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Opinion: A perfect Christmas?

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Opinion: A perfect Christmas?

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

Government launches 'society for all ages' strategy Government launches 'society for all ages' strategy

By Paula McGlynn, assistant director, customer support, Magenta Living

The shopping frenzy increases and our thoughts begin to focus on the activities and pleasures of that one day in the year when we seek perfection. The tree, the pressies, the dinner, the carols, the togetherness, the perfect setting for those lucky few. It’s a time of year when everyone wants to belong to family, to friends, and to neighbours. But sadly it’s also a time when if you feel that you don’t belong, a sense of isolation can be magnified many times over. This year George, a Magenta Living tenant will be one of those lucky ones.

George is 78 years old. He is sociable, happy and well. He is looking forward to his own perfect Christmas this year. He has just returned from a coach trip to a Christmas market. He loved those cheeky German beers and bought small but thoughtful gifts for his close friends. He is looking forward to the Christmas concert next week in the local school and remembered his music contribution at the residents’ party last week. He thought his karaoke rendition of Danny Boy was modest but it got him a standing ovation from fellow tenants and staff.  He feels good about himself as he looks around his nicely decorated flat and decides exactly where he will put his Christmas tree.

He thinks of Mary who lives nearby. She never has visitors and ventures out less and less every week. He recognised the signs and so he called on her a couple of weeks ago. She was there but did not answer. He did the same the following week and saw the curtains twitch. This week he hopes she will come to the door. He understands. Life was very different for him this time last year.

George lived with his wife of 50 years in their family home. Their two children have long left, dispersed across the country and they have busy lives with their own families. George and his wife took care of each other until his wife became ill and was admitted to a nursing home. George was devastated and his life suddenly turned upside down. He spent every day at the nursing home with his wife, neglecting his own health and wellbeing. 

Sadly she died just a few months before Christmas and George went into a further decline. For the first time in his life he felt very alone and became depressed. Magenta Living's local support officers observed his unkempt appearance and noted that some local youths were beginning to taunt George because of the way he looked. The officers became very concerned for George but he would not allow them access to his home. He had always been independent and would struggle through.  

As he had no relatives nearby and there were concerns for his wellbeing, staff talked with George about being included on the Magenta Living ‘resident at risk’ register to which he agreed. It was just a starting point but at least staff could ensure he was prioritised for services due to his vulnerability.

For example, Magenta Living staff ring our more vulnerable residents on Christmas day to ask how they are and to have a chat. This included George. Sadly, this is often the only contact some residents on the register actually have over the Christmas period. Magenta Living staff also ensures that during bouts of severe weather, those on the register are contacted to give reassurance and we will provide basic food packages, snow clearance and gritting. 

George became more receptive as a result of the regular telephone contact with Customer Service Officers, eventually allowing access to his home. He was ashamed to let anyone in. There was a serious insect infestation due to his hoarding and this presented a health and safety risk to George and also his neighbours. A deep clean was quickly arranged and George agreed to pay for a weekly cleaner to come to his home. A Magenta Living Support Officer visited George at agreed intervals and he was encouraged to attend local events at schemes to help alleviate his isolation. He started by attending the daily Breakfast Club at a nearby sheltered scheme.  Other residents from the community also attended, some of whom he recognised from when his wife was alive. He quickly made friends and learned about other activities at Magenta Living venues. Since then George’s health has improved and he has become an active member of the community.

In November this year, George was invited to give talks to local schoolchildren about his time in the Royal Air Force as a co-pilot. He even took along his own extensive range of model aircrafts explaining their history to a fascinated audience. The models are still on loan to the school and George has already been asked to return next year.   

George can remember many happy family Christmas times particularly when the kids were young and the house was full of visitors with constant noise and activity. Those days have gone but they have been replaced by an acceptance that he wants to enjoy the festivities. He is now able to do this with a feeling of belonging.

The preventative services Magenta Living deliver, not only enable residents to maintain their independence but also to become a community asset again. George’s story demonstrates the value of housing services and the benefits it can bring in building resilience.  Hopefully Mary’s story will be similar as will many other vulnerable social landlord residents.

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