Michelle, Manager of The Old Rectory, age 41, Dymchurch

CARM has been delivering Reminiscence to this care home for 15 years

  • What do your days and weeks look like during lockdown?

Initially, it felt eerily quiet when lock-down started in March. All foot traffic to the Home stopped, with no visitors, no visiting entertainment, no inspections. New guidance came in, then changed again. We had to move out some chairs from the lounge to encourage social distancing; all whilst providing the security of routine for residents, some with varying stages of dementia. Some understood what was happening, but not all.

Wearing PPE – the masks and gloves, is difficult and takes getting used to. It gets really hot, I have seen staff go to the window to take gulps of air. Also, we don’t realise just how much people lip read and how much impact our facial expressions have. I tell residents that I am smiling underneath the mask.

We were fine with toilet roll supplies but cornflakes were an issue! We must have our cornflakes, so I stopped every week in the supermarket to pick them up. Apart from that, we didn’t have problems getting what we needed, and our cook moved into the Home so we always have someone on site to feed everyone.

One of our residents told me the other day that at the Residents Meeting in March they were expecting the normal agenda of coffee and cake, but they got more than they bargained for with coffee and cake and Covid! We haven’t had any cases at The Old Rectory, thankfully, but we are not complacent.

  • How different is this from your pre-lockdown life?

My core hours of 9am – 5pm have remained similar to before; although we continue to work when and where we are most needed. My husband and I have a 13 year old and a 5 year old at home, who he looks after while I am working. He hands me a drink when I get home – he says it’s his 5pm prescription and I have to join him!

Where we used to get a lot of visiting entertainment into the Home, we have had to get inventive with entertaining our residents ourselves. I have really enjoyed that. We have introduced taster days, such as Retro Pick ‘n’ Mix, Exotic Fruits, Chips and Dips and Cheese & Wine. The Pimms Afternoon and Gin Club (a special request) were popular!

Since people can’t visit, I started sending a light-hearted weekly update by email out to relatives and advocates which has been 100% successful, bringing us all closer. It does feel that there has been a great coming together of people – the relationship between residents has become deeper as they have had to lean on one another, and family and community have got involved where they can. There has been exceptional support from professionals too – the surgery, district nurses, clinical leads, paramedics. Information and advice has come through quickly.

  • Who to you speak to most, and how often?

Outside of work, my family. I never realised how relaxing a jigsaw can be! We have taken over the kitchen table, with everyone dipping in and out as they wish, adding a piece here and there, talking and listening and sharing. It is a moment of calm in a busy life and has provided real quality family time. As a staff team we have gelled exceptionally and relied on each other when we entered the unknown. Now it’s like to ‘norm’ and we get on with it.

  • Have there been any funny/memorable/surprising moments? 

I won’t forget the TikTok dances by the staff in the corridors! Every day there has been something to giggle about with them.

VE Day was very special. We sent out blank paper triangles to friends and relatives of residents, inviting them to create personalised bunting. The response was incredible, with hundreds of bunting flags being sent in by not only friends and family, but members of the community too, aged 3 to 100. My family all got stuck in too; we had a lovely time together making it. It took days to put all the flags together! We sent sweets and certificates to all the children who participated and put bunting made by family outside their relative’s windows, to make it more personal. It was a real boost for everyone – family came to the Home to look at the bunting from the outside, and it motivated the residents to walk around looking at all the flags.

  • Have there been difficult moments? 

Making the decision that a resident, or residents, have to stay in their room for 14 days is soul destroying. It is for everyone’s protection, but it is such a lonely time. It is very scary, too, when someone goes to hospital – you wonder if they will come back with Covid.

  • Have you learned anything about yourself, or others? 

I have learned that my team are amazing, as strong as an ox. I really cannot thank them enough.

I have learned that I can bake cookies, thanks to going through lockdown with a 5 year old! I can now bake a mean ginger biscuit.

  • Have you experienced anything similar to this in your lifetime?

No, nothing like this and I feel very lucky not to have.

  • What are you worried about/looking forward to most about lockdown ending?

Opening the Home again will mean more work for everyone. In a way, we have become settled into a very comfortable, safe bubble here, and change can be challenging. Lockdown feels normal now! It will be lovely to see relatives and visitors again though; we are all looking forward to that.

I am looking forward to seeing my own relatives. I am ready to give my own mum and dad a cuddle.