Fun-loving care home residents buckle up for first day trip in more than a year

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Cheryl, Ann and Gaynor

Friends of the Elderly, the charity that runs care homes, day care centres and home care services throughout England, has many family members who are part of its caring and management team; many of whom have worked within different care homes and services at the charity for a number of years.


Mother and daughter – Ann Essam and Cheryl Rothschild – have, between them, worked for Friends of the Elderly for 37 years with Ann even returning to a caring role at the charity after retiring, taking on the role of Activities Co-ordinator where she provides the highest standard of care and interactions for residents.

Ann’s Mum, (Cheryl’s Grandmother), Florence was a Matron Nurse at Springfield Hospital (now Manchester Hospital) and was the catalyst for sparking an early interest in nursing and care in her daughter. Ann said: “I left school at 15 and even though I had always planned to go into nursing, I did for a time think about becoming a secretary, but I’m so glad I stuck to my guns.
Ann worked as a Midwife for three years and then became the District Midwife, a role she stayed in for 14 years. Then, due to family circumstances, Ann moved to Liphook in Surrey and took a role as a Midwife at The Royal Surrey Hospital, where she stayed for 20 years.


Ann retired, but that didn’t last for long. “I managed about a year, but I couldn’t take to retirement, I was so bored, I wasn’t ready to stop. I spoke to one of my daughter’s, Gaynor, who was also a nurse by trade, but was then the Manager at Friends of the Elderly’s Bernard Sunley Care Home in Woking. I applied for the role of Activities Co-ordinator at the home and was lucky enough to get the job. I think the residents relate to me as I’m not too much younger than them.


“After a number of years, I moved from Bernard Sunley to Redcot Care Home in Haslemere, where I am still today. My role is so varied and no two days are the same. With my colleague, our other Activities Co-ordinator, we design a wide range of daily activities for our residents – including those living with dementia – to enhance their health, wellbeing and daily interactions with each other. We also spend time talking with them, getting to know them, their likes and dislikes so we can make sure everything we do is tailored to meet their individual needs. By doing this, we can deliver a bespoke service that everyone, regardless of their abilities, is able to take part in, enjoy and socialise.


“We have a ‘Life Story’ exercise we do when a new resident arrives. We go through their lives and history with them, their food preferences, what they like to be called, what they like to do and what they don’t like to do. It’s a great process to get to know a person. Everyone is different and my role is determined by what the residents want. If you plan something and they don’t want to do it – you change it. You get to know what they like and what they don’t like – but you must be flexible, creative and patient. I want them to be treated well and feel like they are still in their own home.


“My residents love anything to do with music. The most popular tunes are the oldies and sing-alongs. We use our Alexa constantly and they love making requests. They love the music, a bit of dancing – especially dancing with the staff. Rock n’ roll is their favourite. They like to get dressed up and like to see us dressed up too. We have Netflix and Amazon Prime so there is always a good choice of things to watch and we can always find something or find what they have requested to see. Their favourite film is Billy Elliott, closely followed by The Sound of Music and Frozen but they don’t like Mamma Mia – at all!


“You don’t come into care or have a career in caring if you don’t like people. It’s all about taking to people, you’d be surprised at what you find out by just listening. Talking and having someone listen, is a great stimulant. No man is an island – we all need people.”


Ann’s daughter, Cheryl, is one of Friends of the Elderly’s Regional Managers and is responsible for Redcot, Bernard Sunley, Orford House care homes in Surrey and The Lawn care home in Alton, Hampshire. The four homes under Cheryl’s guidance and leadership provide residential, nursing and dementia care, as well as offering respite opportunities.

Cheryl said: “I’ve always wanted to be a nurse and help people. I grew up with lots of nurses and midwives – my Mum, Sister and Aunt – and, as a young girl, I recall my Sister chatting to Mum about midwifery. I was so impressed with their medical talk; I really believe Mum could have been a doctor. I remember seeing her in her nurse’s uniform and thinking, that sounds and looks really good – I think that’s what I am going to do.


Cheryl trained at the University of Surrey for three years, where she completed a mixture of theory and placements, qualifying in 2001 and specialising in psychotherapy.

Cheryl continued: “I joined Friends of the Elderly in 2002 at the Bernard Sunley Care Home in Woking as a Team Leader on the newly opened Dementia Unit. I was at the care home for three months before the Unit opened as I needed to get quite a lot in place, bring on the team and make sure all processes and procedures were in place. From the first admission, the Dementia Unit steadily grew to the team caring for 35 residents living with dementia. I stayed for two years, before progressing on to the role of Deputy Manager at the care home then, after another few years, I became the Care Home Manager, a job I really enjoyed for three years.”


In 2008, with her passion for mental health, Cheryl became an Admiral Nurse. Admiral Nurses are specialised nurses with experience in dementia care who work collaboratively with families and other dementia care providers, to share their expertise, give support and help to ensure all the right, relevant skills and assistance are available to them.


“In 2012 my colleague Lorna Long and I set-up an Admiral Nurse Service (ANS) at the charity to support not only those living with dementia, but also their relatives and loved ones. In addition, we held relative support groups, undertook dementia care mapping and gave additional training to Friends of the Elderly’s caring teams who were looking after residents who were living with dementia. So in fact, we had relatives, residents and staff members as clients,” said Cheryl. In 2012, not only did Cheryl set up the ANS at the charity but she also became one of its Regional Directors.


Over the years since its inception, the ANS has transformed into Friends of the Elderly’s Dementia Champions initiative. The Dementia Champions are specially trained members of staff who are devoted to working with the residents who are living with dementia to make a positive difference in their daily lives.


Talking of her vision for the future, Cheryl said: “I’d love to open a high dependency unit for mental health for older people. Some find it hard to deal with the behaviours of people living with dementia and I’d want to have a team on hand to help at any time, with anything. I’d create a space that would be tailored to their needs as people who live with dementia need to be in a welcoming, caring and therapeutic home and space, not in what they may perceive to be a clinical, scary hospital.

“I’ve stayed with Friends of the Elderly for so long because they put the resident first at all times and make them as happy as possible. Here it is embedded that the residents must come first, it’s about the person, not about them fitting into the home – it’s us, fitting around them and meeting their individual needs.”


Talking about her daughter, Ann added: “I didn’t push or encourage Cheryl to have a career in nursing and caring – she decided that all on her own, it’s what she wanted to do. Like me, she’s not motivated by money; she’s motivated by people and I know how much Cheryl loves working with people, it’s her calling.”

When asked why they do what they do every day, Ann said: “The best thing about my job is seeing my residents singing songs and all smiling. I love to see them smiling. I love what I do every day, I wouldn’t change a thing,” with Cheryl

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Cheryl, Ann and Gaynor

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