“Princethorpe Court 5”

For earlier stories on this subject, click on   “PRINCETHORPE COURT STORY”   in the TAG CLOUD.

Now we come to the final and most important chapter of the story.   All the effort, time and money would count for nothing if we had not achieved  “Better Lives for Older People”.

Anne Miller bought into the concept of promoting residents’ independence and choice completely.   In no time at all she involved them in all decisions about how Princethorpe Court was managed.

The Residents

Princethorpe Court was designed with activity in mind, so the communal areas were a platform for enhancing your lifestyle.

The restaurant was not a fast food outlet, it was a place you could come each day and socialise.   Everyone had a kitchen in their flat where they or the staff could prepare breakfast or tea, but lunchtime was a popular ‘communal event’ with the majority of residents.  Couples tended to be more self-sufficient, but the majority of residents lived on their own, so lunch was an opportunity for a natter.

There was a hairdressing room which was another popular place for a chat and a sure way of looking your best and lifting your spirits.  The communal laundry was another good place for catching up on all the latest gossip.

Dotted around the scheme, one in each street, were four small sitting rooms.   With Anne Miller’s encouragement, these were taken over by the residents and gradually established their own individual identity.   One as a library full of donated books and jigsaws, one was a spiritual room for quiet contemplation.  Others were used for knitting,   card making,   darts,   quizzes,   poetry reading,   costume making,   exercise  — the list became endless.   Many of these activities were organised and run by the residents themselves.

Anne saw every resident as a potential volunteer.   It was her way of ensuring everyone’s talents and abilities were recognised and utilised for the communal benefit.   After our initial concern about the size of the scheme, we often continued to discuss whether the scheme was too big – there were 48 flats but around 60 residents altogether.  The Social Service view was that anything over 35 flats would become institutional.   Anne’s perspective was that as long as each resident had a ‘role’, they would not get ‘lost’ in the size of the scheme.   Her idea of a ‘role’ was beyond any formal definition of a volunteer — Nora was a very quiet lady who liked to stay in her flat most of the time and just look out of her lounge window, which overlooked the car park — she always knew who had visited the scheme each day and became the scheme’s self-appointed security guard.

The residents at Princethorpe Court would not mind me saying they were “unremarkable”, they were no different to the residents in any of our later extracare schemes.   They had the usual range of frailties that you would expect in an age group that ranged from 60 to 100.  Their average age was late 70’s.   Most were women (80%), mostly widowed before they moved in, almost all came from the local area.   About a quarter had mobility issues and used a wheelchair.

At the same time, the staff ensured that all the residents were treated as individuals, and as their life stories and accomplishments became known, they were made to feel unique.   In that sense they were all “remarkable”.

Here are four people just to illustrate the point:-

TOM was a quiet man, a keen gardener.   He took over the extensive greenhouse and grew salad crops for the restaurant.   His tomatoes were his pride and joy.   Over the years he won medals and certificates galore.   A glass cabinet in the entrance hall of the scheme houses a big silver cup which was awarded to Princethorpe Court at ExtraCare’s first “Garden in Bloom” competition.   In the years to follow we realised that rewarding outstanding talent with small prizes was a way of reinforcing the message that residents had great skill and could still achieve a lot in later life.

JACK AND MABEL looked life in the face and overcame any difficulties they had with a smile.   At well over 70, they regularly flew to Canada to visit their children and grandchildren.   They were the life and soul of any party, in fact I first met Jack when he was bashing himself over the head with a tin tray and singing an old music hall song.   Playing the spoons was another favourite of his.

Jack fell in the empty bath overnight when he had got out of bed to go to the toilet.  He couldn’t get back out and Mabel could not hear him shouting for help, so he spent the rest of the night sleeping in the bath.  Then he got a lecture from Mabel in the morning for being so clumsy.  By the way, Jack had a tin leg, which he wasn’t wearing at the time.

In fact it was his tin leg that brought them together.   In Coventry during the war, they were both running to get into an air raid shelter.   Jack was slow because of his tin leg and when he got to the top of the stairs down into the shelter, he tripped and tumbled down the steps and landed on Mabel.   That’s how they first met – they were married for over fifty years – so Jack said he must have fallen for Mabel in a big way !

JOY KING moved into Princethorpe Court when it opened and still lives there today – over 20 years later.   I first met Joy when we played in a Christmas pantomime together.   She was the Fairy Queen — I think I was the bad guy.   I later found that Joy had come from a theatrical background.   Her father ran a travelling repertory theatre and Joy had to look after her baby sister while her mother and father were performing twice a day in plays.   They lived an itinerant life moving from one theatrical digs to another.   It was a hard life and Joy had a poor education because they never were in one school for more than a few weeks.

Joy joined in all the activities at Princethorpe and one of her proudest days was when she was awarded a degree from the University of ExtraCare for having completed a computer course.

There are hundreds of stories like these which just goes to show that  “Everyone has a Story to Tell”.   This was the title of a book we published to celebrate the lives of our residents after the first five years of ExtraCare.

The hard evidence to show that this model works is only becoming clear nearly 30 years after Princethorpe Court was conceived :-

  • Residents who move into residential care on average only live four more years – in ExtraCare housing the average length of stay is 14 years.
  • The average age of ExtraCare residents is between 75 and 80.  When asked how old they feel, most residents say they feel between 10 and 20 years younger than they actually are.
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