We enjoyed a chat with Bill Parton (94) for whom, what was expected to be a short-term stay at Belong Newcastle-under-Lyme has turned out to be a second home where all his friends are.
When we interviewed Bill, he was staying at a holiday home, enjoying all the delights the North Wales coast has to offer. He’d already visited the towns of Abersoch, Pwllheli and Porthmadog, making all the trips by car – quite remarkable, given he had a hip operation only a few months ago.
Bill moved into the village following a fall in November last year which had resulted in him breaking a hip, or as he humorously puts it: “My leg wasn’t attached to my body.” He continues, “When I came out of hospital, they wanted to put me in a home and I wasn’t willing to go into one. Fortunately, I was put in touch with the Belong team and they had a one bed apartment available, so it became my temporary home. I had a great time – I became friends with everyone. People used to pop in, pull up a chair and we’d have a right laugh. I spent Christmas and a birthday there, it was wonderful.”
Due to both his age and the pandemic, clinicians were initially unwilling to carry out such a big operation. Eventually, in June, Bill underwent the procedure at a private hospital, which was also the first one they’d carried out since the pandemic started. It was a success and on the road to recovery, Bill struck up another strong relationship, this time with the village’s exercise specialist, Georgina Cliff.
"I spent a lot of time in the exercise studio with George. She got me walking again, using crutches and a frame for our physiotherapy sessions. It definitely wasn’t easy; it was a challenging process and she really looked after me,” he says.
After a month, Bill was back to good health but whilst his body was ready to return home, he certainly wasn’t. He continues, “It was a real battle with myself to go home, and there were lots of hugs and kisses when I left. Belong has helped me so much – they really believed in me, if that makes sense? I’d have taken one of the team home with me if I could; the support workers have since told me that if I’d asked at the time, they would have had a bag packed by the front door!”
The good news is, Bill hasn’t had to wait long to see all his new friends again, as he was back at the village, just a few weeks ago. This time, he enjoyed a coffee with the chocolate cake he made for everyone, and was brought up-to-date on the latest gossip before sharing tales of his trips to the coast. “I’ve made friends for life, here. I may have moved out but I'm still part of the family. I’d recommend it to everyone.”
1. Bill, with Lisa Lewis, Assistant Support Manager (left) and Josephine Mollison, Support Manager (right)
We enjoyed a chat with Olive Rodgers, 89, apartment tenant and experience day customer at Belong Wigan
who enjoys the variety of clubs at the village, as well as a hobby that has made her a popular person at the local hospital.
Non-stop knitter, Olive Rodgers, has been clothing premature babies for more years than she cares to remember now, thanks to her skills with a couple of needles and a ball of wool.
What began as an offer of help when a member of her own family was born premature, has continued with knitting tiny baby clothing for the neonatal unit at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust ever since.
"My great-grandson was only 1lb at birth, and his mum and dad had such a struggle trying to find clothes small enough to keep him warm. So, it made sense for me to get my knitting needles out – I’d used them to clothe my own children when they were small, after all.
"Now, my granddaughter-in-law works at Wigan hospital, and she tells me how much my knitting is needed. I really love to help.”
Olive’s efforts certainly don’t go unnoticed. She recently received a letter from the hospital expressing how delighted they were with her donations. The parents, they added, also really appreciate her kindness for their little ones in what can be a stressful time for them.
Since moving into an apartment at the Belong Wigan nine years ago, it’s perhaps not surprising that Olive has been knitting for our colleagues and their grandchildren too. She explains where her needle skills came from: "I've been knitting since I was 18-years-old and had to use it to dress my own children. My grandmother had actually taught me to knit when I was a youngster, but I'd forgotten all about it until the need came. Today I have orders coming out of my ears, but I'm definitely not complaining."
Olive meets regularly with the village’s Knit and Natter group and looks forward to catching up with her companions, Brenda and Anne from Willow House. As they get started with their needle work, or ‘casting on’ as it’s called, the three like to share old memories and go over the activity from the gin tasting club, hosted by the Bistro, which also involves cheese, crackers and a good singalong.
