Interview by Bethan Evans for the Bristol Post
Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville visited the restaurant at The Station to show his support
“When I first arrived I thought this could go either way, I could end up with three soups and no pudding.”
This was the initial reaction from Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville when he visited Bristol to take a seat at a brand new eatery – The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes.
Not a name that would immediately fill you with confidence of getting the perfect meal for a special occasion, right?
But that is part of its message. First off, the venue is overseen by Bristol based Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton, so you will definitely be in for a tasty dish, and the restaurant has arrived to change perceptions about a condition which is affecting millions of us right now – dementia.
The restaurant is staffed entirely by people living with the condition and a new Channel 4 series, supported by The Alzheimer’s Society, plans to open the eyes of policy makers and employers on a quest to destigmatise dementia.
The same thoughts of unease initially filled movie star Hugh’s head when he arrived at his table at The Station in Silver Street, Bristol, but later admitted he was very wrong and the sitting was one of his most positive and impressive experiences.
He said: “There was a little caution, but if I has not been told these people had a dementia diagnosis I would not have known the difference.
“I have been in some fancy-pants restaurants in my time and the food here was genuinely delicious, and the camaraderie was brilliant.”
A host of celebrity diners and members of the public will visit the restaurant over a five-week period to put the newly-trained staff to the test, all the while being filmed by the Channel 4 crew and the same team who brought us Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. And people can also book a table for the coming week.
Hugh said: “At the start I felt like I was in an episode of First Dates but I cannot praise it highly enough.
“I have had such a positive experience and I hope this idea really takes off for restaurants around the country, to take away the stigma.”
The number of people with dementia in the UK is forecast to increase to more than one million by 2025, and currently more than 40,000 people with dementia are under the age of 65.
With so many still of working age, only a fifth of them have continued to work post their diagnosis and this is something the team behind The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes wants to change.
Hugh, who has starred in Paddington and Notting Hill, as well as taking the role of Lord Grantham in ITV’s Downton Abbey, added: “Everyone will either have had some form of experience with dementia or will know someone who has had it, and there are a lot of people who are left with a feeling of isolation, but this restaurant shows there is a positive angle to it.
“The servers here enjoy the experience of being together and that sense of isolation can diminish and they are given a sense of purpose.
“People here have lost their previous jobs and their confidence has been knocked. But to do something positive like working here together and in something so complicated is fantastic.
“You can sense they are all looking out for each other and I take my hat off to them.”
Lorna Robertson, Alzheimer’s Society Area Manager for Bristol, said: “We have more than 4,600 people living with dementia in Bristol, but life doesn’t end when dementia begins. Each person affected by the condition deserves to continue living the life they want to live, at work, at home and in the community.
“In 2013, Alzheimer’s Society launched Dementia Friends to tackle the stigma around dementia, to help those affected by the condition feel understood and valued in the community. There are now 2.5 million Dementia Friends changing the way the world thinks about dementia, and over 3,000 of those are living in Bristol.
“But that alone isn’t enough. We need all businesses, workplaces and communities across Bristol to follow the lead of The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes and make necessary adaptations so that local people with dementia feel valued and able to continue to contribute to society.”
To book at table at The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for a lunch or early meal email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07749 883545.
In the coming weeks the team behind the restaurant hopes to have longer opening times as the dementia volunteers gain in confidence.