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The MD's musings
Granny Skills
4th March

Creating connections - that's what it's all about

I recently came across a lady who calls herself Granny Skills, and who is on a mission to preserve the skills, knowledge and traditions of her elders. There has certainly been a resurgence in 'granny skills' recently, and she alone has written five books on the subject and has tens of thousands of followers on social media.

Yet here we are, seeing the same elderly people who have these skills suffering from loneliness and boredom, often developing depression as a result. Yes, care homes help combat some of this with their communal living and 24/7 staff, but there's so much more that could be being done.

It's all very well having people around but unless you have connections with those people you can still feel lonely. I moved to London when I was younger and hated it – I lasted six months. I was surrounded by people but have never felt so lonely. I didn't know anyone, or maybe more importantly, no-one knew me.

Care homes can be similar. With the majority of interactions being with people who are paid to look after you, it can be tricky to break down that 'us and them' barrier and form meaningful relationships. When you need help with intimate personal care, you'd be forgiven for not wanting to invite the carers to sit down and have dinner with you afterwards. Likewise, carers are often encouraged to remain professional and not blur the lines between their personal lives. Our Butterfly Model of care, however, promotes 'attached professionalism', which encourages the people who live and work here to be real with each other – to share their lives with each other.

I might have never known that Mrs Coley (who lives at Huntington House) made lace – she keeps herself to herself, like many of her generation – but I just happened to mention that my daughter, Rose, had started learning to sew and we struck up a conversation. One thing led to another and Mrs Coley invited Rose to come and see her lace-making in action. I'm not sure Rose quite has the patience to make lace yet (she's only four years old!) but when she spotted her name on one of the commemorative bobbins in Mrs Coley's collection, she was so excited.

We've arranged to get together again so Rose can bring in her own sewing to show Mrs Coley, and I think they're both as excited as each other about it. I might be biased, but in my opinion, these inter-generational connections are the way forward for adult social care. Whether it's Ben, a Duke of Edinburgh volunteer, playing the piano for Mr Southgate, a former jazz musician, or Helen, a Greek national working as a laundry assistant, listening to Mrs Bond, a WWII survivor, recount stories of how she narrowly missed being bombed while on 'lookout' in Bath, the connections are always mutually beneficial.

The key is creating opportunities for these connections – a positive staff culture, volunteer visits, and liaising with local schools and nurseries etc. – and enabling them to happen as part of everyday life in a care home. It is often group activities such as quizzes and bingo that are considered the key to tackling loneliness, but while they will always have their place, I believe we should be tapping into the potential of each individual interaction to make people feel truly befriended.

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The MD's musings
Meet Shelley
25th February

Meet Shelley, one of the newest additions to the Huntington & Langham family

A parrot who wasn't shy of using the F-word and a cat with a sixth sense for when someone was close to the end of their life are just a couple of the pets I remember living with people at Huntington House over the years. Sadly, we couldn't keep the parrot (I couldn't understand why at the time - I must have been about six years old and didn't understand the swearing), but I believe it is still behind the scenes at Birdworld to this day.

So, Shelley, the friendliest Bearded Collie you've ever met, is an absolute delight to look after in Langham Court. Since Langham Court opened in 2013, we've had a couple of resident cats, but Shelley is the first dog and is already making friends with Basil, the hairdresser's sausage dog (who incidentally used to belong to someone living in Huntington House).

Shelley was subject to a pre-admission assessment and is currently on her probation period to ensure she settles in and gets on with everyone, but so far, so good! If she isn't found lying in the lounge next to the fire (not a real one - but she doesn't have to know that), she'll be out walking around the grounds with her owner, Carol, or any one of the staff who all but queue up to take her out.

When I first met Shelley and Carol, we ended up chatting about my own dog, a six-year-old black Labrador, Poppy, who is still so excitable she often gets confused for being a puppy. Carol said I should bring her in to meet Shelley. I told her that the last time I tried that, within the first 30 seconds of being in the building, she wrapped herself around the cable to the computer monitor on the reception desk and nearly destroyed the place. Maybe in a couple more years, she said. I thought even that sounded optimistic, but I agreed, in principle.

Like with every aspect of life in a care home, risk assessments and common sense need to be exercised at all times, and we were a tad concerned when a recent enquirer had a pet pig that lived in the house (and then a bit disappointed to learn that it belongs to another family member and wouldn't be moving in after all), but we have never had a blanket 'no pets' policy like many care homes do.

There has long been an understanding of the benefits of pets to people's wellbeing and the sense of purpose it brings to be able to continue to look after pets when perhaps you are unable to look after yourself or have lost elements of your own independence, but these benefits are often not considered to outweigh the risks, such as infections, allergies, and trips/falls.

