The resident DJ
Whether it’s writing a book, having a go at volleyball or playing music at a local radio station, RMBI care home residents are discovering new skills in later life. Amy Lewin explores the activities on offer
There’s a new DJ at Tudno FM and he’s spinning some old tracks from Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, Ken George played trombone and saxophone in a band. Nowadays, he plays music at Llandudno’s community radio station, just across the road from his home, Queen Elizabeth Court.
‘Ken’s unbelievable,’ says Gary Carr, Activities Coordinator at the RMBI care home. ‘He’s 87, and so knowledgeable and enthusiastic.’ Gary does some drive-time DJ’ing himself, and one day suggested that the music enthusiast came along to see what they do at the station. And so DJ Ken was born. ‘Older people tend to get stereotyped. Here, we don’t assume that our residents can’t do something – we find out what they can do.’
The media may be awash with gloomy headlines about the problems facing the UK’s ageing population, but an increasing number of over-65s are still in employment, and many learn new skills every day.
‘Everything we do is geared to maximising people’s strengths, in all different areas, while giving residents the opportunity to try new things,’ says Debra Keeling, RMBI Deputy Director of Care Operations. ‘We need to remember that someone living in a care home has a huge amount to offer, and can still keep learning. So as far as possible we just continue with normal life, while developing self-esteem, supporting each other and creating a sense of community.’
Ken’s swing session isn’t his only appointment for the day. After lunch, he will be building with Lego and cardboard boxes, keeping his hands dexterous. More importantly, he will also be swapping stories with a group of fellow residents.
‘It’s all about reminiscence,’ says Gary. ‘I tend to tap into memories of things people did as a child, or when they were younger.’ It could be a creative activity that sparks conversation, or hearing an old song or taking a day trip. ‘That’s what we do here – we unlock memories.’
One of the most recent donations to Gary’s club, inspired by Age UK’s hugely successful Men in Sheds initiative, was an old Singer sewing machine. And it just so happens that he is a trained sewing machine mechanic, so he stripped it down and fixed it up like new. ‘You should have seen the looks on their faces when I opened the box and showed it to the group,’ he chuckles. ‘They were so excited, because they’d all had one once.’
At Cornwallis Court in Suffolk, the residents also have plenty of tales to share. When 26 uniformed RAF officers visited earlier this year, they found themselves staying well beyond teatime. ‘A lot of the residents fetched their medals from their rooms,’ says the home’s Activities Coordinator Alexander Winter. ‘They swapped stories with the officers for the whole evening.’
It’s not just the people actively taking part who benefit from these sessions. Some residents might have lost the ability to speak, yet sometimes simply being surrounded by other people communicating, laughing and using positive body language can have a huge, positive impact on their sense of wellbeing.
Leading by example
Later in the week, back in Llandudno, Ken has another activity in the diary. But this time, he will be leading it. ‘Ken loves to help out when I’m not around,’ says Gary. ‘On Saturdays, he runs “Music with Ken George” in the home’s Silver Jubilee Lounge. He’s made a lot of friends here.’
Like everything else going on at Queen Elizabeth Court, the music session is advertised in the home’s monthly Court Tales magazine, so residents can pop along if they like the sound of whatever’s going to be playing on the day.
Ken is not the only one sharing his skills and interests. In another home, a lady who had been a florist hosted a flower-arranging club to share her skills with other residents. ‘It boosted her self-esteem immeasurably,’ says Debra. ‘It was really important for her to show other people who she was. And everyone walking around the home commented on how lovely the displays looked.’
Carers and activities leaders work hard to arrange events and to encourage hobbies – whether carried out in a group or as an individual – that are relevant to each person living in their home, based primarily on their personal care plan.
‘We focus heavily on life history and get to know people really well – right from where residents were born to what subjects they did at school, what jobs they had and what their interests were,’ says Debra. ‘We mould all that information together and develop a plan that’s meaningful to them.’
‘Older people tend to get stereotyped. Here, we don’t assume that our residents can’t do something – we find out what they can do.’ Gary Carr, Activities Coordinator
The RMBI’s tailored approach to care helps its residents to maintain their independence, and to tot up plenty of personal achievements along the way. Among the 1,000-plus people living in RMBI homes in England and Wales, there is a 100-year-old playing the occasional game of volleyball, someone over 80 who has learned to play the piano and an autobiographer who has written a book of personal wartime experiences.
Not that it is always possible for all residents to achieve everything that they’d like to. One resident wanted to fly on Concorde which, short of time travel, was beyond the means of the care home.
