Sharing stories from the past is making life less lonely for care home residents

The Hawthornes resident Phyllis McLaughlin and her son Paul McLaughlin.

Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
The Hawthornes resident Phyllis McLaughlin and her son Paul McLaughlin. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
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LIFE in a care home can be a lonely time - but residents in homes across Yorkshire are revealing remarkable stories from their pasts in order to make the most of their lives today.

At 98 years old, Phyllis McLoughlin is warm and vibrant - and can still recite verbatim poems and songs. She has lived at The Hawthornes, an Orchard Care Home in Birkenshaw, West Yorkshire, for three years, and has been sharing stories from her life with care staff and residents as part of a project that aims to reduce isolation and loneliness.

Phyllis on her wedding day.

Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Phyllis on her wedding day. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

There are around 30 Orchard homes in Yorkshire, and for the last few years each has been collecting stories from residents for the innovative project. Now they are being shared with the residents’ relatives and on the company’s website and social media pages - and revealing things even closest family members did not know about their loved ones.

Orchard Care Homes director of customer experience, Tracey Tomlinson, said the project was just one of a host of measures it implements to make sure residents’ feel both at home and part of a community in the care home environment.

Other projects have included introducing pet hens to help cultivate relationships between residents, special activities for men such as football nights, and placing Perspex ‘memory boxes’ outside each room filled with items from their past to both spark conversation and help those battling dementia.

Introducing ‘Life Story’ books has helped to engage residents with each other, staff, and their families, Mrs Tomlinson said.

“Some of the stories we have discovered have been quite amazing,” she said. “Families have particularly enjoyed it, and have learnt things about their mum and dad they never knew before. It’s also a great way to give out staff a greater insight into the residents lives, and for those with dementia, it has helped us to make connections as their short term memory may have gone but they still remember a lot of detail from their past.

“When somebody comes into a care home they can feel isolated if they have lived independently for a long time. Finding about their hobbies, lives, and their families can really bring them into the community at the care home.”

Some of the residents stories have led to special trips out, for example one elderly man revealed he’d always wanted to see the Mallard steam train, which led to an emotional trip to the National Railway Museum in York.

Residents in different care homes have become pen-friends after they both revealed they went to the same school.

For Mrs McLoughlin, taking part has enabled her to tell staff about growing up in Manningham, Bradford, and her wartime role as a ‘clippy’ on the bus from Haworth to Apperley Bridge. It was also a chance to share her extensive letter collection.

Her son Paul said: “She wrote letters to Jimmy Carter and Tony Blair to name a couple, and received replies to these – Jimmy Carter’s wife wrote back. These books and the photos she has kept are such a valuable snapshot of this moment in history.”

The Differing experiences of life on the home front during the Second World War were also revealed by two Hawthornes residents.

Edward Bartaby, who sadly died last month, shared how he had “never seen so many countries”, during his time as an engineer, travelling to places such as Italy, Egypt and Greece.

Phillip Hizzard, who grew up on a Leeds farm, spoke about how his family would make trades wiht the local butcher, baker and fishmonger for eggs from their 40 hens.

“Rationing? What rationing?”, he said.