That’s the Christmas message from an organisation running a unique project in Oxfordshire to return people with memory problems, such as dementia, safely home if they get lost.

Neighbourhood Return, which started ‘live’ in Oxfordshire on 1 November, is of invaluable benefit to carers according to Roger Stammers, who has been involved in the set-up of the scheme.

“I wish this scheme had existed when my wife was wandering.  She went missing on a number of occasions and I was so worried about where she had gone and if she was all right.  Trying to find her on my own was really difficult and stressful.  I was driving backwards and forwards between places I thought she might have gone, and going home each time in between to check whether she’d come backby herself.  I didn’t want to involve the police, and felt a sense of guilt every time she went missing even though I took her out to a local town or village each morning.  After an episode when she’d reached our town centre and could have taken a bus to anywhere I never went out on my own again unless a support worker was with Isobel.  Every time Isobel got the Alzheimer’s urge to go out I’d walk with her.  If the neighbourhood return scheme had existed, it would have given me the support and confidence to continue with more of my own life.”

The scheme aims to sign up significant numbers of volunteers across Oxfordshire who only need to have a mobile phone that is regularly charged and has credit on it.

Deborah Ginns the Service Manager who runs the project said:

“We are appealing to everyone in Oxfordshire who has a mobile phone to sign up this Christmas, no matter how little time they think they may have.   We know that everyone is very busy, but the commitment is very small, you may never get a call, but if you do, and you are free, you might just help to save someone’s life.   We know that people work all sorts of shift patterns, we know people don’t stand still and aren’t at home all the time.   If you aren’t free to search, or in the wrong place when we send you a message to say someone is missing, then just text back ‘no’ to tell us you can’t help.   The more volunteers we can call on, the more likely that some will be available to search.”

Deborah explains “This is very much about helping your neighbour down the street or in your local village.  You will only be asked to search in a familiar local area, around 500 yards of your home, unless you are able to drive or cycle and are happy to go farther afield – for example in a rural area.  We only ask you to search for as long as you can, and never more than for two and a half hours.”

Why is a scheme like this is necessary in an age of GPS and tracking devices?  Roger explains that he considered but rejected tracking devices for his wife:

“I knew she’d refuse to keep any GPS tracking device on her, because it wouldn’t be familiar or elegant and she would remove it .  She always found and removed my contact details and her own mobile phone with my numbers that I often slipped into the bottom of her handbag.”

Deborah says “40,000 people with dementia get lost for the first time each year and don’t have tracking devices on them.  Like Roger’s wife, some people with dementia won’t wear them and even if they do, we provide a back-up service in case they aren’t charged or someone goes out without them. We would encourage all carers of people with memory problems to sign up.”

“Christmas is about sharing.  It’s a time when we look out for each other.  Please take this opportunity to join the scheme in case at any time in the future your neighbour ever needs you to help find their loved one.  Both volunteers and carers can join through our website:, or by ringing the Neighbourhood and Home Watch Network National Office on 0116 228 3118.”


For more information, and to arrange interviews please contact Deborah Ginns on 07584 051 004.

Notes for editors: 

  • Neighbourhood Return is a ‘world-first’ scheme based in Oxfordshire that pre-registers people with memory problems, their carers and volunteers to help find them.
  • The scheme is funded by the National Lottery Silver Dreams fund and is a Neighbourhood Watch project.
  • We work closely with local voluntary organisations and statutory agencies including Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Thames Valley Police, Age UK and Carers Oxfordshire, Alzheimer’s Society and Guideposts Trust.