Olive particularly loves the Bistro as it gives her the chance to do lots of people watching in what she describes as a ‘vibrant and welcoming’ place. She says: "The food at the Bistro is second to none, and really the whole Belong team is magnificent. Karen from Belong at Home and Charlene, the experience coordinator, in particular, are superb, but everyone – from management to housekeeping and reception – is brilliant. Being at Belong has been the best nine years I've had. And I hope I'm here for another ten at least.”
We spoke to Lorraine Harrison, apartment tenant at Belong Wigan. At 50, Lorraine may seem an unusually young member of the village community; she originally came to us for support with the debilitating effects of cancer. Ten years later, she’s still proud to call Belong home and plays an active part in village life.
Lorraine moved to Belong Wigan a decade ago, initially moving into Elm Household. She was living with breast cancer, which had spread to her spine, so she couldn’t walk unaided and her previous care provider was unable to meet her needs.
After having a tour of the village, Lorraine instantly asked if she could live there and moving in couldn't have been better for her. "I received so much support,” she tells us. “And the experience coordinator made sure I was taking part in activities so that I could get to know the other residents. In fact, they all ended up adopting me as if I was their granddaughter. It was exactly what I needed during such a tough time.”
Over time, Lorraine said it was easy to feel like she was simply cohabiting with others rather than living in a care facility. “It’s not like a traditional care home,” she said. “You don’t find residents parked in front of the TV all day. They’re always doing things, chatting away, having fun. Everyone interacts – it’s a lovely atmosphere.”
A new home
After four years, Lorraine's condition improved, giving her more mobility. Offered an apartment, she became more independent while retaining support. Staff visit mornings and evenings, and she has a 'help' pendant for emergencies. She’s also welcomed a couple of cats to her home, Toby and Timmy.
One highlight for Lorraine has been a trip to Wembley with her mum for the Rugby League Final – a treat organised by the Belong team to celebrate her increased mobility. Lorraine and her mum enjoyed a meal out, and Lorraine even had her picture taken with the former international rugby league player, Andy Gregory.
At Belong, Lorraine makes sure she has time to develop her arts and crafts skills. She’s not bad at flower arranging either. Now and again, she loves to lose herself in a film, and she enjoys dining at the Bistro – Friday chippy night being her favourite.
“I have complete independence to do what I like when I like," said Lorraine. "Recently, my mum moved in with me for a bit after my brother died because she needed the company. Really, everyone looks out for each other here.”
“I’ve made great friends, including my neighbour, Christine. She’s blind but still lives independently. She’s amazing. But then, most people are around here. The staff don’t treat you like you’re on your last legs. It's about enjoying yourself, and they'll make sure that happens.”
If you want to catch up with Ken, the best place to find him is in the village’s dementia-friendly garden. Despite living with muscular dystrophy and using a wheelchair, that doesn’t stop him spending much of his time working on the garden’s raised flower beds and sharing his gardening expertise with others.
Ken originally came to Belong Crewe for a week's respite stay. It was when his wife and carer, Pam, got ill that he moved into the village on a full-time basis two years ago. Sadly, Pam has since passed away, and after coming to terms with this loss, Ken continues to make the most of village life, supported by those around him.
Back in April, experience co-ordinator, Jess Butler, set-up ‘Belong in Bloom’, a club for all green-fingered customers to join and Ken was amongst the first to sign up. After investing a lot of time tending to the garden’s fruit and vegetable patch, herb garden and even helping to up-cycle some outdoor furniture, Ken quickly became known as ‘Chief Gardener’ throughout the village.
Much to Ken’s delight, he was even presented with his very own overalls to wear, with his new nickname emblazoned on the back. He said at the time: “This group has brought me a lot of happiness; everyone is working well as a team and I especially enjoy teaching the experience day team new things and I am learning a lot from them too.”
And as Chief Gardener, Ken has some ambitious plans for the future. “I’d like to plant lots of different bulbs all the residents and tenants will recognise, including daffodils, tulips and Lily of the Valley. Also, what I call ‘old fashioned’ flowers from childhood days, such as sweet peas and wallflowers — lots of colour to ignite everyone’s senses and bring back happy memories.”
