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:
One village church in Norfolk, is making a real impact on the elderly in their community.
In a village of just 1489 residents (according to the 2011 census), with 20-30 regularly attending their weekly church services, size (or lack of it) has not deterred the team at St Mary's, Newton Flotman, from making a difference.
Last year they set up a Care Home Friends project, with volunteers going in regularly to visit elderly care home residents.
Volunteers visit weekly, talk about childhood memories, the news or sometimes take individual residents outside for a walk in their wheelchair. Special boxes, full of objects connected to topics they enjoy, help volunteers initiate and engage in conversation.
Once a month, the church baby and toddler group, Church Mice, meets in the care home. Residents and children sit around, talk and do crafts together. Everyone enjoys singing nursery rhymes together.
A small group from the church visit regularly to lead a communion service, which is well-attended by residents. For those unable to join in, the team visit residents in their rooms and are able to share communion and pray with them.
A number of care home residents are picked up and taken to the monthly community lunch in the church room, where they get to meet other village residents, both old and young.
There are occasional outings for the residents, where one of the team drives the minibus, to take residents on a day out. A recent outing to the seaside town of Southwold was well received, with beautiful sunny weather being an unexpected bonus.
With loneliness impacting over 8 million people in the UK, the church is involving older people in their community and creating opportunities for friendships to grow and blossom.
This small local church really seems to believe and act on the quote, that "helping one person might not change the whole world, but it could change the world for one person."
Community outreach worker, Andy Cox, says "We've had highs, such as being shortlisted for an award for our work at the Caring UK Awards. I've also been involved in end of life care for some and been involved in funerals which, although sad, has been a privilege." Andy is hoping to recruit more volunteers from the local area to help reach more older people in their community.
Head of Care at the home, says "We’re so grateful to everyone who makes such a difference to the daily lives of our residents".
What's impressive about what they're doing, is that it's just a handful of volunteers running everything - from the baby and toddler group, to the Care Home Friends project, the monthly communions and the occasional outings.
St Mary's Church, Newton Flotman, really are showing that the saying, "small is beautiful" is true, at least, for one Norfolk village.
One local church on the outskirts of London has found a winning formula in providing a safe and welcoming place for older people to come along and meet up with other local residents.
Taking her experience of helping run a parent and toddler group Pippa, a local mum, turned her attention to serving older people in the local community. An outreach was set up to serve the elderly in their community and to help reduce the isolation and loneliness faced by many. Aptly named Connections, it aims to connect people to God and with each other.
Before their Tuesday meetings, a team of volunteers comes in to set up the church cafe style and to prepare for the over 100 guests that they have each week.
Guests are offered coffee and homemade cakes, with flowers on the tables, which can include optional craft activities, mini hand massages, gentle exercises, jigsaws, shared hobbies and special interest tables put together by local guests, which allows guests to chat whilst they are doing something.
Pippa Cramer, Pastoral Care and Seniors Co-ordinator at HTC says “It has been a privilege to see how Connections has grown – for many, who are lonely and isolated, it’s the highlight of their week, and it’s so wonderful to see Connections as a bridge into church – many of the new faces we have at church come from Connections.”
Connections offers a safe place to connect with others and build friendships in a safe environment. They also welcome carers, who can bring along the person that they are caring for, allowing them both the opportunity to get out of the house once a week.
For their regulars, who are often living with ill health, dementia or bereavement, the opportunity to connect once a week, to sit, listen and talk, is all they need.
Pippa emphasizes that they want their guests to “relax and feel at ease” and believes that the love and care shown by the team is infectious. “It’s the care and love received that impacts people”. It’s not just the guests who benefit, the volunteers who take part also love being part of the team.
The church aims to help guests to experience the love of God through the friendships they build at Connections. During the morning, there’s a light touch ‘’thought for the day’ shared by one of the leaders and there always volunteers for guests to talk to and pray with.
Pippa says that she believes it’s their “warm welcome, ability to listen, generosity and prayer” , and the caring team of volunteers, that have made Connections such a success.
The culture of love in the Connections community has spread outside of a Tuesday morning, with guests and volunteers phoning each other for a chat, guests hosting coffee mornings and helping each other with shopping.
One of the surprising things about the project, is that it sees a large number of men attending. Pippa says that she believes that it helps that some of the team are men who are particularly good at getting alongside the older gentlemen, but also many of the activities aim to appeal to men, particularly the special interest tables.
The project has seen such success that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has expressed a desire to see the Connections model of reaching the elderly replicated across other churches.
It’s inspiring to see a church meeting real needs of older people in their community, with genuine love and compassion. We hope to see many more Connections projects springing up across the country!
To find out more about Connections, contact Pippa Cramer, Pastoral Care & Senior’s Co-ordinator at Holy Trinity Claygate, at email@example.com
Our Care Home Friends project encourages churches to adopt a local care home and offer trained volunteers to spend time and build friendships with residents.
To work towards our vision of having every care home adopted by a local church, we need more people to hear about Care Home Friends. We’ve have had some good publicity in the past, including a great article in the Times newspaper last summer. Yet, there’s more to be done to get the word out about the project.
We know that there are individuals and churches out there who, once they hear about Care Home Friends and how it can improve the lives of individual care home residents, will love to jump on board and get a project going.
We’re keen to get the word out about how easy for a church it is to set up a project, whatever their size or denomination. To help achieve that and to reach a wider audience who haven’t already heard of our Care Home Friends project, we’ve been developing our social media presence.
Jen Carter, our National Co-ordinator, has been working behind the scenes to update the Care Home Friends website, including a ‘get involved’ page for individuals and churches who want to find out more about starting a project.
On a sunny day in April, Tina and Jen had some fun setting up the video equipment and filming footage for a couple of videos about the project. The first two-minute video explains a bit about how simple it is to set up a project in a local church. We plan to create more videos, as people seem love to learning by watching videos on their phone or other mobile device, so watch this space!
If you’d like to see what happening with Care Home Friends or to help us share to a wider audience, you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.