VOICES OF LEWISHAM
“When you start a phone call and someone is crying, and by the end you have made them laugh and cheered them up a bit – that has meant a lot to me.”
Tracey works at the Ladywell Centre, which provides specialist day care for people with dementia.
The centre offers sensory and mental stimulation through activities such as music, baking, gardening and bowling. Tracey has been working with people suffering from dementia for 30 years, 15 of those here in Lewisham.
“When lockdown started on 23 March, we obviously weren’t allowed to open the day care centre as normal for our clients, so I started making welfare calls – ringing around clients registered with us, having a chat and checking in with their carers. At one point I was making around 60 calls a week, keeping their spirits up day by day.
“Sometimes it felt like a phonecall was not enough. I needed and wanted to do more for them. I spent a lot of time during those first couple of months just listening – listening to our clients, and their carers, and just being there for them. It’s really hard having someone crying on the phone to you and not being able to do anything more for them other than to just listen.
“When you start a phone call and someone is crying, and by the end you have made them laugh and cheered them up a bit – that has meant a lot to me. It’s made me feel relieved and happy that I’ve been able to do that for people.
“I think without the support from my family and colleagues I would have got quite down, because although I am not going through what my clients and their carers are going through, I am absorbing it every day and it would have been too much. It’s been quite emotionally draining on me, and I’ve had days where I have got quite upset myself.
“That said, I absolutely love my job and I wouldn’t change it for the world!
“We’ve had some good times over the phone. I’ve found that singing really lifts my clients up, and at the moment we’re singing all the golden oldies and Christmas carols together – they remember all the words! They even have a laugh at me when I sing something really badly.
“It was a real challenge not being able to see the clients face to face. A lot of them have been very confused and scared, and unable to understand what has been happening. Some of them don’t really know the difference between day and night, and it’s a long time for them being awake and on their own, if they don’t live with their family.
“I’ve helped families make incredibly difficult decisions during this year – to decide the time is right for a family member to go into care. Some people were very unsure and worried about taking such a huge step, and I have called some people maybe two or three times in a day to help them process their decision. It’s such a hard decision to put your loved one in a care home, and now even more than ever. It is heart breaking, but when a family member is in danger of hurting themselves by leaving the house in the middle of the night, it is the right decision.
“I know some families are having to pay for extra care such as night cover because they are finding it hard to cope caring for their family member 24 hours a day. It’s good that they can get that extra help but it all costs money, which does make it more of a financial burden.
“I’m terrified there’s never going to be an end to this. Every day there seems to be something new to worry about on the news, and we can’t give people a date when we are going to be open. We have been able to do a bit more now – like going out to visit clients - but the day care centre is still not open.
“I want to be able to offer that hope to our clients – especially their carers - because they get a break when our clients come to use the day care centre facilities. It’s so hard caring for someone 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they need some respite.
“My family and partner have helped me get through this time, although it’s been really hard because my parents are both vulnerable. My dad in particular has health and respiratory problems, so we’ve had to be really careful with him.”
Tracey spoke to us in December 2020.