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Sam Bright's keeping everyone's spirits up at Portadown care home during coronavirus crisis

Sam leads the way in keeping everyone's spirits up

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Muriel Jeannette aka JJ at Sandringham nusing home in Portadown,

Muriel Jeannette aka JJ at Sandringham nusing home in Portadown,

Muriel Jeannette aka JJ at Sandringham nusing home in Portadown,

AS Covid-19 continues to keep us all in lockdown not everyone is struggling.

Many, like the residents at Sandringham Nursing Home in Portadown are determined to carry on as normal. Safety measures such as isolation may have closed the door to family and friends but, with the support of staff, the lines of communication remain fully open.

From exchanging letters with local schoolchildren to an in-house radio service the elderly residents are being kept busy.

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Sam Bright with Muriel Jeannette aka JJ at Sandringham nusing home in Portadown,

Sam Bright with Muriel Jeannette aka JJ at Sandringham nusing home in Portadown,

Sam Bright with Muriel Jeannette aka JJ at Sandringham nusing home in Portadown,

Nursing homes here are being particularly hard-hit by coronavirus with at least 41 deaths reported at 23 other care homes and hospices across the province.

At Sandringham, where no cases of Covid-19 have been reported, the focus is on keeping everyone cheerful and introducing new activities for the residents.

The home's personal activity leader Sam Bright said: "It's my responsibility to make the people in my care feel valued, to give them a sense of wellbeing and, more importantly, make them feel loved. The whole point is to get to know people, introduce new experiences or activities that I think they'd like and make their day as good as it can be.

"Visits from friends and family are incredibly important. They help maintain a vital link with the outside world. But following coronavirus, safety issues have meant we've had to close our doors, effectively shutting down that connection and source of support.

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Sam with wife Christine and daughter Rebekah Rose

Sam with wife Christine and daughter Rebekah Rose

Sam with wife Christine and daughter Rebekah Rose

"Some of our residents have dementia and don't really know what's happening. Others who watch the news have grasped the situation and while they may not fully understand the implications of coronavirus, they accept it as some kind of nasty flu and agree wholeheartedly that friends and family need to stay away until its passed. To be honest there is no sense of panic at all. I mean, I'm driving to work and everywhere seems so gloomy and depressing. Yet, once in here, it's the opposite. Everyone is cheerful and the atmosphere is very calm.

"Sandringham has two lovely courtyards and, while residents can't go into town or visit the shops, they're not cooped up indoors all day."

The home bought wireless radios to do their own broadcasts called Radio Sandringham after hearing of studies which show how music can help people with dementia.

Sam explained: "Family can listen in on Facebook and are able to ring in and request a song for mum or dad. Jim Reeves is a favourite! My colleague Helen Gracey broadcasts in the morning, welcoming residents and any families that have tuned in. It's been a wonderful success.

"When the lockdown measures went into place, we had to start thinking outside the box. We already had the broadcast in place so we came up with the idea of, 'virtual visits' in which we arrange a Facetime or WhatsApp visit from friends or relatives. We had one man who'd been a cattle farmer prior to retirement and his sons arranged a virtual visit around the farm, showing him all the animals. He was delighted.

"Then another lady celebrated her birthday with family and friends singing to her on Skype. It really does your heart good to see it - the folk here at Sandringham are an inspiration to me."

One of the those who greatly appreciates Sam's efforts is 92-year-old, Muriel Jeannette aka JJ, who is now Secretary of the Letter Writing Project.

"I came over to Northern Ireland for a holiday in 2006 and loved it so much I decided to stay. At the time, I was living with my son in Scarva but I got fed up with the view, a man driving up and down on a tractor! So I moved, first to a flat in town then to a bungalow. Unfortunately, last year, I fell and broke my hip and that's when I came here," JJ revealed.

"I was very apprehensive about going into a home. But from the moment I walked through the door, everyone was so welcoming, it made me feel at home.

"I'm in charge of responding to letters. Schoolchildren have been writing, sharing all different things about their lives. One little lad told me he wanted to learn to knit and a little girl wrote about her cat called Roxy and a dog called Rosie. Another shared that she'd been a premature baby. I reply to them all."

When she isn't writing letters or listening to her favourite singers, Frank Sinatra and Bing Cosby, JJ is busy with her other passion, knitting.

"I learned to knit when I was three. My grandmother taught me to knit one, purl one. She had a little saying to help me remember - one over the doorstep, one under the doorstep! Now, I knit little hats for premature babies.

"I had four children myself but I lost two. I lost my little boy to gastroenteritis and then my 13-year-old daughter to bronchial pneumonia.

"I have two sons, one is 72, the other 64 and I have a wonderful daughter-in-law, from Tandragee. So I consider myself trebly blessed."

And she remains optimistic about life after Covid-19 saying: "You gotta go through the bad to get to the good, it'll pass."

Belfast Telegraph