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.
A guest blog from John Noble, whose wife Christine is living in a care home with dementia.
Suddenly, amidst all the news and confusion about the Corona virus and the fear and suffering which some people are experiencing, the situation becomes very personal.
As my daughter, Sharon, and I were giving Christine her supper one evening around three weeks ago, one of the nurses sat down with us and gave us the news - no more visits until further notice! We were shocked! There was no prior warning, no time to take it in, just the stark reality that we would not see our darling until further notice!
I could see the wheels in Sharon's brain turning as I struggled to take it in. She immediately went to the office to see if she could negotiate but how could they give us special dispensation when some others also visit their loved ones every day as we do? I had just missed one day due to traffic in in 3 and a half years.
So after being refused special privilege which we expected, Sharon runs back to the office with plan B forming in her mind. "Can we borrow mum's special bed and take her home?" she asked, "We can hire a hoist and....." I held back the tears and explained that I could not let her do that. The cost to her health and well-being and that of her husband in all that would be required day and night would be just too great and, anyway, how would Christine cope being out of the environment which she has known for the past three and a half years. On top of that, if we vacated her room there would be no way we would get it back with so many waiting for a place.
As it was time to leave we took her into the conservatory where it is quiet and where we wouldn't be interrupted to give her a last walk and sing hymns with her as we did every day. She was up and rearing to go, we took a few steps and Sharon began to sing, "Amazing grace how sweet the sound..." I tried to join in but could not hold back the tears any longer. Through the tears and sobs I went on to explain to Christine that we wouldn't be in to see her for a while and that we loved her very much. She looked at me with a quizzical, slightly confused, look but I am sure she did not have a clue what I was talking about. Mind you, she did give me two full on kisses which is unusual when we're leaving, she willingly kisses when we arrive but is rather reluctant when she sees we are about to go.
As I drove home, straining to see through the mists of my tears, the reality of the suffering that so many are, and will be, going through as a result of this most recent interruption to our normal lives, hit me. Apart from fear of the sickness itself and how to care for sick loved ones or being unable to visit, there will be all kinds of sad and tragic outcomes.
So, three weeks on how have I coped and what advice can I give that might help others who are going through similar and even much worse situations? Well, I am no expert in all this and I am learning to trust God every step of the way. I make no apology for saying that my Christian faith in the love and goodness of God shown to me and dear Christine over the years has been a mainstay of our ability to cope.
And in that connection I have to say that the freedom to express your grief and pour out your pain is incredibly important. If you don't share my faith where you are assured that the Lord can bear your tears and questions, then do you have a close friend or relative who can cope with you sharing what, some call, an 'unmourned bereavement'? Since Christine's diagnosis, apart from the every day feelings of sadness, I have, on at least five occasions, felt I have been through what can best be described as a bereavement with no place to put it to bury it. The diagnosis itself was tough to hear; the day that I had to tell her she could not drive any more was devastating and she couldn't understand why and, worst of all, the day that she was taken into care were all times of deep distress and grief.
I am sure that many of you reading this will have found your way to cope, as we are all different and our circumstances are by no means the same. So I don't see my thoughts as being definitive, but they may just help someone somewhere, which takes me to my second point. In the midst of your pain try to think of others who are suffering and remember you are in a special place to give encouragement and advice as you are able to empathise in a way others can not.
For me, I did this by starting a face book page as a dedication to Christine and that was after I had vowed I would never join the fb club. It did not appeal to me at all and also I am living proof that dinosaurs exist as I don't have a technical bone in my body. So I sought out help from Sharon and as a result I have reached 1000's of people to give encouragement by sharing our story and the highs and lows of dealing with this terrible disease.
Of course, I am not suggesting that you have to reach thousands but helping one broke-hearted person is worth all the effort and there is a benefit - it is therapeutic for you. In blessing someone in pain you get blessed too and you find that you are in a new and different kind of family too, linked by your common experiences and needs. The story of your journey is important and might be just what some one in distress needs to hear!
Sharing your experience can be really helpful but alongside sharing we must also be careful listeners. Some of us are great talkers, especially people like me in Christian ministry. We like to hear the sound of our own voice but important though sharing is, listening at times can be even more vital in helping to alleviate someone's else's pain. And you may be surprised how simply listening, even when you don't have answers, can help and give you the satisfaction to see that person leave with hope because they found a shoulder to cry on.
Other things that have been helpful for me have, for example, been finding the inner strength and determination not to be a couch potato or to sit around feeling sorry for myself all day. Life goes on and has to be lived so there comes a moment when we have to pick ourselves up and busy ourselves with things that have to be done. Often I have started a job whilst still shedding tears and found that in a short time the tears have dried up as I focus on the work in hand. The pain does not totally disappear, how could it when the situation remains the same, but we can learn how to dull the pain so that it does not dominate our every living moment.
Having a routine is also extremely helpful and keeps you functioning in a measure of normality. A little exercise can really help you to cast off some of the gloom that might hang over you; make sure that you don't neglect the every day things like taking a shower or putting on some decent clothes and try to eat things which will help you to feel healthy as opposed to comfort eating that will only add to your woes.
When all the jobs that are necessary for life to go on are done for the day then, maybe during this lock down, you will recall some of those things that you have promised yourself that one day I'll get around to that. A hobby, a sewing project, turning out the cupboard under the stairs or re-jigging that flower bed in the garden that has got out of hand or planting tomato seeds in the greenhouse!. The problem may be that we feel guilty if we are doing something which might look as if we are getting some pleasure from it when our loved one is suffering and we can't be there. Please reject such a thought, for guilt has never ever helped the human condition and it won't help you now. Taking pleasure in some activity is not a sin and if your loved one was able to speak to you, they would surely encourage you in that!
Well, these are some of my thoughts and I hope they are constructive and helpful and perhaps they will inspire you to think of how you have been helped to walk through your pain to carry on with life that is there to be lived. Then when the time comes for you to get back to seeing your loved one, you will be in a fit state to be the best that you can be for them once again. May God bless you and give you the peace that comes from knowing that Jesus walks with you every step of the way.
Most care homes have now restricted visitors in order to protect their residents from the virus. We have paused the replication of our Care Home Friend projects and are looking at how we can most effectively support care homes during this unprecendented season. It is a particularly challenging time for staff and residents, as an outbreak of the virus at a care home could be devastating. How can you support them?
It's a difficult question to answer, as the situation seems to be changing daily, but here are some general ideas that should be adapted to your local situation and read in the light of the most up to date government advice, which can be found here.
1. Give your care home a call and ask them what their needs are at this time and if there is any particular support they need. They may be so busy dealing with the urgent that they are unable to think of anything - let them know that they can contact you if they think of anything later on.
2. Show care home staff how much we appreciate all they are doing to look after and protect our vulnerable older people during this time of crisis. Send them a thank you card and some chocolates.
3. In our area we are hoping to get some funding to buy android tablets to give to the care homes that staff can use to help residents have video chats with their loved ones. Residents with capacity can also use them to play online games like Words with Friends and chess, that connect them to the outside world.
4. If you have a background in care, perhaps you could offer to go on a reserve list of bank staff that care home managers can call on should they experience a shortage.
5. If you have children at home, perhaps they could write letters or draw pictures that could be sent to the care homes to cheer the staff and residents.
Can you think of other ideas? Please feel free to add them to them in the comments section below.