Through its work, Alive had seen the positive impact that social connections can have on care home residents and knew that connecting homes with their communities could have a significant influence on wellbeing.
Funded by The Henry Smith Charitable Foundation, Alive’s three-year Making Pals project was designed to help homes build long-lasting and meaningful relationships with their communities across parts of Somerset, Bristol and Gloucestershire. This included encouraging homes to find new ways to engage their residents with people and spaces outside of the home and building the homes’ capacity to carry on the relationships beyond the project.
Selecting the homes
Alive began by choosing ten care homes to be part of an intensive pilot. The homes were selected to ensure that the results were applicable to care homes across the board. They were chosen based on their CQC rating, their location (a mix of urban and rural), their size and whether their residents were living with dementia. The project also worked with a further 50 care homes to signpost and connect them to their communities.
Co-producing community activities
Alive developed a co-production process to understand how residents in the pilot homes wanted to engage with their communities and what activities they wanted to take part in. A combination of group discussion, reminiscence, suggestion boxes, one-to-ones, handling items and sensory stimulation revealed potential avenues for activities.
Alive compiled the results of these interactions and reported back to care homes, creating activity plans and recommendations. The charity then supported the homes to create new, and utilise existing, opportunities in the local area. For example, fishing was identified as something several residents wanted to take part in, so the team organised accessible fishing days.
The homes could also use the co-produced information in their day-to-day caring; they could make small changes, tailoring their support to enable someone to go out for half a pint or stay in to watch the cricket.
The project also encourages care homes to play a bigger role in their communities. Alive supports homes to run events for the public and to offer space for community activities, allowing the public to spend time there and enabling residents to socialise with people from the community. Alive has also brokered relationships with local organisations like gardening clubs, youth groups and universities to encourage long-term collaboration.
To help more homes with their community engagement, Alive has developed volunteer management training for care staff, supporting them to find and manage volunteers who can assist residents with skilled or specific hobbies. One home in the project has a volunteer who visits regularly to build model planes with a resident. Making Pals offers this volunteer management training to up to four staff from each home it is working with.
Anxiety and a loss of confidence among residents in going outside of the care home, combined with staff concerns about health and safety has been a significant barrier. However, Alive has found that by documenting the successful outings (through photography and case studies) and sharing these stories with staff and residents, this barrier can be overcome.
Emma Dyer, Making Pals Project Manager said, ‘At the first fishing trip we ran, all five men dropped out, with care staff citing anxiety and unease about going to do something they’d not done in a long time as the main reason. However, once those involved had seen photos of other people successfully enjoying trips out, they became more confident. We’ve had particular success with our men’s fishing trips; now there are a number of men confident enough to come along without carers, giving them a huge amount of independence that they did not have before.’
Access to suitable transport has also proved an issue, with many homes that have a minibus not able to recruit a regular driver. To combat this, Alive is training a bank of drivers for homes to call upon and is working with community transport charities to offer trips that are affordable for residents and profitable for the charities.
Making Pals is in its second year and is seeing positive results. Residents’ wellbeing has improved, there is a better understanding of residents’ needs, and staff are better equipped to respond to anxiety or distress. The increased level of community engagement enables residents to feel more included in their community, less lonely and less isolated.
Looking to the future, Alive’s Chief Executive, Simon Bernstein said, ‘Making Pals proves that these kinds of community partnerships, events and trips out are hugely beneficial for care homes and their residents. Low budgets, limited staff capacity and perceived risks, need not be barriers if some creativity, ingenuity and enthusiasm can be injected into care home activity planning. For 2019 we’re producing a series of ‘how-to’ training courses and toolkits for care homes to gain the skills they need and try the process for themselves.
‘In the final year of the project, and beyond, we would love to see care homes using our resources to develop their activity plans directly with residents, as well as making those all-important connections with their local communities. We hope Alive’s Making Pals project will not only transform the way the general public perceive care homes but will encourage care home residents and their care staff to believe they can make important contributions to community life too.’