I shared in a recent blog that this strange new season feels a bit like emerging from an apocalyptic event, seeing the chaos and wondering how to navigate a coherent path through the mess. Though that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it certainly feels like that when it comes to getting volunteers back into care homes.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on many care homes, and as visiting restrictions are lifted and they seek to restore community links for residents, there is inevitably much caution. Guidelines for visiting have changed so much throughout the pandemic and have always needed to be applied flexibly to the local circumstances. The most recent government guidelines for visiting care homes are here, but inevitably they will be superseded by the next instalment.
An added complication for volunteering in care homes is the new legislation, due to become law in October, that care home staff will have to be double vaccinated. Included in this legislation is a statement that all volunteers will need to be vaccinated too.
This is what the Government have said:
The new legislation means from October – subject to Parliamentary approval and a subsequent 16-week grace period – anyone working in a CQC-registered care home in England for residents requiring nursing or personal care must have 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine unless they have a medical exemption.
It will apply to all workers employed directly by the care home or care home provider (on a full-time or part-time basis), those employed by an agency and deployed by the care home, and volunteers deployed in the care home.
Those coming into care homes to do other work, for example healthcare workers, tradespeople, hairdressers and beauticians, and CQC inspectors will also have to follow the new regulations, unless they have a medical exemption.
The Parliamentary approval mentioned has now been given, meaning that this change is definite.
Whatever our views on this, the implications are clear – all volunteers will have to be double vaccinated if they want to visit residents in care homes.
So, how do we navigate this chaotic landscape?
Here are a few thoughts:
1. Remind yourself of why we do this. We need to be re-envisioned with our purpose. Proverbs 14:31 tells us, “Whoever is kind to the needy honours God”, and Jesus said that whatever we do for someone overlooked and ignored, we do for him. Just pause and meditate on that for a few minutes.
2. Have a chat with your local care home manager. These changes might be huge for them too, especially if they have valuable staff who are not vaccinated. Ask how you can best support them at this time. Find out if there are residents who would benefit from having a volunteer companion, and what the local procedures are for visiting and testing.
3. Check with your pool of volunteers – how many of them are keen to start visiting again, and have they been double vaccinated?
4. Start slowly and build up – you may have to do a recruitment drive for new volunteers. We have resources to help you with this.
5. Let us know how we can help and support you. Our volunteer training is now online, so any new volunteers can access it at their leisure. We can also run a zoom volunteer training if this would be helpful.
As we reflect on all the changes and the chaos around us, I’m reminded again of a verse of a song: “He turns our chaos back into order”. We can lift our eyes and focus on Him, the God who guides our path, renews out strength and who is in the business of restoration and renewal. As we reach out to some of the oldest and loneliest people in our society we are touching the very heart of God.
This week we hosted a small group on Zoom made up of champions from our existing Care Home Friends projects and other church members keen to explore options for enhancing their ministry amongst older people as we emerge into a "new normal". It was a very thought provoking discussion, and you can read below Tina's reflections on the session.
It’s a strange season. I feel like I’m cautiously emerging from an apocalyptic event, viewing the chaos around me and wondering how to forge a coherent path through the mess. Of course, I’m exaggerating a little for effect, but it was surprising to see the heads nodding in agreement when I shared this thought at the Champions zoom on Tuesday. Restrictions may have lifted on July 19th, but it’s not business as usual, and we’re all still trying to work out what the new normal might look like.
The analogy of a chrysalis was mentioned. We cocooned as caterpillars and are emerging differently – it’s not just a transition; it’s a metamorphosis. Now is the time to start thinking like butterflies and not caterpillars, but what does that mean? What does it look like?
From the feedback at the Champions' Zoom, everyone’s situation is a little different. In one church the older members have been gung-ho about coming back and have almost needed restraining when they don’t care about “safety” restrictions. Another church have found that people are hesitant to return and even though they have been open for four weeks, only limited numbers are turning up.
I was encouraged by the line in one of the songs played at my church on Sunday morning: “He turns our chaos back into order.” However chaotic things appear at the moment, God is with us, and He is in the business of restoration and renewal. Amid all the uncertainty there is opportunity. Now is a good time to review your ministry amongst older people: what needs to stay in the past; what helpful things that emerged from the lockdowns do you want to take forward?
A good starting point for any review is to consider your goal or vision for ministry amongst older people. Are you seeking to alleviate loneliness? Are you seeking to improve health and wellbeing? These are all noble aims, but what distinguishes us from other local groups offering similar? As someone shared at the Zoom call, “We need to figure out how we transition from coming into the building, into getting people to meet with Jesus. Otherwise we’re just a community group.”
When you have clarified what your goals are, then each activity can be evaluated against those goals. It’s good to do this in a group with those who are invested in ministry amongst older people, so that they feel part of any decisions that involve change. When we know what our vision is, we can focus on that as we navigate new paths.
Participants at the Zoom call shared ways they find helpful in sharing about Jesus with older people, from asking questions that open up conversations, to giving gospel tracts, to initiatives such as Hymns We Love. There’s a verse in Ecclesiastes (11:6) that can be translated, “Keep on sowing your seeds, you never know what will bear fruit, perhaps it all will.” The way we do that may be different for all of us: listening, building relations, giving out a leaflet, etc., but it’s all sowing seeds. Whatever we do, we need to be intentional about it. It’s not about trying harder but rather doing things differently.
What’s the difference between a caterpillar and butterfly? A caterpillar walks along the ground and its perspective is very different to the butterfly in the sky. We need to change our perspective. The pandemic has forced us to do things differently, and as we emerge we need to see things differently too. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, and asking for his perspective and his thoughts on the goals and vision of our ministry amongst older people, trusting that He will bring order out of the chaos and show us the path through.
