I am not a wordsmith so I shy away from writing lengthy blog posts and prefer to show you something instead. However this week I do want to share with you some of my recent experiences of community engagement with residential care.
When I started my new job just a couple of months ago one of the initial aims I set for myself was to initiate regular and significant community engagement. I firmly believe that bringing people into a care home, and supporting those living in residential care to spend time in their local community has numerous benefits for everyone involved.
Local coffee mornings
Our local Alzheimer Scotland group has started a Musical Memories coffee morning once a month. It takes place in the local church hall and we had a duet from the Music in Hospitals organisation singing to us, as well as a tea and cake break midway through. A lady and gentleman who live where I work came with me last month. He took huge pleasure from singing and clapping along and she smiled almost the entire afternoon. During the 'interval' ladies from the church came and sat with us and chatted to my friends about local people and places they knew. There were awkward moments when the hosts would insist on using the phrase "do you remember" far too often, and asking me "do they take sugar" but, and here is the first lesson, they will learn. Me and my two friends started the dementia education of these kind, well intentioned ladies and my friends had an absolute ball in the process.
Halloween Trick or Treat
We are a small residential home so a handful of visitors in our main lounge instantly feels like a party. On Halloween we were visited by over a dozen children; staff family, friends and supporters. In advance the residents and I had prepared treat bags and party games and decorated the lounge. On the night each child performed to earn their treat bag; the ladies charmed by toddlers singing their songs, the gentlemen amused by silly jokes. It felt joyous, for everyone involved. The photo of one the older ladies in our home, beaming from ear to ear, with a 1 year old 'pink rabbit' on her lap for a cuddle will endure in my memory for some time to come and inspire me to continue to organise such events. Both the children and those living in the home benefited from our Halloween night; the children genuinely had fun and engaged with people in their community who need them for their engagement, support and love. The adults genuinely had fun and engaged with people in their community (two of whom are wheelchair users with significant needs) who need them for their learning, development, support and love. It's a win:win.
Two of the people I work with had expressed an interest in going swimming. So far I have taken one gentleman to the pool. It was a challenge of access, practicalities, confidence and timing but it paid off as we encountered helpful staff, warm water and, amazingly, an empty pool. My friend achieved significant exercise as well as periods of floating relaxation and I boosted my confidence and enthusiasm to continue to be brave and empower the people I work with to be brave too.
In addition we have also been to the garden centre, library, local shops. We have had a bake sale and are planning a fireworks party, Christmas Fair and Christmas decorating party as well a a trip to the local AmDram panto. I plan to organise for volunteers to help us in the home and, if I can, for one or two of the residents to volunteer in the community themselves. It's a big task but it is hugely rewarding for everyone involved. I'm not pretending I am the only person doing this; I know for sure that there is amazing work happening in residential care across the country, but for those who aren't I hope this will give you some inspiration and / or confidence to try and engage with your community.