A 4-year old toddler and a 92-year old care home resident might not seem the most likely of friendships at first glance, but Eric from Brentwood Care Centre in Essex has formed a strong friendship with Harry, one of the toddlers who visited the residential dementia and nursing care home regularly before the COVID-19 lockdown, and we’ve been delighted to help them maintain their friendship via video calls during the global pandemic.

The importance and benefits of intergenerational relationships are well documented which is why, we at RCH Care Homes, are proud of the links our care homes are building with young people in our local communities. Included within that intergenerational focus for Brentwood Care Centre is a partnership with Hopscotch Day Nursery which we’re pleased to note has grown from strength to strength over the last 18 months.

Prior to the pandemic starting, children from Hopscotch Day Nursery arrived bi-weekly at the care home in Larchwood Gardens and enjoyed a fun filled and action-packed morning, taking part in joint activities and socialising with our residents. Favourite activities for the residents and children alike have included arts and crafts and baking sessions – which often end with more flour on the children and residents than in the bowl!

“Where are you? Missing my friends at Hopscotch Nursery” ~ a message from Eric, resident of Brentwood Care Centre for the last two years, posted on social media

During one such session, Alison Rankin (Brentwood Activity Co-ordinator) and Liz Francis from the nursery noticed a real bond forming between Eric and one of the children, Harry. They seemed to naturally gravitate towards one another, and now, every time Harry sees Eric, he immediately runs to him happily shouting “Eric, Eric!” at the top of his voice. Harry isn’t the only one who looks forward to the visits though as Eric also eagerly anticipates Harry’s visits too: the two have formed a special bond and work / play together during most activities whether it’s messier ones such as Play-Doh and painting, or more relaxing ones such as building bricks and story time. Baking in particular seems to be a firm favourite of theirs.

Christmas is a time for friends and family, and so Eric, along with some of our other residents, was delighted to be invited by Hopscotch to the nursery’s Christmas play last year. To the amusement of the audience, when Harry noticed Eric in the front row while he was on stage, he couldn’t help shouting out Eric’s name several times – after all, can it really be considered a Christmas panto if there isn’t some spontaneous improvisation involved?

When the difficult decision was made at the beginning of the global pandemic to restrict visitors to the care home, it also unfortunately meant that the nursery visits had to come to an end for the immediate future. The decision to restrict visitors was that much more difficult as we knew how much the residents and children would miss each other.

“Harry still asks about Eric on a weekly basis. Harry was so happy to see the pic of Eric on your Facebook today.” ~ a message from Charlie, Harry’s mum, after the social media post

At the start of the lockdown, RCH Care Homes immediately invested in iPads and tablets to facilitate Skype / Facetime between residents and families, and encouraged our teams to find new ways to ensure our residents could continue communicating regularly with their loved ones. One such method was our photo messages from our residents posted on our social media accounts. On 31st March, a day that would normally have seen a visit from the nursery, Brentwood Care Centre posted a number of pictures of our residents holding up messages for the children.

When Harry’s mum Charlie Oatham noticed a message from Eric, she showed it to Harry who instantly recognised him and asked what his friend was up to. Touched by her son’s response, Charlie responded to the Facebook post to let us know how much Harry was missing Eric and included a photo message back from Harry to Eric directly: “Miss you too. Love Harry”.

Knowing that both Eric and Harry were yearning for their bi-weekly sessions, with the support of Alison and Liz, the specialist dementia care home arranged with Eric’s mum Charlie for the two friends to FaceTime or Skype each other whenever they want. Harry’s mum Charlie expressed how much this has meant to Harry during lockdown; “During this lockdown, it’s been tough with a 4-year-old at home. Harry has been asking about his school friends his teacher and his friends from the care home. Especially Eric, who he has a great relationship with! Being able to FaceTime with Eric on occasions has really lifted Harry’s mood and I’m sure has done so with Eric too.”

Both have already enjoyed a number of video calls with each other. Not even COVID-19 can stop the special friendship between these two buddies!

Brentwood Care Centre Manager Torie Pollard spoke about the importance of building relationships within the local community, “Here at Brentwood Care Centre, we are very proud of the links we have built in our local community and the relationships that have blossomed from those links such as our partnership with Hopscotch Day Nursery. Bringing our communities together and giving different generations the chance to learn from one another is vital in the ethos of our home. Not only can we learn from our local community, more importantly our local community can learn from the wonderful residents who live at Brentwood. Seeing Eric and Harry’s joy when they video call each other has been such a bright spot for our team and we’re glad that we’ve been able to help the two maintain their strong friendship with each other.”