So it was decided to look for the next best thing – going on a flight simulator.
‘We also used to have somebody who really loved horses, but was no longer able to ride,’ remembers Debra. ‘Yet she could still enjoy going to see the horses and stroking them, so we set up trips to a stable. You name it and we’ll try to arrange it, as much as we possibly can.’
Creating a community
At Cornwallis Court, basket weaving is a favourite activity. ‘It doesn’t always end up involving basket weaving, though,’ says Alexander, explaining that the session sometimes morphs into embroidery and crafting, depending on what the residents fancy. ‘Lots of the residents keep things like toiletries in the baskets they’ve made. Sometimes they make them for those residents who can’t, or they bake a cake for the less mobile, take it round and have a chat.’
Alexander thinks this community spirit is not only part and parcel of the activities programme but also a key feature in all RMBI care homes. ‘It’s a window of opportunity to socialise and make friends in their own time. It reawakens a social environment, which continues when there’s nothing going on. Even when there are no activities coordinators around, they will visit each other’s rooms, or bring some board games to the lounge to play together. That’s what I call a butterfly-effect moment.’
For many residents, living in an RMBI home is a sociable kind of independence. ‘After all,’ says Alexander, ‘everybody here has a degree in life.’
Easy as pie
RMBI residents across the UK took part in a variety of activities to mark British Pie Week, with tasting, baking and recipe-sharing sessions among the events. The RMBI places great importance on providing its residents with food that they grew up with and enjoy – as well as new dishes they have come to love – and its balanced, nutritious menus include classic pie dishes.
Recipes and Reminiscences, the RMBI cookbook, contains 50 favourite recipes from residents and staff. Many in the book were national staples in their era, including Woolton Pie, named after one of Churchill’s Cabinet.
A classic wartime dish, it encouraged people to use whatever vegetables were available to them during the rationing period to create family meals.
Debra Keeling, RMBI Deputy Director of Care Operations, said: ‘We strive to deliver a high quality of life for our residents, and providing enjoyable food and drink is essential to this. Our residents are encouraged to put their menu ideas forward to ensure we cater to their individual tastes. British Pie Week is a great way of bringing residents together through their mutual love of food.’
Investing in the future
RMBI care homes Queen Elizabeth Court in Llandudno and Prince Michael of Kent Court in Watford have been recognised with a prestigious award for their care of people living with dementia
The Butterfly Service status is a nationally recognised ‘kitemark’ awarded by Dementia Care Matters to identify care homes that are committed to delivering excellent dementia care and providing residents with a high quality of life.
Only a handful of care homes in the UK have been awarded the status, and Queen Elizabeth Court and Prince Michael of Kent Court now join four other RMBI care homes around the country to have received the award.
RMBI care homes Devonshire Court in Leicester, Shannon Court in Surrey, Barford Court in Hove and Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court in Essex have also received the Butterfly Service status.
Debra Keeling, RMBI Deputy Director of Care Operations, said, ‘To have been awarded the Butterfly Service status is testament to the dedication of our care home staff providing exceptional care. We have made a substantial investment in dementia care training for staff and hold regular events and initiatives for our residents as part of our drive to support their welfare and wellbeing.’
Debra believes that the award demonstrates the RMBI’s commitment to delivering innovative care techniques to maintain the highest quality of life for its residents, as well as putting solid foundations in place to continue to provide excellent care as the number of those with dementia increases over the next few years.
‘As a charity we have been working closely with Dementia Care Matters since 2009, and with a number of other specialist dementia providers to deliver our dementia care strategy,’ said Debra. ‘Dementia Care Matters works with care providers with the aim of improving the quality of life for residents of care homes – not only for those with dementia, but also for the other residents living in the same home.’
One thousand cups of tea
RMBI care homes across England and Wales welcomed the public for vintage-style tea parties during National Care Home Open Day
Now in its second year, National Care Home Open Day aims to connect care home residents with their local communities and change the perception of care homes for good.
On 20 June, vintage-style tea parties were held to encourage families, schools, care professionals and the wider community to meet the people living and working in their local care homes and to experience what vibrant and happy environments they can be.
More than 1,000 cups of tea were served as residents, staff, volunteers and visitors came together to mark the campaign.
Homes embraced the vintage theme with staff at The Tithebarn in Liverpool dressing up in 1940s costumes. Queen Elizabeth Court in Llandudno was decorated with original 1940s bunting and the post-war era was evoked with memorabilia, music and films.
