FaNs launch was a FaNtastic success

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Former care services minister Paul Burstow MP marked the official launch of an inspirational movement, called FaNs, which is set to reinvigorate the lives of care home residents in Essex.

Friends and Neighbours (FaNs) at the launch reception
Friends and Neighbours (FaNs) at the launch reception

Mr Burstow, who now chairs the national Commission on Residential Care, hopes FaNs will help to foster a better understanding of care homes, the pressures they experience and help the public to see how to play their part in improving the experience of residents.

Speaking at the Colchester launch event at St Fillans Care Centre on Monday 9 June, Mr Burstow said:

Care homes thrive when they are part of the community. The secret of great care is the quality of relationships people have.

FaNs is a great way of engaging more people and ensuring that people living in care homes feel connected to their neighbourhood and able to take and feel part of everyday life.

FaNs is led by the not-for-profit My Home Life Essex Community Association, with its partners Age UK Essex and Independent Age. It is funded by Essex County Council. Brian Mister MBE, Chair of the Community Association says the simple idea to reconnect elderly residents with the communities around them is already catching on.

Too often elderly people move into a care home and feel disconnected with the community which they were once an active part of.

FaNs stands for friends and neighbours, people like us who will help care homes engage with their local community so the residents can enjoy the richness of life that’s right on their doorstep.

FaNs is a wide-ranging initiative with room for people from all walks of life and businesses to take part. Examples of how to join in include one person making a regular date and befriending a resident, a business donating services to sustain the initiative locally or the local Scouts, Brownies and schools using space in the care home to meet up and share their love of life with the residents.

Babs Loveless, an 85-year-old resident of Freda Gunton Lodge in Colchester, gave her stamp of approval to the initiative and shared her experience of connecting with young people with Mr Burstow.

She said:

We really enjoy having the Brownies. They ask us lots of questions about living in a retirement home and are interested in what we do. It’s lovely to talk to such cheery and friendly children.

Mrs Loveless plays a key part in the life of the home organising movement-to-music classes for her fellow residents to enjoy.

St John’s Church of England Primary School in Colchester has been regularly visiting elderly care home residents at St Fillans.

Year 4 pupil Quiana Cole said:

I enjoy getting to see older people and talking to them about how they grew up and how they enjoyed their time at school and being young.

A recent pilot scheme run by the Community Association saw five adult volunteers regularly visit three care homes in north-east Essex for a year.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a well-known social policy organisation, funded an evaluation by Essex University of the project which found that both residents and community volunteers benefitted.

Lisa Carpenter, mum of two from Kelvedon, is one of the three original volunteers:

I have made many new friends; I have learnt that if you take a bit of time and trouble you discover the most amazing things about people, who although very elderly, have wonderful stories to tell of lives full and interesting. Some of the stories were hilarious!

One of the other volunteers Sarah has started a choir in the care home she visits. Word has spread and now some of the quieter and uninvolved residents join in. It has brought them together and they hold shows for friends and family.

Clive Weir, owner and registered manager of Boars Tye Residential Home in Witham, is chairman of Essex Independent Care Association which represents around 100 care homes in the county.

He said:

People usually come into my care home because their care needs can no longer be safely and adequately met in their own home. However it is essential that their relatives, friends and the wider community remain part of their life.

FaNs recognises this need and seeks to put into place structures that will enable us all to work together to ensure that the elderly live out their days with dignity and experience a life worth living.

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