However, our model of care is based on the understanding that 'Feelings matter most' and that a positive risk taking philosophy can minimise risks while also ensuring that people can retain aspects of their life that are important to them, even when they have to move into a care home - it's care without compromise.

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Snowy landscape
5th February

There's no business like snow business...

I used to have a love-love relationship with snow. Now it's more love-stress. As an organisation, we've always offered lifts to our staff in our 4x4 in adverse weather, but with constantly increasing staffing numbers and the company's 7-seater 4x4 in the middle of a repair job last week, the snow presented a particular logistical challenge this time.

With around 50 staff on duty over 24 hours and nearly 10 different shift changes across the various departments, it meant driving for the best part of 18 hours on Friday. Throw a couple of fallen trees into the mix, which blocked our drive, and it was probably a 20-hour shift for our stoic maintenance team.

Short of giving them an actual medal and thanking them on bended knee, I'm not quite sure how we can recognise such a valiant effort. Overtime rate and a box of biscuits doesn't seem enough for the role they played in keeping everyone safe and sound.

Perhaps listening to them about how we can improve things for next time, and putting a more robust strategy in place that doesn't rely so heavily on one or two vehicles and people is the kindest thing to do.

During my last driving shift on Saturday evening I was contemplating what takeaway I was going to pick up on my way home only to find our local village had turned into a ghost town. The takeaways and even the off-licence had closed early. And then the responsibility of our situation really struck me.

We can never simply shut our doors and close for the day. A nurse half an hour late for their shift could delay a time-specific medication for someone with Parkinson's disease. And being short of care staff could put someone recovering from a stroke at risk of a pressure sore and infection.

By Sunday morning, everyone managed to make it to and from work under their own steam, for which I was extremely grateful, and remember thinking that I'll never take people simply turning up for work for granted again! Times like these really highlight what an amazing team we have, and how fortunate we are to have people working for us who put other people before themselves.

So, all that was left to do was spread some salt one last time before tentatively checking the weather forecast to make sure the temperature was indeed due to stay above zero for the foreseeable. Long may it last.

All the best,

Charlie

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Blindfolded role play
1st February

Seeing the world of care through new eyes

Blindfolded role play. Perhaps not the first thing you'd associate with a care home. But it's something that happens quite regularly here at the Huntington & Langham Estate.

A lot of our training for staff focuses on empathy, and when asked what empathy means to them, the answer is often "putting yourself in someone else's shoes".

This is great in principle, but not so easy in practice given that our team members have never lived in a care home, permanently lost their independence or been at the end of their life.

Role play can temporarily immerse you into a life unknown. It can create unexpected feelings and highlight aspects of life we didn't realise we took for granted.

I once went to a 'Dining in the Dark' restaurant and spat out a perfectly edible salad leaf covered in dressing as it felt like I'd put a slug in my mouth. I felt an unexpected vulnerability - my mind went into a state of panic with each mouthful after that salad leaf.

The main benefit of role play is that it takes you out of your comfort zone and into a place where it's so easy to feel as though you're no longer in control. Whether it's being assisted to eat, walk, dress, wash, or whatever, being the other side of the care helps staff to realise how fine the line is between enabling and disabling.

Is there too much food on the fork? Am I giving the next mouthful too soon? Have I explained what it is? If you're helping someone to eat and not asking yourself these questions then I'd suggest it's time to don the blindfold.

Charlie

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Manicure
18th January

A manicure with real meaning

This is Mrs Malcolm, or Lesley, as she insists on being called, in preference to her given name; Patricia. Like her name, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to Lesley.

She is a model. She would say "was a model" but you only have to chat to her for a minute, as I did while she was having her nails done today, to realise she still is a model.

She may not be wearing the latest Yves Saint Laurent creation or jetting off to Paris for a photo shoot, but looking fabulous and paying meticulous attention to the detail of her nails is still as important to her as it ever was.

I must admit, I felt a little sorry for Kelly, being put through her manicure paces and having to ensure Lesley's nails were identical in length, but she was loving it. After all, Kelly had offered to help Lesley with it, recognising how important it was to her, and quite frankly, how often do you get to converse with someone who moved in those circles?

Sure, you might be thinking 'what's the big deal, people have their nails done all the time', and you're right, I haven't chosen this as an example of something that wouldn't happen in other care homes. I just wonder how many carers would see it as an opportunity to transport that person to a time in their life when they had their biggest sense of purpose, and make them realise that they are still that same person?

Lesley is still a model in our eyes, and in that moment she was in her own eyes too.

We provide this kind of meaningful occupation not to prevent people from being bored or lonely (a game of Scrabble might have achieved that), but to empower people to feel like themselves again.

Charlie Hoare – Managing Director, family member and capturer of photos and moments

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