Several RMBI homes (including Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court in Mid Glamorgan; Shannon Court in Surrey; Prince Michael of Kent Court in Watford; and Cadogan Court in Exeter) served homemade cakes and a variety of treats made using traditional recipes taken from the RMBI cookbook, Recipes and Reminiscences.
Homes also planned joint activities with schools and community groups. Residents of Cornwallis Court in Suffolk were joined by local schoolchildren for a morning of cooking and baking. Members of the local Women’s Institute visited Devonshire Court in Leicester for their tea party and Prince George Duke of Kent Court in Kent invited Age UK, local businesses and community police volunteers to take part in a putting competition.
James Terry Court in Croydon, Ecclesholme in Manchester, Zetland Court in Bournemouth and Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court in Essex all laid on a selection of extra activities for residents and guests including arts and crafts workshops, several live music performances and a fun selection of quizzes and games.
A few homes combined their tea parties for National Care Homes Open Day with other public events – Barford Court in Hove held an open day to draw attention to its brand-new Day Service and Connaught Court in York hosted its annual summer fete.
RMBI brand enjoys a refresh
Over the summer, the RMBI has refreshed its core branding. While retaining the familiar RMBI logo, some visual and linguistic elements of the brand have been subtly tweaked and updated. The fresh, new look will appear on all RMBI materials and channels in a phased rollout over the next few months. Key updates include:
• A softer, gentler colour palette
• A new strapline that reads: ‘Caring is our way of life’
• Strengthening of core values
• A new linguistic style guide that captures the charity’s language and tone
• A font refresh for improved clarity with a more modern typeface
The first RMBI material to be refreshed was the RMBI Welcome Pack for new care home residents, which was introduced in July.
Appealing to the senses
A blossoming sensory garden initiative by the RMBI is helping to both lift the spirits of care home residents and connect with their past, as Sarah Holmes discovers
While gardens are a source of pleasure during the summer months, imagine if an uneven paving stone was enough to limit your enjoyment of a flower bed in full bloom. For the older generation, the great outdoors can sometimes feel like a hazardous place, with the security of indoors often seeming a far more sensible option.
Forty-one per cent of adults over the age of seventy take a twenty-minute walk less than once a year, according to statistics published by the British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health in 2012. In care homes, the figures are more worrying still, with seventy-eight per cent of men and eighty-six per cent of women classified as inactive.
At Queen Elizabeth Court in Llandudno, however, the scene could not be more different. The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) care home is set in an acre of sprawling lawns that play host to an award-winning patchwork of raised flower beds and vegetable plots. And thanks to a network of pathways, the garden is completely accessible to its residents. But it is the home’s sensory garden, funded primarily by local Freemasons and volunteers from its Association of Friends, that’s the real pièce de résistance.
One of the four central masonic charities, the RMBI is dedicated to looking after Freemasons and their dependants in retirement, and sensory gardens are its latest initiative to improve the lives of residents in its care homes. Designed to stimulate all five senses, the gardens are especially therapeutic for people with dementia. ‘We want all of our residents’ lives to be as fulfilling as possible,’ explains Debra Keeling, Dementia Care Advisor at the RMBI. ‘The sensory gardens are fine-tuned to provide a safe, stimulating space that benefits all residents, including those with dementia.’
Working with landscaping specialist Ward Associates, which has links with the University of Stirling’s leading dementia centre, the RMBI developed a sensory garden blueprint in 2011 that could be used in its homes, with the help of grants.
In a sensory garden, colours, shapes and special features are introduced to assist visual impairment.
Wind chimes and water features aid hearing, with specially surfaced paths creating noise when residents walk on them. Plants with different textures are grown so that people can touch and enjoy the variety, while cultivating herbs and vegetables means the residents can taste fresh, home-grown produce.
With an expanding dementia support unit, Queen Elizabeth Court was a natural candidate for a grant, and its sensory garden helped the RMBI home take second place in the 2013 Llandudno in Bloom awards – adding to its roster of wins.
‘We want all of our residents’ lives to be as fulfilling as possible. Sensory gardens provide a safe, stimulating space that benefits all residents, including those with dementia.’ Debra Keeling
While his work may be award winning, for Alan Roberts, the horticulturalist at Queen Elizabeth Court, outstanding resident care is the only priority when it comes to maintaining the garden. ‘It’s nice to win awards, but at the end of the day it’s the residents’ garden,’ he says. ‘It’s here to benefit them.’
