Real Lives

Our Covid Year: From PPE to Vaccines and everything in between!

Sara Keetley

Sanctuary Supported Living provides supported housing with care and support for vulnerable people with disabilities or mental health needs, people experiencing homelessness or domestic abuse, and older people who need support to live independently. Here, Sara Keetley, Operations Director, reflects on a year of Covid-19: the community support, the challenges of staying safe, and how they have managed – despite all the difficulties – to keep things fun.

Since the first lockdown, it’s become clear how much communities value our services, with many businesses and individuals generously donating food parcels as a lifeline for shielding residents, or to simply brighten people’s day.

However, the changes particularly affected residents with learning disabilities who struggled without their preferred foods, including Warren, from Corner House in Mansfield, who loves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pasta. Staff turned to Twitter for help and the public responded.

Residents also supported their communities in return – knitting groups in Stoke, Sheffield and Telford made clothing for babies and teddies for children. Many also donated to community foodbanks and animal centres. Meanwhile in Ipswich, two 18-year-old residents wanted to help others and so, with support from our teams, they started their first jobs as care workers.

Vast quantities of PPE were needed quickly and so we did everything to source supplies and get them to our frontline teams – our senior management team did the heavy lifting and went on the road delivering hundreds of boxes.

As well as providing daily care and support, our teams also advocated for residents who couldn’t do so for themselves. In one worrying case, a doctor intended to place a DNACPR on a resident, because he felt that she had no quality of life due to her learning disability. Thanks to our team’s unwavering advocacy and care, the DNACPR was not applied and she fully recovered. We highlighted this to NHS England, raising awareness that DNACPR was being applied to people with learning disabilities, without the use of the frailty scale.

Most recently, with the roll-out of the vaccination, several staff members publicly shared their experience through written and video diaries, to reassure colleagues and residents. This included Deputy Local Service Manager Nina, who changed her mind about it after seeing her colleagues become ill and losing her dad to the virus.

Despite the obvious challenges, people found new ways to enjoy themselves. Services opened pop-up shops and in-house pubs, including the aptly-named ‘Staying Inn’, so residents could retain a sense of normality.

Everyone took part in Clap for Carers and services made it a special event with socially distanced ‘dance-offs’ in Telford, and local farmers visiting on tractors and tooting their horns in Doddington.

Captain Sir Tom Moore and rainbow decorations lifted spirits for residents and staff alike, as people adjusted to the ‘new normal’. Outdoor music sessions replaced daycentre visits, bingo get-togethers became ‘corridor bingo’, and residents were inspired to take up poetry, creative writing and pen-pal projects including Postcards of Kindness. In Gravesend, retirement residents received an inspiring banner made by schoolchildren who used to visit.

In New Milton, residents had fun with new mascots – cardboard penguins called Smiley and Wavy. Inspired by the Penguins of Madagascar film catchphrase “Just smile and wave”, Smiley and Wavy helped residents with learning disabilities understand social distancing and feel comfortable wearing masks. They now have their own YouTube channel!

There’s no doubt that Our Covid Year has seen staff and residents face greater challenges than we could ever have predicted, and it’s with sadness that we remember those who have passed away, either directly or indirectly because of Covid-19. Despite all this, I’m proud to say that, like so many across the social care sector, our teams have worked together to support residents and each other through everything. By recognising the difficulties we’ve overcome together and celebrating our successes, we know we can handle whatever the rest of 2021 brings.

Edel Harris





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