Pen pals, pups and singing: Maria’s life in lockdown

Nick Bishop

Maria Francis lives at Greenhill House, our care home in Bath, and has been making new friends thanks to our pen pal scheme.

A female wheelchair in the garden surrounded by bunting

The pen pal scheme is a simple idea, providing people with another way to make connections during lockdown. People sign up to the scheme and are matched with a pen pal: it may be someone from a different service or project; or it may be a staff member.  At least fifty people are taking part in the scheme.

Maria tells us:

“I’ve got a pen friend now. I thought I’d give it a go and it’s great! She’s very friendly. She’s married. She has two children – a boy and a girl – and a dog.  I love dogs!!”

How the pen pal scheme works

Maria has been writing to Jen Sweeney, our Regional Fundraising Development Manager for the north of England. Jen said:

“I enjoy chatting, I was keen to get involved, and there’s a definite feelgood factor with the pen pal scheme. I’ve been finding out about Maria, her interests, her family. 

“Maria really likes animals, so I shared some pictures of my dog, Maisey, which she loved and said made her laugh – one with Maisey wearing a Leonard Cheshire bandana and a couple of Maisey before and after her summer grooming session!”

Maria reads messages and writes responses on her tablet, with help from Simon in Greenhill’s IT suite. Maria said:  

“It’s nice to get to know somebody different who lives in another place. I’m definitely going to stay in touch with her.”

Maria is feeling particularly upbeat after a lockdown karaoke session. She sang Amarillo alongside Team Leader Anita, who showed staff the way by performing through a protective face visor. “That song is a fun one for us to sing,” Maria enthuses. 

Challenges in lockdown

Greenhill House is a home for 38 disabled adults, many of whom have high support needs. Like all of our residential services, Greenhill had to stop non-essential visits before the rest of the UK went into lockdown, in order to protect residents and staff. Visits are now by appointment.

Maria acknowledges there are challenges at this time; she misses the usual family visits and the Boccia sessions (a Paralympic sport similar to boules; Greenhill House has a highly successful team). She recalls a great trip out in February to the Big Hearted Ball – “brilliant! I’d never been to a ball before” – and wonders when she will be in a position to do things like this again.

The February trip was arranged with former Bath mayor Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst, who also gave Greenhill their new karaoke machine when she heard people wanted more singing sessions during lockdown.

Maria remains positive. The tablet is proving useful for video calls with family. She talks enthusiastically about residents choosing theme days “where everyone dresses up” – she particularly enjoyed the ABBA day and the Scottish Day. 

She is surrounded by fellow residents she has known for years. Maria reflects:

“I like being with a group of people and chatting to my neighbour, Shara, who’s in the room next door. It’s a bit different because we have to stay two metres apart. But it’s still good. I have friends where I live too.”