Roberts acknowledges that without the RMBI’s investment and expertise, the sensory garden would never have happened. From flower beds raised to wheelchair height through to sheltered seating areas, the garden is an accessible and engaging space for all. Plants and flowers that appeal to the senses are particularly important for residents with dementia, for whom the smell of lavender or the sight of a daffodil is enough to reinvigorate a host of comforting memories.
There are plans for more improvements, too. ‘We’ve decided to create a water feature to get the residents out more, and eventually we’ll have decking with more raised flower beds outside the dementia wing, so it’s easy to access,’ Roberts explains. At present, the home has eleven raised beds where residents plant their own produce, such as tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries – and it is up to the residents to nurture everything through to harvest, when it will go straight to the kitchens, then onto their plates.
‘It’s a great confidence booster,’ says Gary Carr, Activity Coordinator at Queen Elizabeth Court. ‘Our residents’ faces light up when somebody compliments them on something they’ve grown.’
Although it can be difficult to entice people out of their rooms, Carr and Roberts are never deterred. They regularly organise sessions to make hanging baskets and sunflower-growing competitions. ‘It’s an incredibly useful space,’ says Carr. ‘It adds another level of engagement to the activities, and is a great source of stimulation for residents in the dementia wing.’
By high summer, many residents will be visiting the garden at least once a week – some even two or three times a day. One resident in particular, Valerie Morris, adored the garden. Having been a keen gardener throughout her life, Val could often be found planting her favourite geraniums or engrossed in a gardening book. When she was moved to the dementia wing during the last four years of her life, the sensory garden provided a great source of comfort.
‘Val was a lovely lady,’ recalls Roberts. ‘The garden really helped in the last few years. It reminded her of when she used to garden with her son. We always made sure there was a vase of geraniums in her room.’
It’s the willingness of staff like Carr and Roberts to go the extra mile, combined with the RMBI’s strategic sensitivity to evidence-based innovation, that allows the care homes to excel in the field of dementia care.
‘We are experts in this area, and the sensory gardens are a key part of our offering for people with dementia,’ says Keeling. ‘It’s all about facilitating people’s interests, and the great thing is that the gardens can be enjoyed by everyone. All RMBI care homes with specialist dementia units already benefit from sensory gardens, so the next step is to introduce them to our other homes. It’s something that we will continue to develop to give real quality of life to our residents every day.’
Sowing the seeds
In addition to central funding from the RMBI, each care home has a dedicated volunteer group known as the Association of Friends. Their activities support care home provisions, such as the sensory gardens, and members also volunteer as companions for residents.
Every year, their efforts culminate in a big outdoor event. This year, Queen Elizabeth Court will be gearing up for its annual summer fete, which will see more than twenty lodges and local businesses arrive to peddle their wares from marquees. Last year’s attractions included artisan cheeses and charcuterie, a dog display, the West Mercia Lodge brass band and a residents’ strawberry stall.
To find out more, visit www.rmbi.org.uk/pages/association-of-friends.html
The Provincial Grand Master for Shropshire, Peter Allan Taylor, was pleased to hand over a cheque for £50,000 to the RMBI care home at Llandudno on the first day of June. This magnificent sum was the result of a year’s fund raising as well as a Fete earlier that day, and more money is confidently expected to be added to the total in the next few weeks.
The sun shone on Shropshire’s Masons, who co-operate with North Wales to support Queen Elizabeth Court. Residents of the home were able to enjoy the visit of hundreds of people to the Fete, held in their grounds, and listen to music from the Shrewsbury Brass Band. These musicians had earlier entertained people in Llandudno town centre, and the leaflets they distributed boosted the attendance still further.
Several of those present had special cause to stroll slowly among the varied stalls. A group including Roger Pemberton, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, had hiked the 106 miles from Shrewsbury to Llandudno. These intrepid walkers encountered rain (and many stiles) on their five-day journey, and contributed over £5,000 to the eventual total raised. Their progress was closely followed on Twitter (@ShropshireMason), where Roger lamented that after more than 100 miles he found he had actually put on a little weight! Organiser Kim March, Master of Salopian Lodge of Charity No. 117, finished with a smile but also with ‘blisters on blisters’.
The Provincial Grand Master was among those who walked the first leg of 17 miles in support of the main party. One mason ‘yomped’ the journey alone, and the amateur walkers who followed him were heartened to see the occasional square and compasses traced in the mud ahead of them. Two cyclists also made the trip from Shropshire to celebrate the day. The undoubted star, however, was Clive Jones, blind WM of St Mary’s Lodge No. 8373 who hiked the last leg from Rhyl to Llandudno.
