A Day in the Life - Lockdown Diary

As we all prepared to lockdown in our homes, what did a day in the life of a House Manager of a retirement community of over-60s look like, and how are things now?

Alli Lamb, the House Manager of Swinden Court, a McCarthy & Stone Retirement Living development in Darlington, has documented her time to give others an insight into how they coped during lockdown. 

It’s week one of lockdown in the UK, after restrictions were introduced on 23 March to slow the spread of the virus. 

Though the impact has been felt by everyone, older people are one of the demographics hardest hit and are the most vulnerable. 

“At the start it was very scary”, says Alli.

“Many of our residents didn’t know how to cope with it. They were confused by the government guidance and had lots of questions for me, some of which I couldn’t always answer as I think everyone was equally confused at first.

Some began shielding immediately and so I would make daily welfare calls to check they had everything they needed. 

I would run around the development updating signage, cleaning touchpoints, testing facilities and checking-in on the various apartments. 

It felt eerily quiet. Such a change from the usual hustle and bustle of residents to-ing and –fro-ing; gaggles forming in the lounge for a cuppa and a chat. All of a sudden we no longer had visitors except for a friendly neighbourhood squirrel that still liked to walk the fence eating acorns from time to time. 

He kept a watchful eye over us. 

As a very social able person, whilst I was very busy I began to feel incredibly lonely actually. 

I had my family to go home to each night so I could only imagine how hard it was for those unable to see theirs and who were spending most of their time in their apartment. Sat in my office I would put the TV on in the communal lounge just for company.

We were no longer accepting sales appointments on the remaining apartments as McCarthy and Stone had completely shifted its focus. Its only focus now was the safety and wellbeing of our residents.

Testament to this it introduced a buddy scheme across all of its managed developments, which at Swinden Court saw Dan, the Site Manager who was responsible for the original construction of the development, fetch groceries from Morrison’s and drop these off for residents at the door. I made lists of where they could get supplies safely and if they couldn’t get hold of anything they were to let one of us know.

Easter came and whereas usually we would have organised an afternoon tea for everyone in the lounge, it was a very sombre affair. I placed chocolate Easter eggs and cards at everyone’s doors with the help of my daughter Olivia. Then for VE Day we delivered cupcakes, song sheets and printed flags. We played ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ on some speakers in the car park and everyone opened their windows to wave and join in with the singing. It was a magical moment seeing all their smiling faces and one I will never forget. It brought a tear to my eye.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though that’s for sure! There were plenty of ‘feel good’ moments throughout lockdown too. With the help of McCarthy and Stone, I would organise a weekly game of bingo, something we still do even now the restrictions have lifted, using the camera door entry systems to the apartments. It was ingenuous really. I made up the numbers and delivered play cards to their doors. I would call the numbers by holding them up to the camera with prizes for the first one to a full house. I had to print the numbers quite large however, as not everyone has the best eyesight anymore! Tell me someone who doesn’t love a game of bingo! 

To help with the boredom which many of my residents did suffer with as usually they would be so busy and active in the community with all their various hobbies, we instigated a baking competition and a ‘build something from scratch’ competition. This saw some of them get creative and my ‘face quizzes’ were most popular where you had to guess the 10 TV personalities, music groups, actors and that sort of thing. It was good to see the competitive spirit coming out!

Every single one of my residents is different so trying to cater for everyone’s tastes and needs isn’t always easy. I have one lady who would go out every day without fail for five mile walks; a gentleman that bought a scooter during lockdown and so was forever whizzing up and down (socially distanced of course), and a couple that would stay active by doing yoga. Many would go out around 7am to do their shopping at the local shops but for those who weren’t so confident I would make sure they were safe and get them on the phone each day to make sure they had everything they needed. I still do this now and I think some of them have started to get sick of the sound of my voice! They know it’s just because I care though. 

The residents would tell me how they were longing to be with friends again, and with each other, so it was incredibly important to me that no one was left out and we kept the camaraderie we’d all built prior to lockdown going. 

As a fairly new community formed, very quickly it became apparent that we were all in it together. I would say everyone played their part. We looked out for each other and thankfully, nobody at the development as far we know, was infected with the virus.

This was a huge relief and whilst the fight is not yet won, gradually many of our residents are starting to feel more ‘normal’ again. Close family bubbles have resumed their visits and friends are enjoying their two metre distanced chit-chats in the corridors once again. 

All in all, lockdown has been bitter sweet. We’ve not lost. Only time. 

We are thankful to everyone from the Darlington community that lent a helping hand and most of all I’m proud of the community here at Swinden Court for showing us all what it means to be resilient, to be patient and to stay strong during these hard times. We can all learn a lot from the older generation.” 

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