THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF A SERIES OF BLOGS OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS DESCRIBING SOME OF THE HISTORY AND CULTURE OF THE EXTRACARE CHARITABLE TRUST. THIS WAS THE ORGANISATION I FOUNDED AND WORKED FOR FROM 1987 THROUGH TO THE TIME I RETIRED IN 2010. I HOPE IT WILL INSPIRE OTHERS TO LOOK AT NEW WAYS OF LIVING IN LATER LIFE.
For other blogs in this series, click on “ExtraCare Traditions” in the TAG CLOUD
By 1994 ExtraCare Charitable Trust had a large portfolio of nursing homes and extracare housing schemes. As has already been covered in earlier blogs, there had always been a strong focus on activity and a culture of involving residents and capturing their views in “Buzzwords” suggestions. In earlier years there had been a number of summer shows which featured craft activities and gardening. In 1994 the Activities Manager – Mike Hallam, decided to go a step further by setting up a larger festival to celebrate the achievements of all of our residents. In fact it turned out not to be just a step further but a giant leap forward.
What became known as the Elderflower festival was modelled on a County Show. It was located at Coombe Abbey in Coventry on a day when they had many events of their own taking place in this historic country park. Having learned from the past that our residents were incredibly creative, we used our “Buzzwords” suggestion scheme to ask them what categories of entry they would like to exhibit in the festival. We thought we might get 20 different types of crafts, in fact we ended up with over 100 separate categories. Everything from flower arranging to painting to knitting to writing to photography to cake and jam making to the more unusual, such as garden design and making mosaic tiles.
At the outset we decided to ensure that every exhibit would be displayed with a card showing the resident’s name, handwritten in calligraphy. When we eventually realised that we had over 4,000 exhibits, this turned into a gargantuan task. But that itself was dwarfed by the need to create the display space for the exhibits.
Six weeks before the event took place, we set about preparing for the set-up by hiring the largest single span tent in Europe. It came on three articulated lorries all the way from Holland and took three days to erect. Meanwhile, having decided that the whole event would have a gardening theme as a backdrop to the exhibition displays, the Fundraising Director – David Campey, managed to secure the loan of 600 fence panels which came on three more large lorries. For his sins, David then had to take on the task of erecting over a thousand fence posts to secure the panels in place. Continuing on the garden theme, our landscape contractor, Shire Oak, agreed to build us a Chelsea Flower Show style rockery. He brought in over 25 tons of large stones and the rockery included a stream, a pool and a fountain, as well as being decoratively planted, with hundreds of shrubs and alpine plants. It was a fantastic gesture for which they made no charge.
In the weeks running up to the event, we gradually had to second more and more of the Central Team staff to the task, to the point where the Central Office was closed in the days before the Elderflower Festival took place.
When it came to the grand opening, we asked our oldest resident the carry out the ceremonial duties. The photograph below is Mrs Day from Lincoln Grange Nursing Home in Shropshire. At the time she was the oldest lady in Great Britain at the age of 109. At her request, we brought her down from Telford in a stretch limousine and gave her cream tea in a motorway service station half way through the journey. Mrs Day was a head teacher during the first world war and when she asked you to do something, you did it !
The event took place over three days of a summer weekend and during that time over 10,000 people came through the exhibition. Many of them were friends and relatives of our residents from all over the Midlands. The whole event was under canvas in case of rain, but luckily on the day it was bright and sunny. There were three large tented areas, one of which was a Victorian tea garden modelled on a restaurant in the Queen Elizabeth Cruise Liner and staffed by the whole of the nursing team from Abbey Park. The second tent was given over to stalls run by each of the individual nursing homes and housing schemes from which they sold produce and craft items all made by residents. Finally in the main marquee, was the exhibition itself. When people walked through the door the slides below give you a flavour of what you saw, although no amount of pictures can illustrate the joy on people’s faces at seeing what our residents were capable of accomplishing.
As well as all the exhibits prepared in advance, there were also competitions on the day for teams to compete in flower arranging and fruit & veg modelling. The exhibit categories were each independently judged by dignitaries from all around the ExtraCare empire. Over 400 cups, medals and certificates were awarded on the day.
This event ended up on a scale that was only possible through the magnificent effort of “ONE BIG TEAM” of residents, staff and volunteers who all pulled together over a period of almost a year to demonstrate the talents and abilities of all of our residents.
Nothing better demonstrates that “age is no barrier to achievement”.