It Ain’t Necessarily So – 7: Is an activities programme homely?

Posted on July 15th, by geoff in Caring Times head, CT Extra. No Comments

Caring Times, July/August 2013


When I visit a care home, I always look at the notices. You can tell a lot from notices; after all, they’ve been posted for people to read, but those who post them may not realise that they are open to interpretation, and that the people they are aimed at are not necessarily the people who read them.

One of the most common and prominent notices is the activities programme. Look at it closely! As a visitor, I can usually tell whether this is the same notice that is there week after week, or if it changes and is added to, in which case it’s more likely to be genuine.

What sorts of activities are there? Monday: quiz; Tuesday: bingo; Wednesday: music and movement; Thursday: crafts; Friday: sing-song; Saturday: fish n’chip supper/bbq; Sunday: visitors. Oh dear! It doesn’t sound too inspiring, does it? I can be almost certain that such a programme is a fiction but I would wait to find out.

I would far prefer a home where there is no programme but there is activity, conversation, and interest all around, and where those who want to sit and appear to do nothing aren’t chivvied into “activity”. Give me the home where people are – or are not – doing their own things and enjoying life or, as NAPA puts it: “living life”.

When I’ve visited as an inspector or when I’m reviewing the management and practice of a home, people think I will want to see the activities programme. No, it ain’t necessarily so, there is no requirement that there should be a written activities programme. It’s what is really going on that matters, not what is written on the programme.

What is this life, if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare

– (W.H.Davies)

I feel sorry for children who are perpetually busy with “activities” and music lessons and extra tuition, and when they’re not being organised, they are stuck indoors in front of their computers. They are so occupied that they have no time to muck about, to do nothing and get bored, to use their imaginations and ingenuity, and invent things to do.

I know the devil makes work for idle hands but Old Harry has now taken to ingratiating himself through constant activity and the internet. Similarly, if people who live in care homes can’t be left in peace to cogitate, and have either to be organised into activity or presumed to be mindlessly inactive, they are not “living life”; they are subjects of the home’s regime.

Care homes are – and should be – different. Each should have its own distinctive culture: the special “feel” of the place, the atmosphere, the ambiance. There are homes where books and reading are popular, or cookery and knitting, or films, art, or crosswords, or watching the soaps and sport together on TV, or singing and music, or going out, or . . . yes, bingo and quizzes. And, of course, there are many homes – perhaps most – where residents pursue their individual interests and activities, and where some residents have “jobs” and roles in the home that they regard as their duty. Laying tables, helping in the kitchen or garden, visiting and supporting other residents, organising groups and activities, running a shop, or doing reception duties.

In some of the larger homes an authentic programme of “What’s On?” today, this week or this month, is not out of place, but in smaller homes it’s more likely to appear institutional rather than “homely”

We found a different way: Caring Times readers tell their stories

Amanda Taylor, Registered Manager, The Old Rectory, Lincoln:

In my experience an activities plan is not homely. We have a small friendly home and our residents choose what activities they would like to do on a daily basis and this is discussed at residents’ meetings each month. We do have a detailed list of activities available in the home and a weekly activities chart as this is required, but our residents decide what they want to do each day and arrange regular activities with their families and friends as you and I would do in our own homes. I put social events on my calendar at home, and the residents have their own calendar that we record activities on.

The residents say what they want in their meetings, for example: ‘I’m in my eighties/nineties. I don’t want to play games or do painting. I like to go and have a walk around the garden or have a gossip and put the music on loud and sing along’.

It’s about really person centred care. Music and singing is the most popular event in our home and, if the residents wish to do this every day, it’s their choice. We have discovered our home has talent!

Senior care worker, West Midlands:

After a poor inspection report, the company that runs the home where I work appointed an activities organiser. She makes it look as if there’s a lot going on. We have a fancy activities programme, a newsletter, and lots of posters – but it’s all window dressing. If residents don’t turn up to her events, she blames the staff, but most of our residents don’t like her quizzes and reminiscence sessions.

She’s well in with the manager and spends a lot of time in the office gossiping, and if we don’t make the residents take part we are told off. If we get an inspection or visit from social services, we are instructed to get games and quizzes from the cupboard and make it look as if there are activities going on all the time. We used to take our breaks with the residents.

We’d sit and have coffee and a chat or do the crossword all together, but that’s all gone now because it’s not classed as an “activity”. Having an organiser and a programme hasn’t improved life for the residents at all.



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