When I started working on the ‘Voices for Colourful Lives’ Project with Borough Care last autumn it was against a backdrop of restrictions and lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Like me, so many family members saw the importance of ongoing communication with their relatives and were finding meaningful connections very difficult.
We are now almost a year into the project. Care homes are understandably still maintaining very strict protocols about visiting and family and friends cannot see their loved ones so easily as they did before the pandemic. With some restrictions, indoor visits are now allowed and on a personal level, that has made a real difference to me and my Mum. The ‘pod’ visits were a creative solution to allow people to see and talk to their loved ones, but they didn’t work for everyone. Now that I am able to sit beside my mother and look at old photos together, I find that she is more responsive; last week I found I was able to make her laugh again. During the pod visits, I found it very hard to get any sort of reaction, even eye contact seemed impossible. It was incredibly disheartening and I used to worry, but now I’m more optimistic knowing I can again look forward to time indoors together.
Our project is all about hearing the voices of residents and their families and Covid has meant this has been really challenging. Four months ago, I was still hoping to be able to meet residents, their families and staff at the homes and, perhaps a little later than anticipated, this has now begun to happen, albeit in a ‘Covid-safe’, socially distanced way.
Before this was possible most of my contact with people was conducted by telephone or video calls. In many ways, these are very effective methods of communication for many people, but they proved much less so when talking to people who are hearing or sight impaired, or to anyone not used to the relatively new technology of a video call.
It felt quite strange when I was finally able to meet and talk to people who I’d only ever seen on my computer screen. I have been able to speak to managers and ALFs and some residents in person – at a distance, wearing a mask and often outside. I’ve been able to speak to more relatives as well. A few of the ALFs (Activity and Lifestyle Facilitators) and home managers agreed to help with this by mentioning the possibility of having a chat with me when family members book their indoor visits. As people are required to take a lateral flow test before entering the home and wait thirty minutes for the results, it seemed a good way of connecting with people.
Extending the reach
In addition to the face to face conversations, a second flyer was sent out to family members to highlight awareness of the project and offer a chat. This generated a few interesting phone calls and messages, but still, less than I would have hoped. I get the feeling that a lot of us don’t always read what comes in the post! Borough Care is also using Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness. The good news is that now over 20 individual families have been involved and well over 100 residents (which I reckon is about a quarter) have so far had their voices heard.
Our theme for discussion this summer has been moving into a Borough Care home. People have had a lot to say and it has been really interesting listening to them. One of the most powerful messages, which resonated with me, as my mother is resident in one of the homes, was what an emotional and frankly traumatic experience this can be, even when people feel that it is the best decision for them and their loved one. From conversations with relatives and people living in Borough Care homes, I’ve gathered so much information – with people sharing their personal experiences and emotions as well as practical tips and helpful advice for others making this difficult choice. We are hoping to share all this with Borough Care who are in the process of creating a new welcome pack for people and their families.
Now that I’ve been able to meet up with and listen to more people, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to develop these connections and lines of communication as we go into the autumn. Our new theme is Health and Wellbeing for people living in Borough Care homes. I feel sure people will have a lot to share on that one and equally sure all those voices can only have a positive impact on the organisation and beyond.