As we all struggle to continually adapt our lives during the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us will reflect on what life was like before, how we meet the challenges during; and how we can adapt to life following this vicious, unpredictable and life threatening disease. With our extensive experiences, the Beth Johnson Foundation (BJF) remains firmly committed to actively supporting our ageing population throughout the Covid-19 crisis and beyond. Here at the BJF, we too have had to think about how we adapt to a new normal from a Foundation perspective, and we have been taking gradual, cautious steps to integrate back into the Foundation physically, practically and psychologically. The recent guidelines, however, have meant further thoughtful considerations around our working practices, for the safety of our clients, volunteers and staff.
Since March 23rd, staff at the Foundation have been working from home, and we will largely continue to do so. Some staff will provide direct face to face support only to those clients that really need it, whilst our volunteers will continue to provide virtual support via telephones, Zoom etc. Working from home has not been easy for our teams, as social communication is a reciprocal process, and we have all so missed the physical connections and interactions with our colleagues and our clients. We will continue to provide support but mainly by using telephone and social media, which is regularly updated to alert individuals to any changes. We have continued to successfully recruit volunteers as important and valued members of our teams and we have connected with other third sector organisations in an effort to widely circulate information about our adapted services and to offer and extend our continued support to these organisations.
During this time, we have had to work creatively to engage with our communities in different ways. For example, the development of a Covid-19 cookbook as part of the Healthy Generations project; poetry and music sessions; meeting virtually with people with dementia via Zoom on a Friday morning; and the ‘Pots of Kindness’ and ‘Sowing Flowers’ projects, at Linking Generations, Northern Ireland.
We were starting to go back more often into Parkfield House, and meeting each other once again, whilst abiding by social distancing measures of course. However, during w/c 28th September 2020 social media informed us that 1 million people worldwide are reported to have died from Covid-19; worldwide, 36 million people had tested positive for Covid-19; 42,202 people have died across the UK; and 460,000 people have tested positive for this disease in the UK. Enforced sanctions across the country have impacted on millions of people in the UK, increasing social isolation and social shielding. Hence, BJF staff are now reducing their time at Park Field House, only going in if need be, as the Government encourages.
As from Monday July 27th, BJF staff resumed meeting with individuals on a 1:1 basis in the community, as long as each party adheres to social distancing measures, and if requested to do so by the individual themselves. We will continue to do this but only should clients urgently need this contact, and anticipate a largely reduced service at this time.
In preparation for recovery from this onslaught, to restore elements of the life that was before the pandemic, we have thought strategically about the future of the service, to anticipate what the world might look like as the virus begins to dissipate, and, importantly, what our vulnerable, marginalised, ageing communities would need in the short, medium and longer term.
Subsequently, we successfully secured funding from the National Lottery Community Fund for a six months Covid -19 bereavement project to support those aged 50 years plus. Whilst the sanctions around death throughout the pandemic remain necessary and important, the impact of the restrictions around (for example) funeral rituals surrounding the death of loved one’s impact significantly on those survivors left behind. In direct response to this, this project will establish virtual bereavement help point groups to promote resilience through loss for our ageing communities, providing additional choices of support when coping with the loss of a loved one. The project was launched on 23rd September, and is currently welcoming any bereaved person in Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire aged 50+. We have also applied for funding for a storytelling project, helping older, doubly disadvantaged people to share their stories of living through Covid-19 using different, creative and inclusive resources.
Here at the Beth Johnson Foundation, we believe that ageing remains everybody’s business, and that by embracing the positive aspects of ageing creates a better world for everyone. We learn so much from the people we support, about the strength and resilience amidst frailty and vulnerability that constantly reminds us that value and worth does not decrease with age, but does indeed increase. As the Foundation itself begins the gradual road to recovery amidst the roller coaster rides of setbacks, we will collectively reflect on these past months, to ensure we do not lose any of the lessons learned from this sudden and unwelcomed journey and that any positive outcomes are indeed captured and integrated into our future work and restoration as we regroup.
As Professor Sue Read (CEO) reminds us ‘Age is but a number until you reach that number, and then it can become so important. Sadly, many negative connotations associated with ageing still persist, but the many exemplars of the creative initiatives and wonderful achievements throughout the pandemic crisis are a harsh reminder that the older generation have so much to say and so much to contribute to the world we live in. As global restoration begins amidst numerous setbacks, let’s continue to listen to (and learn from) the older people from Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire. We all strive to live in a world that will be significantly different in the future, but where getting older remains something to aspire to and to treasure’.
Finally, we at the BJF are open to liaise with anyone who wishes to join us in our endeavour to support older people on the road to a ‘new normal’. Please contact us at the email below should you have any comments or questions about what we are doing.
Prof Ziv Amir, Chair, Board of Trustees, BJF
Prof Sue Read, CEO, BJF