“It’s always nice to keep the garden looking colourful, clean and tidy, and of course, safety is the top priority in the garden.”
On the occasions when Ken can be persuaded away from his plants, he enjoys activities around the village, including dominoes, and more recently he has been enjoying time in the on-site gym, with fitness instructor, Max, re-teaching him to box, having enjoyed the sport in his youth. Ken says, “It’s given me a new lease of life, it’s absolutely fantastic.”
Expressing his enthusiasm for Belong colleagues, he tells us: “I love every member of staff here — they’re like brothers and sisters to me. They’re always so happy and can’t do enough for you.”
“The exercise bike is my favourite,” Sheila tells us, beaming with joy. “The TV screen allows me to ‘revisit’ all the places I’ve been to, whilst getting exercise. Just the other day I was back cycling in the Rocky Mountains!”.
Born and raised in Llandudno, North Wales, Sheila had ambitions to become a teacher, but being unable to meet the requirement of speaking the native language in Welsh schools, she made the move to England to build her career. Once qualified, ‘Miss Neville’, as she was known to her young students, spent many happy years teaching and working her way up to become a primary school headmistress. Outside the classroom, health and fitness played a large role in Sheila’s life: she built a reputation as a strong opponent in the local tennis club and school holidays were enjoyed with many walking excursions, including no fewer than 25 trips spent covering ground in Switzerland.
Realising her potential
When she first came to Belong Newcastle-under-Lyme, Sheila was confined to her bed, but Fitness Instructor, Georgina Cliff, soon put a plan of action in place to change all that. With a bespoke exercise programme entailing bed exercises and later, chair exercises, the pair worked together to rebuild Sheila’s strength, balance and coordination. It was through patience, hard work and dedication that Sheila made remarkable progress and she can now be regularly found using the village’s exercise bike, stepping machine, or on one of her walks around the household.
“The improvements in my mobility are just wonderful and I really enjoyed getting involved in the Road Worlds For Seniors challenge, a few months ago,” Sheila says. Along with all the other Belong villages, customers competed with care providers from all around the world in Europe, North America and even Australia, to cycle as many miles as they could on exercise bikes. Belong Newcastle-under-Lyme clocked up an impressive 310 miles, of which Sheila achieved a personal total of 38 miles – about the equivalent of cycling from the village to Manchester.
With the benefits of regular exercise clear, Fitness Instructor Georgina loves supporting customers, both at the village and in the wider community, to improve their mobility, and Sheila provides a strong testimonial for her trainer: “Georgina and I get on very well; she gives me great encouragement to improve and it is because of her that I am up and about, happy and healthy – thank you, Georgina.”
“Due to the restrictions that were in place, I didn’t get the chance to visit the village prior to moving in, but it makes no difference as the staff here are great! They’re very attentive, caring and helpful; I feel at home here,” Ken tells us, with a big smile on his face.
Ken moved into Belong Newcastle-under-Lyme in early April, just two weeks into the lockdown, following a short stay in an assessment unit in the area. As at all Belong villages, new customers continue to be welcome, providing they have been tested beforehand.
He continues: “It was an unusual experience moving in at such a precarious time, but everyone was so friendly. The staff have worked exceptionally hard to make me feel at ease whilst moving in and I’m very pleased with my room; it has a lovely view of the garden and I like to take daily stroll around it, great British weather permitting, of course.”
Amongst the many activities at the village, Ken takes part in the twice-weekly musical exercise classes, hosted by exercise instructor, Georgie, to keep fit and active. Other highlights so far include sitting down – socially distanced – with everyone for live musical performances and earlier in summer, the village’s very own Olympics day, complete with a scrumptious barbecue.
Additionally, Ken likes to get creative and a little messy, so it is of no surprise his favourite activities have been ‘throwing pots’ on the potter’s wheel and painting watercolours, through which he has struck up a special friendship with Daniel Turner, activities coordinator for the Heritage Gallery. The pair can regularly be found together, painting the day away and putting the world to rights.
