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‘Wartime spirit held us together’-How one retirement village survived lockdown

PUBLISHED: 08:07 16 September 2020 | UPDATED: 08:37 16 September 2020

Natasha Sherry, the house manager of Louis Arthur Court, a retirement living development in North Walsham. Picture: Supplied by McCarthy and Stone

Natasha Sherry, the house manager of Louis Arthur Court, a retirement living development in North Walsham. Picture: Supplied by McCarthy and Stone

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The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have been particularly hard on the elderly. NATASHA SHERRY, house manager of Louis Arthur Court, a retirement village in New Road, North Walsham, reveals how she and the residents have coped.

Dame Mary Peters speaking with residents at the opening of the Louis Arthur Court retirement living development in North Walsham in 2019. Its residents were shielding throughout the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodDame Mary Peters speaking with residents at the opening of the Louis Arthur Court retirement living development in North Walsham in 2019. Its residents were shielding throughout the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

At the start it was very scary for everyone.

We were thrown into it all of sudden and there was a lot of uncertainty. Particularly for some of our residents that are living on their own, they were confused by the government guidance and had a lot of questions. Some struggled to come to terms with the enormity of what was happening and what it would mean for their freedoms.

Due to their age – my youngest resident is 60 with the vast majority in their 80s and 90s, some began shielding immediately.

I would make daily welfare checks to make sure they had everything they needed.

Dame Mary Peters opened the Louis Arthur Court retirement living development in North Walsham in 2019. Its residents were shielding throughout the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodDame Mary Peters opened the Louis Arthur Court retirement living development in North Walsham in 2019. Its residents were shielding throughout the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

With family members living miles away I’m not sure how they would of coped otherwise. My own mum lives just a mile from me and the thought of not being able to check in on her would have been so worrying.

I know how hard it was for our residents that had to stay in their apartments but also the not knowing for the families.

I saw it as a real privilege actually to act as their ‘go-between’.

I would update them as regularly as I could and if they had any concerns, perhaps if their Mum or Dad were having an ‘off day’ or they couldn’t contact them for any reason, they would know to phone me and I would go along and check everything was OK.

At times is was incredibly hard to keep everyone safe.

Our sense of community grew

We have been so fortunate not to have any known cases of the virus here, and when people ask me how we managed to keep it away from our doors I tell them it’s been down to the sheer will and determination of our residents here.

There has been this kind of war-time spirit that has knitted us all together.

People that perhaps didn’t talk before are now interacting on a regular basis, sharing telephone numbers and there is now a community contact list that will help to keep everyone connected.

Members of the wider community have also mucked in to help which has been really heart-warming to see.

On one day loaves of bread mysteriously appeared on every one of the doorsteps here at Louis Arthur Court with a card that just said ‘thinking of you’.

This was around the time bread was proving to be a bit sparse in the supermarkets so it was a lovely gesture.

Each day I would run around the development – updating signage, cleaning, testing facilities and checking-in on the various apartments. As much as I could I tried to tackle the virus head on with information. If I could empower our residents with the right information they would make the right choices for them, and I would do my best to give them what reassurance I could.

It wasn’t about policing, it was about giving everybody a choice.

Safety first

We were no longer accepting sales appointments on the remaining apartments as McCarthy and Stone (the owners) 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 its managed developments, which at Louis Arthur Court saw Nancy, from the sales team fetch groceries from the supermarkets and drop these off for residents at the door.

A local lady, Amanda, also started volunteering with us. She is a personal carer to one of our residents but she extended this to whoever needed the additional support where they couldn’t get to their usual places.

She would also help with the shopping lists as with 52 residents to buy for post office runs to do, prescriptions to collect it could often feel like a mammoth task!

Sometimes we’d still be out at 8pm fetching and carrying and darting from one place to the next. From the local corner shop to the butchers, to the chemists, everyone has been so supportive.

Little moments of joy have been what has kept us going.

That and a good sense of humour! My residents have left funny messages on the noticeboards where we kept all the latest guidance, which would always bring a smile. They took it very seriously but poking fun from time to time was a good emotional release for us all I think.

It is true there have been some ‘feel good moments’ throughout lockdown. We have a ‘Cream Tea in a Box’ delivered to each of the doors and our resident quiz masters, homeowners Jilly and Peter have been organising a remote quiz twice a month which has proved very popular.

Where our residents would usually be so active in the community with their various hobbies and interests, I think that was the hardest thing for them.

The lack of socialisation, of routine was a big culture shock. That’s why I think they were so grateful to have a house manager on-site as it was reassurance that there was always someone there to talk to.

I like to think I go the extra mile to make sure they have everything they need to feel safe and to make the very best of the situation.

Getting back to normal as the fight continues

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.

There are many things we hope to carry on after lockdown – the biggest one being the sense of community spirit we have all built. As a fairly new community formed this has been very humbling and I am proud of everyone here for showing what it means to be resilient, to be patient and to keep faith during these hard times. We can all learn a lot from the older generation.”


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