Seventy-five, not out!

Seventy-five, not out!

During the recent Christmas and New Year season, the topic of social care for older people was, once again, a focal discussion point in many conversations. Standing alongside homelessness, hospital waiting times and, inevitably, Brexit, concern for the care of older people continues to be a matter of growing interest. Not least, due to the inescapable fact of life that we are all growing older on a daily basis! In our summer 2018 edition our regular correspondent, Eric Thorn, took a brief peek at the history of a major care home operator who were halfway into their seventy-fifth anniversary year. Now that year has ended, he concludes his investigation in this feature.

So, the MHA Care Group’s residential homes, commonly known as either MHA Homes or Methodist Homes, concluded their seventy-fifth anniversary year last month (December 2018). As a member of MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) commented, “MHA is seventy-five not out, and continues unabatedly on its winning streak, striving to create a better life for older people”.

In the summer of 2018, I presented our Maintenance and Equipment News readers with an interim monologue of how the festivities were progressing at their celebratory year halfway point. New readers, and also those who wish to revisit that piece, will hopefully have no difficulty locating it at http://www.cwponline.co.uk/full-of-years. This present article is designed to be a part two in order to complete the picture of how the organisation concluded their important celebratory year.

According to the website www.mha.org.uk, Methodist Homes, a constituent of MHA Care Group, still, after seventy-five years, continue with their Founder’s initial aim to improve the quality of life of older people, inspired by Christian concern. It is apparent that they are one of the most well-respected care providers within the UK, illustrated by the fact that during their special anniversary year they were one of the recipients of the Carehome UK Top Twenty award. Indeed, my understanding is that MHA is rightfully proud of the awards they have received over the years, reflecting the unswerving dedication of their staff and volunteers.

I cannot help wondering how the late Revd Walter Hall would have reacted if anybody had suggested to him, back in 1943, that the care home he founded in Wallington, Surrey, was but a mere mustard seed. Three-quarters of a century later it was to become an ever-growing tree: one of the largest charities in Britain, and still providing services to older people.

But instead of looking after just a handful of senior citizens, by 2018 the number had risen dramatically! And now, in 2019, MHA is a charity providing high quality residential care, housing and support services for more than eighteen thousand (18,000) older people throughout Great Britain.

No, Walter Hall could never have envisaged growth like that! Fortunately, his original vision lives on regardless of the major social changes that have been encountered. His original care home, named Ryelands, has been rebuilt and is still going from strength to strength in Wallington. And its Founder’s name is memorialised in another MHA Care Home christened Hall Grange located not too far from Wallington, in Shirley, on the perimeter of Croydon.

All are welcome

Because MHA Care Homes was an innovation from a Methodist minister, the founding residents are believed to have been Christians following a Methodist tradition of worship. Probably because of that fact, I came across some people recently who were of the impression that only Methodists are welcome.

Fortunately, I was in a position to assure these friends that MHA is a fully registered charitable body, whose services are available to all. With its declared aim to improve the quality of life for older people, MHA doors are open to all; irrespective of whether individuals practise any faith or not. Their clear message to people of all faiths or none is, without doubt, All are welcome.

As indicated above, the “All” who have currently been welcomed through MHA’s open doors is in the region of eighteen-thousand in round figures, which are always slightly variable as some leave and others come. As far as I am aware, this information is correct as at early January, 2019. This figure of 18,000 is the sum of the many clients who embrace the three major segments of MHA care services:

  • 5,000 older people living as residents in MHA care homes; many of whom are receiving specialist dementia or nursing care.
  • ?2,500 senior citizens living independently in purpose-built retirement living communities complete with access to social and leisure facilities, together with the availability of flexible care lest any have a need for this service at any time.
  • 10,500 elderly persons living independently in their own homes with the support of local MHA Live at Home schemes, of which there is a growing number throughout the United Kingdom.

Providing the high standard of care and amenities for which Methodist Homes and other schemes are noted for requires, not surprisingly, considerable planning and hard work, much of which is not often apparent as it goes on behind the scenes. The charity’s trustees therefore rely heavily on the commitment and dedication of some seven thousand (7,000) regular staff, many of whom work in shifts to ensure there is no breakdown of care as this is a 24/7 calling that operates every single day of every year.

Supporting these staff is an army of some five thousand (5,000) enthusiastic volunteers who are equally dedicated to building the highest possible quality of life for their elders. Volunteers range from teenagers through to senior citizens; some retired from their working life. Every one of these friends entrust themselves to a regular period of volunteering, dependent upon their personal commitments. Thus, some volunteer to serve MHA services for an hour or two each month, with others covering longer periods of time up to several hours each week.

It is encouraging to note that every member of staff and every one of the volunteers fully sympathise with the mission and values of the MHA Care group. During my recent visits to various MHA care homes and schemes, I was reminded of that Marmite slogan, that you either love it or hate it! Without exception, the staff and volunteers I met obviously love their calling. They enjoy their part in lighting up the faces of older people with smiles from ear to ear.

