Covid: Art project tells stories of lockdown in Wales' care homes

By India Pollock
BBC Wales social affairs correspondent

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media captionCare home residents on the "loneliness" of Covid

An art project has been launched to help people living in care homes across Wales share their stories of the Covid pandemic.

The Tell Me More project encouraged residents from several different homes to talk about what it was like to live in a care home during lockdown.

More than 1,600 care home residents in Wales have died with Covid, according to the ONS.

It is hoped a further 100 residents will be asked about their experiences.

The artists sketched portraits of residents in homes in Anglesey, Fishguard, Mold, Porthcawl and Port Talbot and then animated them to create a short film.

image captionMargaret Wilson has not seen her husband of 72 years for "some time" during the pandemic

Among those featured was 92-year-old Margaret Wilson, a retired nursing sister who lives in a care home on Anglesey.

She said: "I feel very lost and lonely at times. I haven't seen my husband and daughter for some while now.

image copyrightAge Cymru
image captionMargaret Wilson says she misses her family

"I see [my family] on Skype and that's a help. It's been a very strong virus and it's very difficult. It's been very difficult to cope with it all.

"They've taken good care of us here, it's been very strict at times, but I'm still here at 92 so I've been very well cared for, but I must admit, I miss my family."

Margaret Pullen, 86, has lived in a care home in Aberavon, Neath Port Talbot, for about four years.

She said she missed the company of others most of all.

"I was fed up with being in my room but there's nothing you can do about that. I was comfortable enough," she said.

"I had a radio and a telly. I was comfortable and there was a rota to have our meals.

"It was nice to go back into the dining room and see people I haven't seen for a while."

image captionMargaret Pullen said she misses the choir which used to be run in the care home

"I miss the company of people, I was fed up of being in my room. I think we all were," she added.

"We had trips before the pandemic and we've started some trips now. It's nice to be able to get out."

Ms Pullen said it has been lovely to see family again and that it had been nice to get out to the Brecon Beacons, Mumbles and Porthcawl and she says she enjoys the ice creams they always have on the trips.

But she said she misses the choir which used to be run in the care home.

image copyrightAge Cymru
image captionMargaret Pullen says nurses have not always had the respect they deserve

As a retired nurse, Ms Wilson said she sympathises with those who have worked through the pandemic.

"Nursing is not an easy job and they don't always get the respect they deserve," she said.

How many people died with Covid in care homes?

Care home residents have had to endure more than most during the pandemic.

According to the ONS, care home residents have accounted for 1,674 Covid deaths in Wales - 21% of the total number of fatalities.

In March and April 2020, at the start of the pandemic, there were 624 Covid-related deaths - a third of all deaths in care homes at that time.

January 2021 saw a further 419 deaths in Welsh care homes.

'We need to listen to care home residents'

The Older People's Commissioner for Wales and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have both shared significant concerns about the experiences of older people, particularly those in care homes, during the pandemic.

The Tell Me More project, which has been funded by Welsh government, has seen Age Cymru work with a group of artists to hold conversations with people in care homes.

Vicki Lloyd, Age Cymru's chief executive, said care home residents should be "really high up on the agenda" as more restrictions relax and society returns to some kind of normality.

"Care home residents have been particularly affected by the pandemic, they've been locked down longer than most of us, they've been isolated from their friends and family.

"For many they've only had window visits or not seen family and friends at all.

"It's important we listen and learn in terms of decision making, when we're setting policy and informing practices we really need to listen to what care home residents are saying."

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