Unabridged version: Cocktails in Care Homes

About the project

This project brings together care homes and Magic Me volunteers offering monthly evening parties in three care homes in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Cocktails in Care Homes started as a pilot project in September 2010. Since then the project has grown and with a growing pool of supportive and reliable volunteers now runs regular parties across East London. The aim is to provide residents in care homes new people to talk to, a fresh audience for stories, new topics of conversation, a chance to get to know each other and a way to stay in touch with the wider world.

The project helps to build connections between residents. For example two residents found out they had both spent time in Sri Lanka during the war and enjoyed sharing experiences. Volunteers enable conversations and interactions between residents, particularly when this can be difficult - many residents have hearing impairments, have suffered a stroke, or have dementia. It is also a chance for care home staff to find out more about residents, their preferences and life stories, and to chat with them as equals.

The big idea

Magic Me is an arts charity that focuses on delivering projects that bring together old and young people. The charity works with local schools and care homes. Their work in care homes provided an insight into the lives of older residents. Magic Me felt that there was a need for stimulating activities for older adults. The project manager at Magic Me quoted one resident who said:

"I have dinner at six o' clock, and then it's bed time: there is no evening activity". Magic Me approached the care homes that they were worked with, proposing that they would hold a cocktail party once a month. The cocktail parties would be fun, inviting volunteers to come along and socialise with the residents.

Setting up the project

Magic Me proposed the idea of ‘Cocktails in Care Homes' with three care homes they had already worked with. A letter of agreement with the care homes was developed at the outset, outlining responsibilities between each organisation and identifying what resources would need to be available.

The project was piloted for three months. The enthusiasm from the residents, the volunteers and the care homes exceeded their expectations. However, the main challenge was to encourage both volunteers and residents to participate.
Magic Me initially designed invitations for the residents, but the project manager has found that the most effective way of promoting the project is through word of mouth, building a reputation among residents. In similar fashion, in generating interest among volunteers, word of mouth proved to be effective means of promotion. Magic Me were also able to tap into existing networks, inviting volunteers from partner organisations who shared their office space and in the wider local area in the East End of London.

Magic Me draw from their core funding to run the project. One cocktail party for 25 people costs £100, though this does not include management costs. Magic Me also do fundraising drives, like Christmas appeals, and have produced a film to promote and raise funds for the project through S ee the Difference

This fundraising website encourages individuals to buy a resident a drink or host an entire cocktail party.

Impact of the project

This project strengthens the social networks of residents in a number of ways. Residents develop stronger relationships with each other, sharing their interests. The project manager recalled a woman who had been in the care home for seven years and had not really left her room. Since the party she has developed friendships amongst the other residents, visiting other floors in the home.

Magic Me also encourage family members to come along to the parties, particularly the children of the residents. The project manager believes that cocktail parties encourage family members to behave as a family again. Importantly it shifts away from the unbalanced relationship of the resident being the recipient of care and re-balances the relationship allowing family members to relate in a way that they may not have done for awhile. In addition, it allows family members to meet other carers.

Carers have noticed that the residents with dementia may not recall what they had for dinner the previous night but they ten to remember the cocktail parties. The stimulus they get from relating to the volunteers is clearly improving their wellbeing.
However, a number of residents do not have families and this is sometimes the only visit they will get. A visit from the volunteers allows them to keep in touch with the outside world.

It provides something for the residents to look forward to. Residents often get excited in anticipation of the cocktail party, post party gossip provides something to talk about.

Carers are also invited to attend the cocktail parties which allow them to spend quality time with residents. Volunteers also feel more connected to their community. Often the volunteers do not have grandparents or have lost contact with grandparents and miss the contact of older adults.

Lessons learned

One of the main priorities is managing the volunteers. Magic Me run regular induction evening for new volunteers. Magic Me does not undertake CRB checks for Cocktails in Care Homes volunteers and therefore this meeting acts as a way of screening potential volunteers.

Magic Me have developed a bespoke volunteer handbook, which provides additional data on potential scenarios a volunteer may encounter and what their responsibilities are. Going into a care home can be hard. Individual follow up through conversations and emails ensures that the volunteers feel emotionally supported and have the space to talk if they need to.

Magic Me also organizes specialist training for volunteers, for example on communicating with people who have dementia. This is also covered by core costs.

Top tips to replicate this project in your locality

Volunteer management is crucial to the project. Party organisers also need to nurture relationships with the care homes staff at all levels and the residents.

This project is ultimately about conversation - if you want to introduce activities or music, it is important to remember to allow residents to have a conversation. Ultimately, you need to ensure that the volunteer has an opportunity to ask Rosie how her week was.

Where next?

Magic Me want to keep the concept of Cocktails in Care Homes simple. This helps people easily understand the need to be able to unwind at the end of the day and enjoy some good company. These are needs that people can easily understand.

Magic Me would like to see Cocktails in Care Homes set up all over the country, with care homes and local agencies partnering up.

26 September 2011

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