Who could have predicted the last 14 months? The coronavirus crisis has taken so much from so many. The lockdowns and restrictions, while absolutely necessary, have been particularly hard for residents living in our retirement schemes.
The crisis has certainly dealt unforeseen challenges for both ourselves and our residents that we could not have imagined at the start of 2020.
As the scale and seriousness of the pandemic started to emerge, our sole aim was to do everything as quickly as possible to ensure our staff and residents remained safe. For our retirement schemes this meant making some difficult decisions that were not taken lightly.
Most of the things that make schemes vibrant places to live were gone overnight including, and most devastatingly, the ability to see beloved family and friends.
Knowing the terrible consequences that loneliness and isolation can have on people, we mobilised quickly to do as much as possible to keep in touch more regularly with our residents, and we continued with limited but safe activities that provided entertainment and encouragement.
Sadly, as across all of the UK, our residents did not escape the very worst impacts of this deadly virus. Our staff and residents have been deeply affected by the people we lost to coronavirus, who remain in our thoughts every day.
Now, as we start to emerge from these dark times with lockdown restrictions lifting this week, we’re taking safe steps forward to introduce the things that our residents value and enjoy.
Undoubtedly there’s a mixture of excitement and caution among our residents in returning to communal settings and interaction. Most residents are confident and ready to have the company and life choices restored that they have been deprived of. But some people may need to rebuild their confidence.
We recognise everyone is different and are alert to this in all the decisions we’re making. We’re tailoring our approach to engagement to respect where people are on their journey to recovery. And we’re managing the use of communal areas but at the same time being respectful that people will take responsibility for their own safety and that of others.
Although we’ve had some challenges from residents and family members on our decisions, such as closing communal lounges, it’s now appreciated that this was the right thing to do and will allow a smooth transition towards getting back to normal after 21 June.
Our aim is to work with our residents to bring schemes back to life. Our focus will be on health, wellbeing and vitality. Importantly, we really want to give people the opportunity to tell us what they want and what they are interested in, because so much choice was taken away from people over the last year.
We’ve had some great projects in the past, such as creative arts and intergenerational activities involving local dance and gymnastic clubs. If we can do it safely, we’ll make it happen. Especially now that the vaccination programme has rolled out well in our areas, with the vast majority of residents and onsite staff now having had their first and second jabs.
There are challenges, such as the rise of empty homes in retirement schemes. Our priority is to restore the confidence of our current residents, but also give confidence to our future residents. We need to promote and reposition our retirement housing offer as the affordable, safe, secure and vibrant option it really is.
Will we ever go back to the way things were? Probably not. We’ll continue with enhanced cleaning regimes, reinforce the ‘hands, face, space’ message, and continue to check in more regularly with our most vulnerable residents.
Health and safety remains our absolute priority, but so is listening, and as the lockdown lifts we’re committed to understanding how our residents feel each step of the way.