While Christmas is a time when family and friends come together to celebrate the festive season, the nation’s care homes are also busy doing their bit for the yuletide spirit. Many care home groups have endless fun and games and seasonal feasts for residents and non-residents alike.

Indeed, a number of care and nursing homes even open their doors to older people who live in the nearby community. The idea is to brighten up the lives of older men and women who are often isolated and lonely during Christmas time.

Friends of the Elderly

A charity working hard to give their care home residents and older people in the community some festive cheer is Friends of the Elderly. They have care homes and day centres in locales as far flung as Worcestershire, Essex and London.

A regular seasonal activity by the charity is to encourage community volunteers to donate Christmas decorations and an hour of their time to help residents decorate the care home. Called Christmas Makers, these volunteers enjoy a fun few hours each year socialising with residents and staff to make Christmas extra special for everyone at the care home.

While the volunteers help to put up the Christmas decorations, Bing Crosby and bygone crooners sing White Christmas and other favourites to get everyone in the spirit. Tea, coffee, sherry and mince pies are served, and everyone has a chance to enjoy a seasonal social event.

The charity also runs festive lunches in their care homes, providing free meals to older people from the wider communities around them who would otherwise be spending Christmas alone.

The aim of this event is to provide a warm and friendly social environment, giving older people from the community the chance to catch up with friends and take part in activities and enjoy the festive season.

[video of Christmas Maker fun]

Ashcroft Nursing Home, Merseyside

Elsewhere around the country, other care home groups are providing seasonal fun and more for their residents.

Ashcroft Nursing Home in Formby, Merseyside, has two historic Christmas themed lounges; one for the 1940s, the other for the 1960s.  Both rooms are festooned with decorations from the two eras.

The Liverpool care home also provides musical entertainment with acts including singing sailors, accordion and saxophonist players, and a puppeteer. Ashcroft also has its own mobile cinema showing festive films from bygone days, and hosts social evenings for residents and relatives.

A particular favourite at the care home is the Christmas quiz featuring the ‘Ladies Barber Shop Singers’, taking place in the in-house pub “The Ashcroft Arms” (named by the residents themselves).

Another favourite seasonal event at Ashcroft is the visit from the local Primary school choir, which visits every year and sings Christmas carols for the residents.

Mill View Residential and Nursing Home

Meanwhile, residents from all 300 Bupa care homes are invited to enter the competition to create a festive design for the company’s Christmas card. A few years ago Carol Goodram, a resident at Mill View care home in Bolton, won accolades for her design, which was featured on more than 15,000 Christmas cards sent to friends of Bupa. 
Carol’s design also won £100 worth of art and craft supplies for her Mill View care home.

Hagley Place, Ludlow

Over in Ludlow, Shropshire, each year Hagley Place care home throws a Christmas Fête for residents and guests. This includes reindeers, craft stalls, a raffle with prizes donated by local businesses and a visit by the Mayor of Ludlow. Residents enjoy a feast of festive foods prepared by one of the home’s chefs, Matthew Roberts, and Santa himself even makes an appearance.

Partridge Dementia Care Home, Brighton

Last but not least, staff at Partridge Dementia Care Home in Brighton encourage residents to get stuck in with decorating the Christmas tree and activities room, which includes the care home’s very own Santa’s grotto. The grotto features an ice machine, lights and a miniature train set.

Jason Langley, activities co-ordinator, believes it’s important for residents with dementia and limited movement to have an area with lots to see.

Colleague Laura Goble adds: “Just because residents have lost their memories, sometimes an image or sight or smell might trigger something in their past, especially around such an emotive time of year as Christmas. You can just see their faces light up when they go into the grotto – it’s so rewarding.”

The Partridge also plays host to a Christmas treasure hunt when pupils from nearby Bevendean Primary School visit the home. Care home manager John Howgate stresses the importance of building good links with the local community: “It’s nice for the residents to see different faces, and equally it’s good for some of the children who probably don’t interact with older people very often.”

Jason adds: “It’s important to break down the stigma attached to care homes, especially for young people, so we try to run as many activities as we can to bring members of the community into the home and for residents to go out and interact with local shops and groups.”

That certainly shows in the Christmas activity schedule Jason and Laura have designed for the home with a performance by cabaret group Tickled Pink, a visit from the Salvation Army, song night with Bevendean community choir and a grand traditional lunch with all the trimmings.

Jason: “The Christmas period can be tough for some residents as it brings back memories of when they were younger, but it can also be a really rewarding one. Often, because of their condition, families find it difficult and Christmas is the time they come to visit. So we have as many activities on as possible to engage the residents and make them happy. It really makes their day and makes ours as well.”

“It’s an important lesson to remember: bringing a smile to someone’s face could be the best present you give this Christmas.”


Andrew Chilvers with additional reporting by Richard Hook