Kaz Williams’ dad, Jim Simnett, has lived with us for 18 months, while Wendy Burton’s husband, Ian, moved into the home’s Churnet Lodge household four years ago because of his young onset dementia.
“Dad really settled into Barrowhill Hall after we tried a couple of places nearer to home,” said Kaz, who lives in Stapenhill in Burton on Trent.
“He’s very happy here. He loves to sit in the lounge in front of the fireplace and put his feet up.
“I can’t fault the staff. They are doing a brilliant job. I’d love to be able to touch him and hug him but I know that’s not possible at the moment.”
Kaz, her two sisters and her mum, used to visit two or three times a week. Their children and Jim’s grandchildren did, too.
They now visit weekly at the window or, when it’s permitted, in a chalet that’s been installed in the garden. This is where families can sit with their loved ones at a safe distance and wearing masks.
“We’re not sure how much he realises what’s going on,” said Kaz, “but the first time I saw him in the family chalet, he said to me, “Where have you been?” That’s the most he’s said to me in ages!”
Reassuring care offers Wendy a chance to rest
Wendy used to regularly make a 42-mile round trip from her home in Derbyshire to visit husband, Ian. Much as she misses him, the lockdown has been a chance for her to have a break.
“The whole situation has only been concerning in that it’s out of my control. But, I feel really confident in him being at Churnet Lodge,” she said.
“I know I can call at any time to see how he is and we get weekly updates every Wednesday. Our daughters and I went to see him a while ago in the chalet. Although we were wearing masks, he knew who we were, even though he can’t speak to us anymore.
“He put our coffee cups together, which was really romantic, and he sat with us for maybe half an hour. He usually wants to walk all the time. He looked so well, it was wonderful to see him.”
Our families have access to a private Facebook group where staff can share photos and information. Home manager, Matthew Whitfield, holds monthly meetings for families via Zoom so they can share any questions or concerns.
“I’m always available at the end of the phone should a family member want to speak to me,” he said.
“We keep them in touch with their loved ones as much as possible. We know it’s not the same as being able to hold their hand. Their patience and understanding has been amazing and we would like to thank them for that.”
Recent research suggests confidence among the public to move a relative into residential care has fallen during the pandemic. Around a third of respondents are now less likely to seek a place for their loved one.
Confident to come into care
Sharon Farnell’s mum, Eileen, has lived at Barrowhill Hall for just over a year. She said people should have confidence in choosing to move a relative in.
“I would like to be able to see Mum more but I know the staff are trying to keep her and all the other residents safe.
“I’ve recommended Barrowhill Hall to a number of friends,” she said. “They are getting to a point where their relative needs care and I don’t want them to be put off by the pandemic.”
A nurse from Tean hopes social care workers will get more recognition as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lucy Salt, 28, started work at Barrowhill Hall – her first job in the care sector – just three months ahead of the national outbreak.
“Before this happened, I think care homes were forgotten,” said Lucy. “Now, I think there’s more awareness. I hope people will have more respect for us and the job we do.’’
Day-to-day care of more than 60 residents at Barrowhill Hall changed in advance of the pending pandemic.
Strict infection control measures were put in place. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and checking their own and residents’ temperatures became mandatory for all staff.
“As a nurse I am used to minimising infection but the pandemic changed things completely,” said Lucy.
Because our residents are living with dementia they don’t all understand why things have changed, why we’re wearing masks or why they can’t see their family.”
Keeping residents and staff safe continues to be the priority for Barrowhill Hall.
The home closed its doors to all but essential visitors two weeks ahead of government recommendations. It introduced hand sanitising at the door as well as a disinfectant mat for staff to walk through.
Resident safety is priority
Through close liaison with Public Health England, managers at the home act on the very latest guidance. Staff check their temperatures before starting care and residents’ health is closely monitored.
Lucy, a former respiratory nurse for the NHS, believes the events of the last three months have brought her and her colleagues closer together.
“Everyone’s worked as a team. They’ve all been really supportive of me. I have a two year old little girl at home and I was worried about keeping her safe, but everything has been done to protect us and the residents.’’
The community has given Barrowhill Hall a huge amount of support. Encouraging messages have been posted on social media and donations including masks, hand creams, and treats for residents and staff, have been sent in.
