Voices for Colourful Lives – a reflection at the end of the project
The Voices for Colourful Lives joint project with Borough Care, a not-for-profit organisation who provide residential care for older people in 12 homes across Stockport and Staffordshire, is coming to an end. The majority of people supported by Borough Care are living with some form of dementia. The aim of the project was to give families and people who live in a Borough Care home a strong voice in the way the services are designed and run for them. My role was to give them that voice.
Connecting with people and recording lived experience
Over the course of the project, I connected with over 100 residents, either directly or with the invaluable aid of Borough Care staff. I spoke directly to 40 family representatives; several of these on more than one occasion and some very regularly. Each of the homes got involved at some point and some of the homes played a very significant role and were particularly supportive. I am very grateful for all the assistance I received, particularly in such challenging times against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic.
Talking and listening to families and residents about their experience of living in a Borough Care home was one of my main aims – but how to do this, particularly as we faced Covid restrictions? Borough Care was helpful and pro-active and sent out information to families to raise awareness of the project, as well as posting on social media and publishing articles in the organisational newsletter. We produced flyers about the project and distributed these around the homes so that interested visitors could learn more about what Voices for Colourful Lives was about. I even accosted family members in the car park as they were waiting for their Lateral Flow Test (LFT) results before entering a home to visit loved ones. Once I had initial contact with family members, I organised group Zoom calls and individual telephone conversations, for those who preferred this. We also created surveys to gather information and a virtual suggestion box for staff team members to share their ideas.
As Covid restrictions eased I was eventually able to spend time in the homes and to interact with some of the people living there, as well as attending family meetings. I met some lovely, interesting and helpful people – residents, relatives and the Borough Care team.
Change and Challenges
In the autumn of 2020 starting to connect with people living and working at Borough Care and families was without doubt a big challenge. I couldn’t visit a home in person or organise a meet up with relatives, so technology was the solution. I had already learnt how to use Zoom earlier in the year, but I have to admit I had never heard of it before March 2020. Talking to people via Zoom or Teams generally worked well – as long as the wi-fi connections were good! And telephone calls were always another option.
Over the two years of the project there has been a lot of change. At the beginning, care homes were, by necessity, operating under strict protocols and visiting opportunities were very restricted. Everybody who has any connection to Borough Care is probably relieved that this has now changed and once more the outside world, including families and friends, can come into the homes and interact with the residents in a much more relaxed and normal environment.
This was also of huge importance to me on a personal level. My mother was resident in a Borough Care home. Since last autumn I was able to visit her in her room and for longer periods of time as her ‘Essential Care Giver’. This was a vast improvement on the pod visits! I was able to re-establish our connection which I feared had gone. She seemed more cheerful and animated during this time than she had been in the previous months. I am very grateful for those visits which made both of us happier. Very sadly, she passed away at the end of December.
We based our work on themes – issues raised by the people we spoke to that seemed to be of wider interest to all. Over the course of the project seven different themes were raised and once chosen, we would discuss it in more detail with residents, relatives and staff. Key themes were:
- Communication with the homes and how to keep connected – In the autumn of 2020 this issue was of huge concern to most of the people we spoke to – unsurprisingly, given the unprecedented circumstances everyone was living through.
- Personalised lifestyles looked at ways of helping residents keep a sense of their own individuality in a group setting.
- Food and drink was of particular interest to people living in the homes – and they had a lot to say, positive on the whole but with some practical suggestions.
- Gardens and going out highlighted problems posed by the pandemic and the restrictions placed on people.
- Moving in – A very difficult subject as people shared the emotions they felt on making the unbearably difficult decision to move into a home and/or help a loved one to move and how stressful moving in day can be, whatever the circumstances. I also talked to some residents who shared their memories of what their moving in day was like.
- Health and wellbeing looked at the practicalities of health care provision in a care home setting.
- Sleep and night time routines highlighted a very important area of residents’ lives which can sometimes be overlooked.
After researching each theme, a report, with recommendations, would be submitted to the Borough Care board, who would react to any concerns, questions or suggestions. The board were very open to considering change in current practice and planning action.
There were some very positive outcomes from the project, for example:
- The provision of technology, including better wi-fi and broadband and greater access to equipment was improved across each of the homes.
- Visiting procedures were made clearer and relatives kept up to date with the latest changes. The newsletter now regularly includes photos and stories from all of the homes.
- A ‘resident of the day’ approach was adopted which gave relatives detailed updates about their loved ones – particularly relevant when visiting was so restricted.
- More vegetarian and vegan options were made available at mealtimes.
- Information provided about moving into a home is handled with more empathy and a welcome pack on arrival is being made standard practice.
- Clearer guidelines for the admissions process have been agreed.
- Discussion is underway about how better to involve relatives with health-care visits and how to handle discussions about important health decisions, including more training for staff.
As I have looked back over the past two years, I realise that I was beginning to forget how challenging those first months were. People working in Borough Care homes showed amazing strength and fortitude through what were some tough and scary times. People living in Borough Care homes and their loved ones had to adapt to a very unexpected and unwelcome situation. One of the main things I’ll take away from this experience is just how resilient we all are, even when it may not feel like it at the time.
By Claire Slatter – Project Worker Borough Care
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