SPOTLIGHT on Claire Baker: the dementia-friendliest Kiwi?


This is the first in out spotlight series, focusing on members of the World Young Leaders in Dementia. We aim to highlight the great work that is being done around the world by young people, contributing in many different ways to helping and supporting people with dementia, their families, friends and communities.

We spoke to Claire Baker, a tireless advocate for Dementia Friendly Communities who is working to transform the city of Rotorua in New Zealand.

What is your job title?

Community Partnership Manager

Where do you work?

I work for a health and care company called Bupa in Auckland, New Zealand

How did you arrive at working in dementia?

I should disclose here: I’m not a dementia expert, nor am I from a clinical background.

For the past 10 years I’ve worked in various communication, corporate responsibility and sustainability roles, which brought me to the world of dementia advocacy. I managed a partnership with Alzheimer’s Disease International when I worked in London, and for the past 3 years I’ve worked on various projects related to dementia.

It’s a privilege. Every day I experience things that make me feel humble and inspired to use my skills to help more people living with dementia and their care partners.

Claire Baker – our vote for the dementia-friendliest Kiwi

What do you do in your job?

I look at dementia-friendly changes the company I work for can make, and how we can share our expertise to help create dementia-friendly communities. And of course sharing stories about dementia-friendly work – a large part of creating change is down to sharing stories so that people can understand what dementia-friendly means, and how they can help.

I’ve helped to create New Zealand’s first dementia-friendly steering group in a city called Rotorua in the north island of New Zealand. A big part of my job has been helping to establish and work with the steering group, looking to make Rotorua New Zealand’s first dementia-friendly city.

What is the best thing about your job?

Hearing the stories and meeting people living with dementia and their care partners. Always overflowing with love, grit and humour.

What is the worst thing about your job?

Breaking new ground is difficult. The concept of dementia-friendly communities is relatively new in New Zealand. It takes resilience and determination.

I read a blog recently titled ‘what makes a great advocate’ and some of the comments really resonated with me which have spurred me on:

  • Don’t assume people do not hear you or react to your request. You need to constantly follow up over and over even though it is repetitive. Baby steps over time leads to walking and running.
  • Go to the person that can actually make the change, not just someone who will be sympathetic with you.
  • Don’t be shy. Rely on your key contacts to help open you doors.
  • Act like you are confident even if you are not.
  • There is always more to know. You can’t know everything; you just need to know the people to ask.
  • You will make mistakes and that is okay as long as you are honest about it, and learn from it.
  • Put some measures in place, but do not expect to be able to measure all of your results as some may take years to happen and you may never realise the benefit you may have helped shape.
  • Have the attitude that anything can be accomplished.

You have been working to make New Zealand’s first dementia-friendly city. What is the best accomplishment so far in Rotorua?

It’s been a year since we began, and we’ve created a report about the process of establishing a dementia-friendly steering group. It shares our process so far as well as templates like terms of reference, questionnaires and action plans which we hope will be useful for other communities starting out.

Often the ‘how do you get things going’ part is skimmed over, but actually setting strong foundations is key. ‘Go low, go slow’ is a phrase a colleague shared with me as words of advice to create lasting success, and it’s so true.

You can download the report here and also watch a 3min video about the First Steps to a Dementia-Friendly Rotorua.

Milford Sound, described as ‘the 7th wonder of the world’ on the west cost of the south island of NZ.

Where were you born?

Bradford, Yorkshire in the UK. An area famous for our melting pot of cultures, beautiful moor land, and of course our accent (think Wallace and Gromit).

What do you do when you’re not at work?

My partner Michael and I like to get outside and explore New Zealand. We moved here in 2016. Nothing clears the head like a good walk.

What is the best thing about New Zealand?

Can I have two things?
1. The outdoors – volcanoes, beaches, forests, hot springs and waterfalls all within an hour of my house. Wow!
2. The people. A Māori proverb I’ve come across sums this up beautifully:

He aha ta mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, the people, the people.

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