

Marty Pumbien

It was this experience that inspired him to revisit the idea of the house competition, with a view to raising much-needed funds for dementia care, he added.

Mr Pumbien, who has previously worked in A&E, said his experiences there and in the community had revealed a lack of support for people with dementia and their carers.

“It is classed as social condition – you get the diagnosis and you go on your merry way – you are left to it basically,” he said. “No one tells you what to expect, what to do or where to go for help.

“From an A&E point of view, we see a lot of people who were coping and then all of a sudden they hit that level and they can’t cope anymore,” he said. “They end up stuck in hospital, while you are waiting on residential care or a care package to be set up.”

He said he had also seen the strain placed on families through his work as a district nurse.

“I have also seen it in the community – you notice the gradual changes and give what support you can but from a community nurse point of view, you can’t be there all the time and the support you can offer is quite limited,” he said.

“There is a lot of burnout for carers because it is a 24-hour job and they never get a break,” he noted.

“It’s amazing how many people will suddenly start talking to you about their experiences of dementia”

Annie Brown

The UnityDEM project aims to provide support for people newly diagnosed with dementia and their carers, providing free activities, advice and cognitive stimulation therapies designed to help people feel less isolated and stay living independently for as long as possible.

Mr Pumbien said the hope was to raise enough cash to put the scheme on a sustainable footing.

The goal is to sell 500,000 tickets to generate £2.5m with £1m going to UnityDEM and local grant-making charity the Northamptonshire Community Foundation.

The couple would take back the cost of the house, plus expenses and then hope to have enough to buy another property and do it all again.

A minimum of 150,000 entries will be needed for the house to be the top prize, with a cash prize on offer if that target is not met.

Mr Pumbien said it had taken around a year to sort out the legalities and draw up the terms and conditions of the competition, which went live in April.

The current deadline for entries is 10 October but there is the option to extend that for a further month.

“All nurses, doctors and healthcare workers have the same mentality – we’d all like to make a difference”

Marty Pumbien

To date, nearly 15,000 entries have been received, according to Mr Pumbien, who admitted to “obsessively” checking the number between nursing visits.

He said the couple would be sad to leave their home but highlighted that they planned to downsize.

“It’s a big house and we don’t really use it – it’s massive – 2,500 square foot for just me, Annie and dog,” he explained.

“It’s a lovely house and we renovated it to be family home – but that wasn’t to be,” he said. “It’s a family house and needs to be used by a family. We will be sad to leave but we won’t miss the cleaning.”

Ms Brown, who has been a nurse for more than 20 years and worked in a variety of fields including neurosurgery, neurology, dermatology, medicine and as a clinical nurse educator, admitted she had been cautious about the idea of the house competition at first.

However, she said she too had been inspired by first-hand experiences of working with people with dementia and the ground-breaking support offered by UnityDEM.

“For me, it had to be something that had an emotional, personal and financial impact on individuals and families within the community – something that had a long-term impact,” she said.

“There are currently 60 people on the programme and if we can get to a million that’s 250. It costs £33,000 a year for people when they get into care. If you times that by 250 that is potentially £8.25m a year we are saving people in the community,” she said.

Marty Pumbien and Annie Brown

Nurses offer home as raffle prize to raise money for charity

Marty and Annie with Stumpy the dog

Coupled with the fact that a quarter of hospital beds are occupied by people with dementia aged over 65 and 20% of hospital admissions are avoidable, it means the “figures really stack up if you give people the right support and help them keep well”, she noted.

“All nurses, doctors and healthcare workers have the same mentality – we’d all like to make a difference,” she said. “And this is a chance to make a difference. Plus we’re in a unique position with the house that we have got, let’s face it.”

As well as providing practical support for families with dementia, she hoped the competition would also help raise awareness of the condition, tackle misconceptions and show that good post-diagnosis services could make a real difference to quality of life.

She admitted that organising the competition was “a full-time job on its own” and she and Mr Pumbien, who both do agency work, had been juggling their shifts with admin and other work to publicise the competition.

“Initially, Marty set it all up and I would work to cover his shifts. Now he will do his district nursing and then do some work on a night such as sending emails. I’ll be working on the weekend and he’ll be off, so we’re not seeing very much of each other at the moment,” she said.

“But when you’re nursing and working in a profession where it is very much shift-orientated you accept that as the norm – it’s tricky but you just always make things fit some somehow,” she said.

Overall, Ms Brown said the reaction from nursing colleagues and others had been overwhelmingly positive, but added: “People do say, ‘Why can’t you do a cake sale like normal people?’”

“It’s amazing how many people will suddenly start talking to you about their experiences of dementia and that is what this is about – getting us all to open up and discuss it,” she said.

“At the launch someone was telling us about his wife and it is stories like that, that make me sure we’re doing the right thing,” she added.

Inside 26 Abington Park Crescent, Northampton

Marty Pumbien and Annie Brown

Nurses offer home as raffle prize to raise money for charity

The lounge, 26 Abington Park Crescent, Northampton

Marty Pumbien and Annie Brown

Nurses offer home as raffle prize to raise money for charity

Hallway, 26 Abington Park Crescent, Northampton

Marty Pumbien and Annie Brown

Nurses offer home as raffle prize to raise money for charity

Fireplace, 26 Abington Park Crescent, Northampton

Marty Pumbien and Annie Brown

Nurses offer home as raffle prize to raise money for charity

The kitchen, 26 Abington Park Crescent, Northampton

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