In the last few months of the Circles of support part of STRETCH project I had thought I would be reviewing participants’ experience of being part of the project and winding things up. Then COVID 19 happened.

Being the face to face part of the research team I am the one not used to working from home but like all of us, have had to adapt. I am making lots of phone calls to older people and the participants on the project. The main word I find myself using again and again is resilience. This has been a key word in our research and when we began Circles of Support (CoS) and STRETCH 3 years ago we didn’t expect the situation we find ourselves in now. I notice how adaptable older people are.

There has been an emphasis on the lighter touch contact and how important this has become for older people shielding- the wave to a neighbour, the chat over the garden fence, the brief contact with a carer or visiting community nurse. One older woman who is a carer I spoke to was baking weekly, freezing and bagging her cake up, all so it would be safe for her neighbours to have with their afternoon tea. Not only is she now caring for her husband with a dementia on her own but this means she can still support her neighbours and satisfy her love of baking! People need to feel useful at whatever age and want to help in whatever way they can.

Yes, people are frustrated but I hear few talking of fear, more of a shared feeling that we are all in this together.

Some older people have embraced technology and made it useful for them in a way that they could not have forseen a few months ago. Pilates classes via Zoom, Shared reading via open phone calls, Skype communication with far flung relatives. Most still prefer the phone and many are finding they now have more contact than they did before lockdown. One participant finds he now has more support than he did before. He was a supporter rather than someone who liked to ask for help. Another participant is feeling overwhelmed by the number of video calls as his family check in on his welfare.

There is a lot of goodwill out there and I hope the extra neighbourliness that has been revealed will last a long time after lockdown has ended.

Jessica Cohen

Service Coordinator Age UK Exeter

Some reflections on STRETCH and Covid-19

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