Real Lives

Camping out for Care

Though I don’t buy it myself, apparently, a bad day camping is still better than a good day working. So, what if you’re camping and working? And what if that working is the job of caring for people during this pandemic?

Well, last summer when Sharon Mitchell, manager of Pilgrim Wood Residential Home, (part of Goldenage Healthcare) and Great British Care Awards Covid Hero nominee tentatively asked for volunteers to camp in the grounds of the home to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission, 13 hands went up immediately.

“Within three days we were up and running: families and friends sent equipment, tents, bbqs and gazebos. It was an incredible response: we just rang around and equipment arrived. Our director even ordered luxury beds for us all!”

Sharon Mitchell

One couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary beneath the stars and a special candlelit meal was arranged for them, with staff and residents decorating the garden with painted sheets to make it look pretty and magical. Another couple who also opted to camp, left their six month old baby with grandparents, missing out on a few of the precious ‘firsts’.

“The commitment of the staff has been immense. It has brought us all so much closer together and the residents loved coming out for campfires in the evenings. It’s one of the best things we’ve done – made us stronger as a team. Newspapers and Good Morning Britain covered our story and sent us lovely gifts and hampers. It was such a positive experience for everyone – staff and residents alike.”

Sharon was only a month into the role of manager when Covid-19 arrived, so the challenges were immediate, on all fronts. And initially it impacted on family life as, in a bid to avoid public transport, she was leaving much earlier in the mornings to pick up staff and getting back later in the evenings after dropping them home again.

On top of all the constant changes in government procedures, one of the biggest challenges was residents and relatives not seeing each other. But by a stroke of amazing luck, a maker of Aid Arcs saw and loved their story on the TV and got in touch, offering to make and deliver the wooden structure containing a sealed screen for people to sit either side in full safety. Heater installed, it was good to go and has been used ever since.

In fact, Pilgrim Wood has had only one confirmed case of Covid-19 and a couple of staff testing positive. Sharon likes the world of health and safety and has tried to stay one step ahead at all times. There have been constant team meetings for everyone to express concerns, discuss issues and acknowledge their own role regarding personal vigilance beyond the home. They have all agreed that, oddly, it has been a good journey because of the increased level of communicating and togetherness.

“It’s been very tough for us all but I have certainly learned that sharing more with the team – making sure they’re completely involved –  is a great positive. More reflective practice and listening will be the way forward once this is over.”

And whilst it still isn’t over, Sharon has remained living at the home since May whilst also moving house.

Does she not want to go home?

“I miss it, of course,” Sharon replies matter of factly, “but it’s my duty to protect the residents and keep them safe. I will be here until I feel it’s right to go.”

And I wouldn’t doubt that for a second because Sharon is a star in her own right and you don’t need to camp to see that.


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