Afternoon Tea

Boasting a great many care homes, live at home schemes, sheltered housing projects and retirement villages throughout the United Kingdom, MHA rightly claims to be a major care organisation. Most, if not all, of these homes and schemes organised their own local celebrations for their seventy-fifth anniversary year.

Needless to say, I was not in a position to visit every project, but from the information that reached my attention it is apparent that a wide variety of celebrations were initiated. Everything from coffee mornings to sales of home made cakes and preserves, from tea dances to afternoon tea.

During the summer, many of the care homes and, I suspect, at least some of the other schemes, organised a barbecue, and I heard that some enjoyed a summer fair. In last November and early December, some of the residential homes planned a seasonal Christmas Fair.

The one I attended took place on what turned out to be a rather wet day; the inclement weather not relenting at all. Nevertheless, despite a much lower turnout than anticipated, I experienced a brilliant atmosphere of fun for all. Items for sale included wonderfully designed Christmas cards hand made by many of the home’s residents, a good selection of homemade preserves and chutneys and a signature home-produced mulled wine produced by the volunteer coordinator (Hic!). Proceeds from the sale of these and other goods provide much needed funds to improve the home’s amenities.

One of the various benefits that makes MHA special is that every MHA care service is supported by a dedicated chaplain. As a contribution towards the organisation’s seventy-fifth anniversary, many chaplains arranged local services of thanksgiving and celebration. Chaplains also included special anniversary prayers and reflections in their respective annual MHA services. Most of these services took place on or around the second Sunday of June, which is generally regarded as MHA Sunday. However, as there is no obligation to arrange the MHA annual service at that time, a number of homes and other care projects held their services at other times.

Each of the MHA services is supported by their head office, which regularly emails informative newsletters and suggestions. From time to time, these include ideas for activities and interactive support. Not surprisingly, there was no shortage of outline plans for projects to undertake for their special year.

One of the more popular items was a cake decorating competition. Those who wished to participate were to obtain or bake a plain family sized cake. Then, create a decorative design suitable for a seventy-fifth anniversary celebration cake, and undertake the decoration accordingly.

Once completed, take photographs of the decorated cake and email these to the MHA Head Office located in Derbyshire. Winning entries were rewarded by the satisfaction of having a cake baked in Derby on which their decorative design was recreated as closely as humanly possible when using a submitted photograph as the blueprint.

A cake for thanksgiving

The premier event of the MHA seventy-fifth year celebrations was a special service of thanksgiving. This took place at Derby Cathedral, close to the MHA Head Office, on Saturday 13 October 2018. Specially composed by renowned organist and friend of MHA, Nigel Ogden, Fanfare for the Older Person, was the first item on the Order of Service.

On display were celebratory cakes displaying the winning designs from the decorating competition.

Revd Michaela A Youngson, current president of the Methodist Conference, was the guest preacher. In her reflection, she highlighted the dignity, care and love that MHA shows not just its residents and members but also its staff and volunteers. She commented, “My hope for MHA for the next 25 (and 75) years is that it continues to be a place where people feel at home, where people feel cared for and feel a sense of belonging; a place where God’s love is manifest.”

During the service, the Founder and original committee were remembered, as well as those whom MHA has cared for over the years. This was accentuated even before the service started, when guests were invited to add flowers to a floral memorial mark of respect that formed the figure 75 (seventy-five).

The order of service included an act of memorial, during which 12 (twelve) poppies were added to the floral display, indicative of the first residents to be cared for by MHA at The Ryelands home.

The service also provided an opportunity to celebrate the dedication of the staff, volunteers and supporters both today and throughout the history of the organisation.

For all our tomorrows

Even after seventy-five years, and being not only a major care organisation based on Christian principles, but also one of the largest registered charities within the UK, it seems that many people have not come across the MHA Care Group.

Greenford Methodist ChurchIn a concerted effort to remedy this situation during the past year, at selected venues around the UK, MHA staged a number of public events under the heading of For all our tomorrows. These informative events proved to be very well received, and will therefore continue for the foreseeable future.

Those attending these free events, which generally last no longer than an hour and a half, should expect a bird’s eye view of the main aspects of MHA homes and schemes.

The first event this year takes place next month, on Wednesday 13 February 2019, at Greenford Methodist Church, Ruislip Road, Greenford, UB6 7QN, commencing at 11.00am (refreshments served from 10.30am).

A complimentary lunch is provided following the event, so if you would like to reserve a place please call 01332 221651 or email catherine.roth@mha.org.uk.

Details of other dates will soon be available from: www.mha.org.uk/get-involved/all-our-tomorrows-events/.

Eric A. Thorn
Email: EricAThorn@msn.com