Lucy hopes their recognition of care workers will continue.
Every day is different
“I may not work in a hospital setting but I am still a Registered Nurse, and social care is a brilliant place to work,” said Lucy.
“I’m thankful to the NHS for the experience it gave me but here I can build relationships with the residents. I’ve got time to talk to them and to hear their stories. And every day is different. I love it.”
“These are unprecedented times but Lucy has coped amazingly well,” said home manager, Matthew Whitfield.
“As well as being caring, you have to be adaptable in a care setting. I’m proud of the way Lucy, and her colleagues, have supported one another and have responded to the demands placed on them’’
Love was most definitely in the air on Valentine’s Day when our residents celebrated 372 years of love!
Husbands and wives were invited to Barrowhill Hall on February 14th 2020 to celebrate their relationships. A special lunch included lamb stroganoff, chocolate cupcakes and heart-shaped truffles.
A special wedding anniversary
Among them were Ian and Dulcie Thornewill. They were also celebrating their 44th wedding anniversary. The couple met when they were just teenagers at a church youth club in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.
“We decided to get married on Valentine’s Day because it just seemed a suitable date,” remembered Dulcie.
“Ian enjoyed looking at our wedding photos. He could remember his mum and dad and his brother.
“This is our first anniversary since he moved into Barrowhill Hall. Being apart is difficult, but the staff made it very special.”
Barrowhill Hall is a 74-bedroomed specialist dementia care and nursing home on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border.
It consists of two households. Churnet Lodge offers care for those those with early on-set dementia and memory loss.
Barrowhill Hall offers both residential and specialist nursing dementia care.
A celebration of love
Becky Buckley is the home’s activities manager.
“The event was an opportunity to celebrate love,” she said, “and for the couples to reminisce about what brought them together.
“We get to know partners really well when people move in with us. There were so many wedding photos to look at! They brought back happy and comforting memories. There were smiles, laughter and lots of hand-holding which was lovely to see.”
Love at first sight
Sean and Joan Devlin were one of the eight couples treated to lunch. Now in their early 80s, Joan didn’t meet Sean until she was 43.
“We got together because of my mum,” Joan remembered. “She’d been out for a walk and stopped for a rest opposite Sean’s house. She was 82 and he offered to give her a lift home. He was always helping people.
“When he dropped her off, he saw my photo hanging on the wall and that was it – it was love at first sight!”
The couple got married and bought a farm in Tutbury. They turned it into Little Park Holiday Homes which they ran successfully for 20 years. They then travelled the world in their retirement.
“He won me over with his twinkly eyes!” said Joan. “He has vascular dementia and Parkinson’s disease but he still has a sparkle. He’s always been a one off!
“The lunch was spectacular! A five-star hotel couldn’t have done better. They are so good here, so kind; I can’t fault them.”
“He wanted to walk all the time and we couldn’t keep him indoors,” said Wendy. “He was in and out of other people’s houses and the whole experience was very stressful.
“Ian went to Barrowhill Hall for respite in October 2016 and spent his first Christmas there that year. Much as we missed him it was a relief to know he was safe and well-cared for.”
More than 42,000 people in the UK are estimated to have young onset dementia. The term is used to describe dementia that starts before the age of 65. It is also described as ‘early-onset dementia’ and ‘working-age dementia’.
A home that meets Ian’s needs
Ian’s behavioural variant fronto-temporal dementia affects the parts of the brain responsible for complex thinking, personality and behaviour. One of the greatest changes it has brought about in him is that he is constantly on the move. Wendy says Barrowhill Hall is ideally suited to his needs.
“He lives in Churnet Lodge which has wide corridors and plenty of space so he can roam around. We always visit him on Christmas Day and if he decides not to sit with us for long, that’s ok.”
Staff do their best to keep the quiet lounge at Churnet Lodge free on Christmas morning so Ian can spend time with his three children and two grandchildren, who make the 44 mile round trip to see him.
“Ian doesn’t always recognize us as his family and he’s non-verbal now. But we can see he still gets pleasure out of the little ones. We keep back some of the grandchildren’s presents so they can open them with him and he does seem to enjoy that.
“We always bring him gifts. His Scottish heritage has become increasingly important to him, as has his military career. We’ve bought him cushions for his room with Highland cows on and photographs for his wall.
