Jenny lives in an Extra care setting in Wigan. She moved in following the sad passing of her beloved partner and has been there for around 6 months. I first met Jenny at a coffee morning on site, she sat, head down, not making eye contact with anyone around her, crying intermittently. I said ‘Hello’ and we chatted. Jenny talked of her precious partner, of their life together and her love of animals, in particular canaries. Part of the coffee morning involved a chair exercises session run by John from the Council’s Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles team. I started to move in my chair to the exercises, smiling at Jenny and encouraging her gently to join in. She told me she has arthritis in her upper body so could only make small movements, between John and I we encouraged Jenny to start to move. By the end of the session Jenny was moving more freely and was joking with John about having a race in an adapted go cart round the local ‘Wheels for All’ bike track!!

By the end of the session it seemed obvious to me that Jenny would benefit from a Circle. I spoke with the care manager onsite and Jenny and both agreed that a Circle would be useful in helping her move better and reconnecting her with her love of animals.

Over the next few weeks I worked to find and train the right volunteer for Jenny. I was lucky enough to find Anna, she is a very active lady who also shares Jenny’s love of animals. We had our first introduction and all went well, we set a date for our first Circle meeting.

However, Jenny was suffering recurrent water infections, attributed to her not drinking enough fluids during the day, and had repeated short stays in hospital, delaying our first meeting. I would pop in and see Jenny in between hospital stays and she would be in floods of tears, very down, head bowed reminiscent of the first time we had met.  Jenny would tell me about how she was unhappy, had nothing to look forward to and was considering a move to a care home. She was frustrated by the persistent water infections. Her GP was also making regular recommendations that Jenny move to a care home so that her hydration levels could be monitored to hopefully reduce the amount of water infections she was suffering. Her GP also recognised the negative impact that Jenny’s low mood and isolation were having on her wellbeing.  Both the care manager and I could see the advantages of a Circle for Jenny but were concerned that Jenny may in fact move into a care home because she could not see the benefits of remaining. In addition, the GP did not know about the positive impact a Circle could have on an individual’s life.

The care manager had taken part in some volunteer training with me and had experienced the impact of me utilising visuals to tell a story. She asked if I could put together some visual evidence for Jenny’s GP to demonstrate the impact a Circle could have. As well as helping Jenny reconnect to animals and move better we agreed we would also explore ways of helping Jenny to stay hydrated. I put together a short PowerPoint presentation, heavy with visuals. I started with the Relationship map and illustrated Jenny in the centre with her only friend also illustrated. As the slides progressed I portrayed how Jenny’s Circle may look at the first Circle meeting. This relationship map depicted Jenny, her friend, her volunteer Anna (and Anna’s dog Charlie), another lady who lives on scheme Beryl, whom Jenny gets on well with and me, Sharon as the Community Circles Connector.

I then progressed to show how Jenny’s Circle could look in the future. Our care manager and her staff have been working with Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles and now have 5 members of staff trained in chair exercises – they will encourage Jenny and other residents to take part in regular sessions. Both helping Jenny move better and increasing the amount of people she will get to know. Another new and very isolated resident has donated a bird cage which Jenny can have so we can work towards getting her her own budgie. We will also think about inviting the lady who donated the cage to Jenny’s Circle in the future – they already share of love of birds after all! Anna will continue to visit monthly and will bring Charlie whenever Jenny wants him to come along – he’s a big fan of jenny’s toast! Beryl and Jenny continue to strengthen their friendship and could have daily contact by phone, knocking for each other to chat in the communal areas near their flats. We are exploring a simple adaptation that flashes and this can be attached to any drinking bottle as a visual reminder for Jenny to take regular sips of fluids.

This PowerPoint was shared with Jenny’s GP – the feedback from her was ‘Looks brilliant!! Really pleased, well done, great work!!!’. Jenny’s GP has recognised the impact a Circle can have with Jenny if given a little time to progress. She is happy to see how things work out over the coming months. Jenny, through regular visits from me and experiencing the first few Circles for herself has decided she wants to remain in her current home. Staff report her mood has lifted and she seems to making progress with her hydration and mobility.

At our last Circle meeting, Jenny’s friend Beryl, had suffered a fall and had broken her hip. She was worried about trying to mobilise to get to Jenny’s room for the Circle meeting but was missing Jenny and would clearly benefit from a chat. Jenny, Anna and I brought the Circle meeting to Beryl this time, we sat outside Beryl’s room and chatted about animals, exercise and lots of things in-between. We played Jenny’s favourite song, Bing Crosby’s ‘I’ll take you home again Kathleen’ though my phone, courtesy of YouTube. Jenny and Beryl sang along. Other residents came into the communal area to see what we were doing – I think we may have some new Circle members for the future….

Sharon Wilton

Community Circles Connector, Extra Care