100th birthday prompts huge community response

Hilary received so many cards they had to be delivered in batches.

A Winchester care home resident had an unexpected deluge of good wishes as she celebrated her 100th birthday.

Team members at Colten Care’s St Catherines View took an imaginative approach to resident Hilary Schoenman’s big day knowing that lockdown would prevent a face-to-face party with family and friends.

Instead, they put out an early appeal on social media inviting people in the community to send in birthday cards.

Altogether, a remarkable 182 cards were received not just from Winchester, or even England, but as far afield as Australia and the United States.

Companionship Team Member Laura Sheldrake said: “It was incredible. We gathered all the cards as they came into our letterbox and kept them together until Hilary’s birthday. There were so many we had to deliver them to her in batches. It wasn’t only cards, there were gifts too. We even had offers to help her celebrate with ballet performances, saxophone playing and choir singing to name but a few. Unfortunately, due to lockdown, we couldn’t take those up but we were all overwhelmed by people taking the time to be so generous. The whole idea was to make it an occasion to remember and judging by the response I think we succeeded.”

Hilary, who also enjoyed a family tea party via Zoom and a homemade cake, said: “It was just marvellous.”

Gifts on the day included miniature bottles of gin from Surrey-based Wessex Distillery and a gin and tonic-making ‘kit’ from local couple Matthew and Meredith Parris.

When Hilary was born in Cheshire in 1920, the First World War was only two years in the past, women had to be over 30 to vote, and horses were still a significant means of transport in many people’s lives.

And 100 years before coronavirus, the deadly Spanish flu pandemic was only just being contained after infecting hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Hilary’s earliest memories are of life by the sea and spending her childhood on the beach and riding horses. In the Second World War, she worked as an ambulance driver.

Asked for her secret of longevity, she said: “You need to live every day as it comes.”

St Catherines View is one of four dedicated dementia care homes owned and run by Colten Care.

Like all 21 Colten homes, it has recently begun a new COVID-safe visiting protocol involving a specially-designed plastic screen installed in its entranceway.

The approach means residents can meet one or two visitors in close proximity without any virus risk to themselves or others.


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