“There’s still room for humour too – his nickname at home was always Mr Grumpy and he’s got a bedding set of his namesake from the Seven Dwarves!”
Wendy works as a dementia advisor for the charity Making Space in Derby. She finds it comforting spending time with the other residents and chatting to staff who she’s got to know well.
“Families are always welcome as this is home for their loved ones,” said home manager, Matthew Whitfield.
“We always try to make Christmas as enjoyable as possible, whatever form that might take for them.
“For Wendy, Ian and the family, it’s giving them some quiet time together and being there when Ian gets to his feet so the family can relax and wait for him to go back to them again.”
The Burtons head home just before Christmas lunch is served at Churnet Lodge.
“It’s horrible to go away from him,” said Wendy, “but the Christmas before he moved into Barrowhill Hall was so difficult. It’s a much calmer celebration now.
“The girls know their dad is in the best place and he’s well-cared for. We love seeing the other residents enjoying Christmas – the staff really do make it as nice as it can be.”
“It was a wonderful day of great local people and medieval revelry!” said Charles, who has valuation and auction rooms in Etwall in Derbyshire, London and an auction showroom at Bishton Hall near Stafford.
“In my world of antiques, Barrowhill Hall hits the heights, it’s a wonderful listed building.
“We had a great day celebrating the home’s history and its success.”
It was a return to the site for Charles, who opened Churnet Lodge three years ago.
“It was wonderful to see Charles here again,” said home manager, Matthew Whitfield.
“He brings such energy and everyone loved meeting him because of his warmth and his genuine interest in them and their items.
“It’s also great to open our doors to the community – and for me to get cooking on the barbecue!”
We were delighted to welcome members of Uttoxeter Walking Club recently, to stop by for tea and cake on one of their planned walks.
We’re lucky to enjoy a beautiful setting and we notice walkers coming close to the home on a regular basis. So we invited the Uttoxeter group to come to have some refreshments that would keep them going on their route along the Limestone Way.
And they were delighted to accept.
As well as giving the walkers a chance to refuel, it was an opportunity for our residents to chat to new people and talk about the joys of walking.
Maureen in particular was a keen rambler. She still enjoys a turn around the JCB lake and our gardens, but longer distances are a little beyond her now.
She loved talking to the walkers and posed for photographs out on our terrace overlooking the surrounding countryside.
There was even a four-legged rambler who joined in, and our residents are always thrilled to see canine company!
“We’re a key part of our community,” said home manager, Matthew Whitfield.
“As well as us going out into the local area we welcome people in.
“New faces and new experiences are really stimulating for our residents and we hope we added something to the ramblers’ walk, too.
Our friend Anna Milton Lewis has completed an 89 mile walk in memory of her dad.
Douglas, who spent 18 months living with us, loved the countryside of Staffordshire and Derbyshire. He spent many happy years in the area, exploring with his wife, Mary.
Douglas passed away at the age of 89 in February of this year.
Anna planned the walk to raise £890 for The Alzheimer’s Society and to revisit the local spots her dad loved so much.
“As a young couple, Dad and Mum used to cycle all over,” remembered Anna. “He found this area very beautiful and has such lovely memories of particularly Dimmingsdale and Alton where he lived for a while.
“I wanted this walk to connect the places in which he lived, loved, laughed and ultimately died. I followed memories and stories told before vascular dementia took its toll.”
Anna’s first stop was at Barrowhill Hall, 15 miles into her walk. It was wonderful to see her and offer her a well-earned rest before she set off again.
“He loved the view from the home,” said Anna. “He would sit with his binoculars and watch the birds, animals and admire the countryside.”
Anna’s route then took her through Alton, Oakamoor, Waterhouses, Bakewell, Chatsworth, Matlock and Carsington.
She completed her walk at the top of Thorpe Cloud with her mother and members of her family down below at Dovedale.
“I then decided to walk home from Dovedale as a personal challenge for myself,” said Anna. “This was very very hard going (23miles!) but I walked in my kitchen door 120 miles after I had left it!”
She smashed her fundraising target by raising almost £2,500.
“My father loved being out in the countryside. My hope is the money I raise will help people like him to continue to enjoy the benefits of the wonderful outdoors, where lost memories don’t matter because the distractions of the ‘here and now’ are just too great.”