Anne Hailes: New care village a massive act of faith from Belfast Central Mission

In 1992 Barbara Windsor was 55 when she met Scott Mitchell who was 28. They married in 2000

BELFAST Central Mission was founded in 1889 as part of the Methodist Church’s response to problems faced by people living in the inner city. Now, as then, BCM offers spiritual, emotional, social and physical help regardless of class, creed or ethnicity and no religious commitment is required from its staff or anyone wishing to benefit from its services – and many people do.

The Mission has two congregations, one at the Grosvenor Hall, Glengall Street, and the other in Sandy Row, and the list of services includes lunch clubs, tea dances, befriending and short breaks for older people.

They offer supported housing throughout Northern Ireland for young adults leaving care as well as housing support for 16-to-25-year-olds and for the 55-plus age group.

Add to this therapeutic counselling for vulnerable young people, residential accommodation for older people and parent support projects. the needs of our community haven’t changed that much in almost 130 years.

These are only a few of the services this remarkable organisation offers while, as they say, "expressing the Christian faith in action".

Now they have embarked on a massive act of faith, the building of a care village between Donaghadee and Millisle due to open in 2020. It will cost £5.05 million in total, have six households each with 10 residents living in en suite rooms and 24-hour care for frail elderly people including those living with dementia.

Betty Craig, a resident at Kirk House, with Gloria Hunniford at the launch of the Copelands project

At the launch of the project, Nicky Conway, head of development explained:

“All rooms will be spacious with full ensuite wet rooms and each will have either its own balcony/patio area or a window seat with a folding sofa bed to enable resident’s relatives to stay, for example during end of life care.”

In addition, there will be extensive communal space including a café, worship space, hobbies and craft room, cinema room, hairdresser and all of this set in a beautiful coastal location.

Helping launch Copelands Dementia, Nursing and Residential Care village, Gloria Hunniford talked about the need for such facilities and of her own sister.

“Alrthough Lena developed dementia she lived at home for a number of years until it became too dangerous. She would forget to turn off the gas, she turned on taps and walked away to do something else and would forget to come back to turn them off and it was very frightening when she started wandering away from home at night.”

These are typical symptoms and despite family care and love eventually the family member will have to go into a care home. This is the dilemma for so many families, the dreadful feeling of guilt, yet knowing you can’t cope.

Seniors and juniors – a Puddleducks visit to Kirk House

Gloria also spoke of actress Barbara Windsor who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the devotion of her husband, who is 25 years her younger.

“There was a lot of talk about the age difference at the time but it has turned out to be a strong and loving relationship.”

She felt he had made the right decision making Barbara’s dementia public and making people aware of this illness and spoke of her own career of 70 years in show business and the necessity of planning ahead, the same for anyone juggling a career and a family.

"There is little time to look ahead for ourselves.

“When you do there’s that dread of what will happen, the fear of becoming institutionalised and lonely but this new care village being planned in Co Down promises to be a home from home, a place where community spirit will develop, where people have their own front door, their own letterbox and their own kitchen, so important when wanting to maintain your individuality and dignity,” Gloria said.

Residents will build a new family circle, sometimes the first for years and there will be stimulation every day.

Although Copelands Dementia, Nursing and Residential Care is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, BCM already have a care home at King’s Road, in Knock, east Belfast. Kirk House is described as ‘housing with care’. Self-esteem and dignity are of vital importance and while residents still maintain links with their families, care offered is tailored to meet their individual needs, with one wing specially adapted to accommodate residents living with dementia.

Some of the residents were at the launch to give their individual thoughts on living in care in their senior years. We all enjoyed Gloria’s joke about the elderly man who suggests to his wife they go upstairs and make love. She replies, "You’ll have to chose one or the other, I can’t do both."

At the age of 91, Betty Craig told me how glad she was that she had made the move but that it was a bigger transition than she had anticipated.

“Having been a very independent person for over 50 years providing for myself and my family, it was difficult but I was feeling increasingly physically and emotionally vulnerable and missing the social life I once enjoyed.”

And Betty certainly had a brilliant working life as assistant to Michael Barnes, administrator at the Belfast Festival at Queen's. She was admired by artists from around the world and was responsible for many of the events on the programme. Even with her organisational skills, she admits the stress of moving home made it difficult over those few months.

“But now I have my own space and I’m surrounded by my own furniture and pictures, new friends and, most importantly, the care I need when I need it.”

And sometimes the joy of a visit by the little members of Puddleducks day nursery based in BCM in Glengall Street where a 64-place day nursery welcomes children up to the age of five years to enjoy qualified child care in a central location.

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