As we all struggle to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us will reflect on what life was like before and how we can continue to adapt and meet the ongoing challenges of this unpredictable and life threatening disease now, a somewhat ‘new normal’. 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 also have had to think about how we adapt to a new normal, and therefore, we are taking gradual, cautious steps to integrate back into the Foundation physically, practically and psychologically.
Since March 23rd, staff at the Foundation have been working from home. We have not provided direct face to face support, but have increased our volunteers so that virtual support would be more accessible for some of our projects. 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 have continued to provide support by using telephone and social media and we have adapted and regularly updated our web site to alert individuals to these 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 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; meeting virtually with people with dementia via Zoom on a Friday morning; and the ‘Pots of Kindness’ and ‘Sowing Flowers’ projects, at Linking Generations, BJF’s intergenerational project in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, one of our established projects, Staffordshire Cancer Support programme (CaSP) has not received continuation of funding, and after more than six years, support for people with cancer will cease as from Friday 31st July, 2020. This project has touched the lives of so many people across Staffordshire and will indeed be sincerely missed by our communities and by colleagues across the Foundation.
However, as the necessary but challenging sanctions of social isolation and social shielding imposed by the UK Government are gradually easing, staff are now gradually going back into Parkfield House, our base in Hartshill, Stoke on Trent. As from Monday 27th July, BJF staff will resume essential meetings 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 individuals themselves.
In preparation for recovery from this onslaught, and to restore elements of the life that was before the pandemic, we have thought strategically about the future of the organisation, 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 have recently successfully secured funding from the National Lottery Community Fund for a six months post Covid -19 bereavement project to support those aged 50 years plus. Whilst the sanctions around death throughout the pandemic were necessary and important, the impact of the restrictions around (for example) funeral rituals surrounding the death of loved ones impacted significantly on those survivors left behind. In direct response to this, the project will establish virtual bereavement help point groups to promote resilience across our ageing communities, providing additional choices of support when coping with the loss of a loved one.
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, 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 (interim 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. Yet there are many exemplars of the creative initiatives and wonderful achievements throughout the pandemic crisis that are wonderful reminders that the older generation have so much to say and so much to contribute to the world we live in. As global restoration begins, let’s continue to listen to (and learn from) the older people from Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire, as we strive to live in a world that will be significantly different in the future, where getting older is something to aspire to and indeed 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, (interim) CEO, BJF