Last week was the annual Carers Week campaign - raising awareness of caring, highlighting the challenges unpaid carers face and recognising the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.
We were honoured to be approached for a radio interview with United Christian Broadcasters about the challenges carers face, especially as a result of the pandemic with much of their usual respite or support unavailable, and concerns that these services might not resume when restrictions are eased. Tina spoke about the enormous, relentless pressure of being an informal carer and how churches can support carers within their congregations, whether through prayer or asking (and listening) to what support that individual would appreciate, and making sure they feel seen and included in your community. You can catch up on Tina's interview here.
We were also thrilled to be featured in the Baptist Times with an article about our Carers Connected project and the resources we have collated to help carers as well as churches seeking to support carers in their communities. You can read the Baptist Times article here.
To discover more about Carers Connected, access resources for carers and churches, and read insightful reflections of carers' individual experiences, please visit this section of our website.
Together let's make informal carers, and the work they do, visible and valued.
With care home visiting gradually opening up, some of our volunteers have been able to start going back to see residents.
But what does it feel like to go back as a volunteer after not being able to visit for 14 months? And how have things changed since the pre-COVID days?
Jude, who has been visiting residents at her local care home since 2017, was one of our first volunteers to resume visits. Tina, our Founding Director, caught up with Jude to hear about her first visit back and Jude's reflections on how someone might prepare themselves to go back into visiting.
We recently hosted a group discussion with representatives from churches across the UK on "Churches Supporting Care Homes during COVID 19".
It was really inspiring hearing what different churches have been up to, as well as exploring potential routes ahead.
A church in Mirfield has launched two new initiatives since we last caught up on their Care Home Friends project. Under "Boxes of Hope", every other month, they are delivering a box containing a few treats. One box had a packet of biscuits and sachet of hot chocolate, and the latest had a sunflower growing kit for that resident’s windowsill. Children from the church (aged 5-14) have been buddied up with an individual care home resident so that the box comes addressed from that child rather than the church. Several residents have sent thank you letters in reply so this has also built into a penpal system. There is a real sense of connection, both for the children and the residents, even though it is all done at a distance, especially with the sunflowers as there can be ongoing conversation as they continue to bloom, and can be seen through windows, on the window sills.
With residents limited to a single visitor, the care home has also agreed that people from the church can offer to sit outside with family members while another family member is visiting a resident. This gesture of support and offer of a friendly ear has been gratefully received by relatives.
Churches have also been assisting care homes to play live, or recorded, church services for the residents. One vicar includes a "hello to everyone watching at" the name of the local care home in every service as he knows the residents will be watching the YouTube recording and this helps them feel more connected.
Other churches have been busy organising cards, letters, gift bags and other treats at various times throughout the year to show gestures of kindness to care home staff and residents.
If your church is doing anything with your local care home, please leave a comment below or email us. It would be wonderful to hear your stories and you may inspire others to try a similar idea.
If you're interested in supporting your local care home, here are some links you may find useful:
We're thrilled to see our Care Home Connections project move into the next phase of action, and are really grateful to the Baptist Times for featuring this article about how the devices can be used to connect residents to their loved ones and also to pastoral support.
Thanks to generous donations and supporters spreading the word, we raised £1,835 under the Aviva Community Fund crowdfunding appeal. We've now got lots of devices ready to send, completely free, to care home residents across the country to help them stay connected with their loved ones, without needing care home staff to help set up or supervise calls, combatting issues found with other forms of communication.
We've also published all the resources to get started, including "How To" guides for relatives and care homes.
If you know anyone with a loved one in a care home that could benefit from a free device or our resources, please do share this link and ask them to contact us.
HUGE thanks to Aviva, Crowdfunder, and everyone who supported us through donations and spreading the word, for helping make this idea a reality.
Our #CareHomeConnections Crowdfunder is LIVE! Please help us bring vital treasured connections between care home residents and their loved ones at this distressing time of separation.
Watch the video above to hear Ian explain the difference that voice assistive technology is making to his 91 year old mother and their family. We want to enable more residents and their loved ones to have access to this technology so that they can keep in touch with each other whenever they want to.
We know that no technology can replace the experience of face-to-face visits. However, we have seen that this voice assistive technology can work “incredibly well” as a way to communicate and connect with care home residents until family and friends are able to visit them in person.
Find out more on our project page here.
How can you help?
We can't bring an end to this pandemic but, with your help to drum up support, we can make it more bearable for some of the oldest and frailest people in our communities.
We are thrilled to be taking part in CRE's first ever Christian Resources Exhibition At Home. Below you can watch Tina's seminar on "A Great Place to Grow Old" as she discusses how your church can respond positively to the challenges of an ageing congregation.
CRE have pulled together a virtual exhibition of church resources, for you to enjoy at home - you can view their handbook of ideas and products, and watch seminars, interviews and daily worship here: creonline.co.uk/creathome/.
We are excited to launch our first virtual challenge event and we would love to see people of all ages and abilities get involved.
This year marks Embracing Age's (the charity behind Care Home Friends) 5th birthday and the event is all about celebrating what everyone, especially our volunteers, has achieved and doing something fun using everyone's individual talents to raise funds for the journey ahead.
As it's a virtual challenge, you can take part in your own time, wherever you're based, either as an individual or part of a team. Simply choose any challenge whether sporting, creative or anything else you fancy and link it to the number 5 whether by distance, time or quantity.
Click below to find out more and get involved.
Tina recently appeared on the panel for a webinar for the Cinnamon Network, talking about what churches can do to reach, bless and support the staff and residents of their local care homes during the extended lockdown caused by COVID-19. Click here to access a recording (video or audio only) and to download the notes.