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Caring for our Community: Inside a Care Home

Valley Church

Valley Church

This week Emma Satchell, who is part of Valley Church North East, is sharing her experience of working as a chaplain with MHA (Methodist Homes for the Aged).

When Coronavirus was something we were still only hearing of in China, the Social Care sector in the UK were already preparing for what we hoped would never happen.  Working as a chaplain in a care home in Cramlington, Northumberland, I remember going in to work one day early in the year and being handed a briefing to read and sign.  I asked my manager what it was and she told me “you’re basically promising not to catch Coronavirus!”  I laughed, read the briefing, and signed the form.  I mean, it was never going to affect us, was it?!

When March arrived and Covid-19 cases had been reported in the UK, MHA decided to close the doors across all its settings to non-essential visitors.  This was over a week before the official lockdown began, but we had very vulnerable residents we knew we needed to protect.

I remember receiving a phone call from my Regional Chaplaincy Advisor to inform me about the new workplace guidelines and I asked him if he thought the organisation would stop chaplains from going into our homes and schemes.  Thankfully he replied with a resounding “No!” MHA is committed to helping people live later life well, and spiritual wellbeing is a huge part of that.  I am incredibly proud to work for an organisation which understands how vital spiritual care is and who ensure that every one of their care homes and retirement living schemes employ a dedicated chaplain, all paid for by fundraising income.  We’re the largest employer of chaplains outside of the public sector in the UK and also the UK’s largest charitable provider of social care to older people.

Working in a care home setting throughout the lockdown has been a privilege and a challenge. There have been moments of frustration where we have felt that our residents have not been afforded the level of care or dignity they deserve from outside sources.  We had residents early on who needed hospital treatment but who were denied it because the hospitals were so full.  I sat at the bedside of one resident as she passed away from something which could easily have been treated at any other time.  That was tough.

And then there has been the constant worry that we might develop Covid cases in the home.  We have had to work hard to keep residents socially distanced, which means that our dining room is reduced to a quarter of its capacity and many residents have had to eat their meals alone in their rooms.

The capacity of our lounge has been reduced too, as we moved out a lot of chairs to keep the 2-metre rule.  This means I’ve had to get creative when running my weekly service.  For the first time I’ve had to reduce our numbers in the room which goes against my desire to always invite as many as possible! But with some great teamwork from all the staff, I have been able to continue running our weekly services throughout the majority of the lockdown.

As each week has passed, we’ve celebrated making it through another week without a case of Covid.  It really felt like something else, knowing first hand what was happening in other care homes locally and nationally. 

MHA’s chief executive, Sam Monaghan, has been extremely vocal about the need for consistent testing to occur in care homes and we finally got the green light for full-home testing.  Every resident and member of staff was tested and we celebrated even harder when the results all came back negative.

Then one Saturday evening at the beginning of June I received the phone call I had been dreading.  A resident had been taken into hospital and had tested positive for Covid-19.  Another full-home testing regime was scheduled.  The wait for those results was awful.  We tried to keep our hopes up, knowing that the resident had been in full isolation, with complete barrier nursing. Thankfully every test came back negative again so we had no outbreak. That one week was the only time in lockdown that we’d had to restrict all residents to their rooms and therefore I wasn’t able to hold a gathered church service.  Instead, I produced a service sheet with a hymn, reading, reflection and prayer for every resident.

I want to take a moment to say a big thank you to everyone who has gone out of their way to support local care homes.  At times we felt forgotten, but then we’d get a call from a local business who wanted to donate rolls of plastic sheeting we could use to make aprons (they even made a template for us!), or a local coffee shop would drop off all the snacks they had which were going to go out of date before they reopened.  Then there were the pictures and letters from kids - local school children in the North East, but also from some of our wonderful Valley Kids too.  Those were the things that put a real smile on our residents’ faces!  When I explained that some had come to us all the way from Valley Church in Lancashire they were blown away!

That’s the story on the ground at the care home I work at, but what about the bigger picture?  As an organisation, MHA has been hit hard by Coronavirus.  We have lost over 400 residents from our care homes and 3 members of staff to Covid-19.  Each person was a loved and valued member of their own family but also of the wider family in our care homes.  Our occupancy levels have dropped dramatically which has obviously had a huge impact financially, along with the more than tripled costs of PPE resources. As a charitable organisation, a lot of our income comes through fundraising through events like the Great North Run which cannot take place this year.

It is an uncertain time for everyone, especially those working within Social Care settings, but we will not let uncertainty throw us off course.  Whilst God is on the throne I know that all will be well.  He is my firm foundation and my solid rock.  Every day that I enter the doors of Harwood Court Care Home - stopping to sanitise my shoes, my hands, and put my mask on - I know I am there to represent Jesus, not just to the residents but to the staff, the district nurses who visit, and to the relatives that frequently video call to chat to their loved ones.  Covid-19 can try to lock us down, it can try to scare us into submission, it can force us to close our doors to the people our residents love, but it will not win.  Each member of staff is loving on those residents as if they were their own family.  We are celebrating milestones with them and popping to the shops for them.  We’re dancing to silly songs on YouTube with them to get a smile, and we’re doing it all because we are the ones allowed through those doors.

Every resident, relative, and staff member matters. They are the reasons I do what I do.

When churches reach out, people feel seen. Thank you for supporting the work of People Matter, enabling Valley Church to reach those who felt forgotten during the pandemic.  It really makes a difference.  

If you would like any more information on the work of MHA, or to find out how you can support the work we do, please visit

UPDATE: We also wrote a post about Age Concern a few weeks ago, letting you know how you could help.

Age Concern have been providing free food parcels to the elderly since lockdown began.  As lockdown eases, many volunteers are returning to work but the service is very much still required for those shielding.  If you have a few hours spare in the week, your support would be very much appreciated as a delivery driver. 

If you are interested, please contact Sherry Garstang on 01772 552 865 or [email protected]

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