‘Please disturb’ - tackling loneliness in a retirement living community

Sara Keetley
Sara Keetley
Operations Director, Sanctuary Retirement Living
Please disturb 3

According to the latest stats from Age UK, 1.9 million older people in the UK often feel ignored or invisible. Research indicates that loneliness can lead to depression, sleep problems, psychological stress and mental health problems. It has even been described as being as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Sanctuary’s retirement living communities give older people access to shared facilities and organised activities. Staff work hard to identify those who feel lonely, knowing that some residents thrive on activity and others prefer the privacy of their own flats.

1.9 million older people in the UK often feel ignored or invisibleSanctuary Retirement Living’s approach recognises that everyone is different and uses creative ways to promote wellbeing and inclusion among its 30 services nationwide. A new campaign called Your Home Your Life has been launched to implement the organisation’s vision to provide accommodation and services that support more than 1500 older people to maintain independence for longer and live healthy and fulfilling lives.

For example, St Bartholomew’s Court - a Sanctuary Retirement Living community for over 60s in Rye, East Sussex - is leading by example with the new campaign. Introducing an experimental on-site health hub, a therapy dog in training, visits from local schoolchildren and a door sign system to combat loneliness, they are setting out to prove that increasing connections can boost health.

It’s not just the usual activities such as gardening, film club, knit and natter, armchair exercise class and a walking group that are on offer. Loneliness Champions and Wellbeing and Inclusion Assistants work hard to check on residents in appropriate and subtle ways, without invading privacy or encouraging anyone to take part in an activity that they don’t want to do.

Residents have received ‘Please Disturb’ door signs, designed to be displayed on their door when they would like company. Sometimes, just a quick chat with a neighbour can brighten up a resident’s day - even if it’s just to sit quietly and watch television together. 

Namesake dog, Barty, was introduced to the animal lovers of St Bartholomew’s Court at just eight-weeks-old. He will be registered as a Pets As Therapy dog when he is two-years-old, but the pup is already a hit with residents, including those with dementia and those who have had pets in the past but are no longer able to manage one.  

Barty spends each day between communal lounges, on walks with residents or visiting people in their flats for one-to-one quiet time. 

Resident Richard Carey said:

“It’s good to spend time with a well-behaved dog. My family have suggested that I get a dog but I don’t feel I need one with Barty around.”

Resident Brenda Brown added:

“Seeing Barty reminds me of when I had dogs of my own and that makes me happy.”

There’s a buzz when the children visit from St Michael’s CE Primary School in Playden. Together, the two generations enjoy the gardens, music and craft together, or simply chat and form friendships.

Katalina Ross, Retirement Living Manager, said:

“Just a short, simple interaction can make the world of difference to those who do not have visits from grandchildren or great-grandchildren.”

Resident Maureen Wearing added:

“Seeing their smiling faces makes me feel young again.”

And for the children, including those who don’t have older relatives, the visits are so popular they are selected based on good behaviour at school. Some of the more reserved children have reportedly gained confidence from the insight into older people’s lives.

Senior teacher Claire Harwood commented:

“It’s a perfect way for our school to be part of the community. Our visits are another way of upholding our values and showing the children what they mean in real life, rather than the abstract.”

Sometimes, residents who struggle to get out in the community can miss visits to the GP. Therefore, as well as holding dementia awareness events throughout the year, St Bartholomew’s Court has launched a monthly on-site clinic called the ‘Health Hub’.

With an aim to identify health issues before they develop into more serious problems or chronic conditions, trained staff offer residents health checks from the comfort of their communal lounge.  

Resident Jane Brown said:

“I like the Health Hub, it gives me a chance to get checked over and if my blood pressure is high I am advised to seek my doctor’s advice.”

Resident Faith Burgess added:

“I really appreciate the Health Hub service the team provide. We are so privileged to have such a good opportunity here.”

Through reconnecting with animals, singing with children, building relationships with neighbours and getting regular health checks, both mental and physical health are improving among residents at St Bartholomew’s Court.

As an organisation, Sanctuary Retirement Living focuses on the long-term approach when promoting social inclusion and wellbeing.

Our aim is to embed a culture where residents are comfortable with staff and each other, feel part of the community and connected with society, while continuing to live happy and fulfilling lives.


Posted on by Katey Twyford

I love the idea of the 'please disturb' sign. Are they getting much use Sara?

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