Ken explains how he’s looking forward to visiting the Belong Heritage Gallery, adjacent to the main village building, which has been temporarily closed due to the current health crisis. “It’s great that things are now reopening and I’m looking forward to visiting the gallery when it’s back in use, particularly the craft and activities room and the Old Pomona Inn.”
Don recalls his first visit to Belong. He tells us: “The first time I went in, I was a little nervous —who wouldn’t be? — but everyone was so welcoming. The Experience Coordinator, Gina, and the team made a fuss of me and within minutes I was at ease. That day, we enjoyed a young lad singing to us and I thought, this’ll do for me and I’ve been going ever since.”
Born in Levenshulme in 1931, Don grew up with his grandmother whilst his family were away at war, and aged 15, was taught his professional craft by a ‘very strict but wonderful decorator’. Within a year, Don had met his wife-to-be, Joan, and in the following years they were blessed with two daughters, Elaine and Julia. The family was a successful team. Joan looked after the finances, and Don claims he certainly never got to spend a
penny frivolously! Don and Joan enjoyed 63 years of marriage, and welcomed three grandsons and six great grandchildren. Later in life, Joan became poorly. Don explains; “At that point, we weren’t aware of Belong, and Joan had moved to a care home in the area where the staff did their job but were quite strict. In my opinion, they lacked the empathy needed for caring for others.” Sadly, Joan passed away, and Don continues to live at home with the support of his family, but their demanding jobs mean they can’t be with him around-the-clock. “I’m an independent person and I needed more to do to keep myself busy,” he says.
The Belong community
Don received support information packs from his therapists, one of which was from Belong, although his and Joan’s previous experience hadn’t painted care homes in the best light. It was when Don discovered that his next-door neighbour read poetry at his local Belong village as part of their activities, that he decided to give Belong Macclesfield a try, and he’s now a regular face there. Most lunchtimes, Don can be found dining at the village’s Bistro, which he highly recommends: “I can’t fault the staff, they’re kind and helpful and the food is good too!”. He then enjoys the afternoon activities, particularly creative tasks that allow him to express his imagination, including dancing, although he tells us he’s not as agile as he used to be. Finally, Don has a coffee and a catch-up with the village’s residents, many of whom have become his close friends.
Don sums up his visits to Belong: “The activities keep me active and help me make good use of my time. If it weren’t for them, I’d get all my jobs done in the morning, watch the news and then have nothing to do in the afternoon, and would probably waste the time sleeping. I’d say to anyone who feels isolated or just wants to try something new: there are options out there, I’d recommend giving Belong a try. And if you’re new, come over and say hello, I’m always up for a brew and a natter.”
Living in Suffolk at the time, Maureen was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2012, aged 69. As her care requirements became greater, and her daughter Jackie was increasingly making the 200-mile journey from her home in Cheshire to care for her mother, the decision was made for Maureen to move closer to her family.
“I was coming to terms emotionally with how dementia was affecting my mother while going through the challenge of arranging care with social services. That was when we discovered Belong,” says Jackie. “We went to visit Belong Crewe and found out that she could live independently in an apartment while receiving care from the Belong’s home care service, Belong at Home. We could instantly see Mum living there.”
Jackie was also introduced to Belong Admiral Nurse, Caroline Clifton. Belong’s free Admiral Nurse service, in partnership with Dementia UK, provides mental health nurses specialising in dementia care to support people who have been diagnosed with dementia, as well as their family members and carers.
“Caroline provided all-round support from our first contact with Belong. Not only did she determine exactly what care my Mum required, she helped us secure the right level of financial support. This included arranging assessments by occupational therapists and attending meetings with social services. She also advised us on how dementia might affect our family. This was all done with the utmost professionalism and compassion. It was an invaluable lifeline at a really stressful time.”
Lived independently at Belong Crewe, Maureen received support with daily tasks from the Belong at Home team.
“The impact on my mum was huge,” says Jackie. “She went from being relatively isolated to having lots of friends. We got to know the staff personally and to trust them completely, which was very important, and they kept me informed about how my mum was.