The day ended with a gala dinner at Llandudno’s St George’s Hotel where a good meal was enjoyed and Shropshire’s Masons and their ladies saw Peter Taylor make a presentation which not only smashes previous records, but will undoubtedly assist the work of the RMBI in providing excellent care, including a top quality dementia unit, for the 67 residents at Queen Elizabeth Court for some time to come.
RMBI care home Queen Elizabeth Court in Llandudno hosted and delivered a free Carers' Information Programme over a six week period.
The Programme was open to anybody concerned about the onset of dementia within the Home and also to anyone in the wider community.
Six Wednesday evenings were set aside and free respite was offered for those carers bringing relatives with them. Fortunately, those with memory problems who came were able to join in the sessions too. Sessions were delivered in collaboration with local health and social services and the Alzheimer’s Society. As a result of these sessions a readymade formula has been created that can be used again. Debbie Lewis, Home Manager said: “It has helped create really positive relationships with important partners.” The local Consultant Psychiatrist came to every session and delivered two sessions on ‘demystifying dementia’ and ‘hallucinations’. Other sessions covered a basic introduction to ‘person centred care’, ‘the principles of communication’, ‘navigating health and social services’ and ‘diet and nutrition in Dementia’. The final programme covered the theme of ‘carers looking after yourself’ and as a result they can now form the nucleus of an on-going support group.
Carers’ Information Programme is a format the RMBI hopes to repeat in all their Homes so that they can be a real resource and a recognised part of community dementia services.
The RMBI continuously invest in their care homes to ensure that they meet government guidelines, legislation and the changing needs of older people. The RMBI also ensure that there is a consistent style in their Homes in order to create an environment for our residents.
Just over 18 months ago an Interior Design Manual was developed using the RMBI Corporate Identity guidelines as its foundation. This ensures that all RMBI Homes are refurbished to a consistent standard where the interior design is distinguishable and recognisable.
The Purpose of the Manual
The purpose of the Manual is to help provide an environment that suits all people living in RMBI Homes and to create an image that is welcoming and representative of the RMBI across all its Homes.
The Manual offers a series of options that the management staff at the RMBI can use to refurbish areas in the Homes, from furniture and curtain choices to wallpaper and flooring. This removes the temptation for a mix and match approach of personal tastes and helps to maintain a consistent style throughout.
As the RMBI's property portfolio ranges from listed and art deco buildings to purpose built care homes, the Manual was developed once a review was undertaken of all its properties. This was to ensure that colours and themes were selected that would enhance the buildings natural aesthetics and help to create more comfortable environments. This helps the RMBI management teams in choosing the right themes and colours to suit the building and most importantly the various types of care that is provided in different areas of the Homes.
A range of furniture and furnishings has also been selected on the basis of their high standard of quality, thus adding value to the Homes as well as ensuring that appropriate furniture is purchased to suit the varying needs of people living in our Homes.
Refurbishment at Homes
RMBI Homes have been going through major building and fire prevention works due to regulation changes. While this work has been in progress, the RMBI have taken the opportunity to carry out the refurbishments required at their care homes in line with the Manual, resulting in minimal disruption for the people living in the Homes.
Reception areas at care homes Cadogan Court in Exeter, Ecclesholme in Manchester, Lord Harris Court in Berkshire and Prince George Duke of Kent Court in Kent, have been upgraded to allow more space, natural light and seating areas and to form a more consistent image of a welcome area in RMBI Homes.
A previously unused section of Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court in Mid Glamorgan has been refurbished to provide 10 bedrooms with ensuite facilities in the form of wet rooms. In addition, the lounge, dining room and kitchen areas have also been refurbished, all in line with the Manual.
Prince George Duke of Kent Court in Kent, has also recently had its hairdressing suite upgraded and modernised to ensure that treatments are provided in pleasant and relaxing surroundings.
Queen Elizabeth Court in Llandudno, has had lounge areas and communal areas in the nursing wing refurbished in line with the Manual. This has given a new lease of life to the areas, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere that is suitable for the nursing care provided.
Connaught Court in York, is currently undergoing some major works to enhance the aesthetics of the Home as well as providing newly refurbished areas such as the new dementia zone area.
James Terry Court opens its doors
Phase 1 of the rebuild of James Terry Court, Croydon opened this autumn. Phase 1 is furnished using the Manual to ensure consistency and a high standard of furnishings.