For the October Meeting Centre lunchtime webinar, Caroline Savage – Social Inclusion & Well Being Manager for Age UK Herefordshire & Worcestershire – gave us a whistle-stop tour of the work that has been done to enable Droitwich Spa Meeting Centre to reopen to members in September.
The Meeting Centre takes place in Droitwich Spa Rugby Club, which had a large main room providing plenty of space for social distancing measures to be put in place. During lockdown the Meeting Centre staff had noticed a decline in the emotional and mental wellbeing of both the members and carers, and indeed three members have had to go into long-term. Contact with members indicated that people were keen to return to the Meeting Centre, and this was confirmed by a questionnaire that was sent out to members and carers back in July.
Due to the space available, the Meeting Centre has been able to reopen three days a week for approximately 14 members per day, which is a reduction on normal capacity. Before people arrive, staff set up the room to provide each member with their own table, with appropriate space between them. Windows and doors are opened to improve ventilation, and staff are provided with gloves, masks and/or face shields and aprons. The Meeting Centre does not provide transport, but encourages members to wait outside when they arrive until they have had their temperature checked by staff and can safely enter the building. Hand washing or sanitising is promoted on entry, with regular sanitising being encouraged throughout the day. Families are asked to provide a plate and mug for their relative to use while they are at the Meeting Centre to reduce the need to share crockery, and these go home with the members at the end of the day.
Cross-contamination is also minimised by having a separate bag of activity items for each member, with items being cleaned before they go back in the bag. Several measures regarding hygiene and PPE (personal protective equipment) have been put in place, with PPE for staff being provided by Age UK Herefordshire & Worcestershire. Members are reminded to wear masks when necessary, but this has not really been an issue. If staff feel that a member wouldn’t be able to comply with social distancing measures or has behavioural challenges that could have an impact on hygiene safety for the wider group, they would initially require a carer to attend the Meeting Centre with them, but may ultimately be asked not to come in order to reduce risk.
As can be seen in the image below, the Meeting Centre also has a clear procedure and measures in place for dealing with potential COVID-19 symptoms amongst members. All members and staff have regular temperature checks which may help to keep an eye on possible symptoms developing while they are at the Meeting Centre.
Finally, Caroline reported on measures to try and minimise cross-contamination and potentially spreading germs. These included encouraging members and carers to pay via standing order rather than using cash, and regular cleaning routines. The rugby club itself was deep-cleaned before the Meeting Centre reopened, and is cleaned on non-Meeting Centre days when it is used by other people. Age UK Herefordshire & Worcestershire are responsible for cleaning after the Meeting Centre has ended for the day.
Following the main presentation, Caroline was joined by Anne Montgomery, the Droitwich Spa Meeting Centre Supervisor, to answer questions and provide insight into how the reopening has gone.
From speaking to carers and family members, Age UK have been reassured that they are happy with the measures that have been put in place, and do not feel that further measures are required. It was noted that one member has not returned yet as they personally do not want to risk mixing more generally in public, which is not specific to the Meeting Centre. A couple of other members have also not returned as they require more assistance than can currently be provided with social distancing in place. Members have generally been good at wearing masks, and staff have only had to provide a few spares since the reopening.
There was recognition that a lot of work was involved in the reopening, but it has been worth it. Age UK are pleased that they took the plunge as they can see that it is benefitting both members and carers.
Members struggled during lockdown, and as many were not able to use online platforms such as Zoom they were quite isolated. The ones who have been to the Meeting Centre since it reopened have all come back multiple times, sometimes more than once a week, suggesting that they feel comfortable and happy. However, members are still missing being closer to each other. One new member has also joined the Meeting Centre since it reopened, with a couple more hoping to join soon.
Carers are able to get some time on their own, which they missed out on during lockdown. Many stopped receiving help from professional carers as they did not feel safe with them coming into their houses, which added to the caring responsibilities. The Meeting Centre is finally able to provide the break that they badly need.
Anne is still contacting some members via phone calls outside of sessions, as she has been throughout lockdown. She will also do visits if required, but would not go into people’s houses during these. Again, garden visits were also carried out during lockdown. All carers and members are able to contact Anne at any time if they have problems or concerns.
At the Meeting Centre, staff are doing most of the activities that they would normally do. The only activities they have stopped for now are those where multiple people need to touch the same items, such as playing board games. Some activities have had to adapt though to minimise the number of people in the Meeting Centre, for example yoga sessions are being run over the internet via a big screen so that the yoga teacher does not have to physically come in.
Overall, there was a general feeling that the webinar contained lots of useful information, advice and food for thought for people to take away and apply to their own services.
A recording of the webinar can be found here.