It was a glorious day – more like May than February. The garden was looking great in the South London sunshine, and the hens were strutting about their pen at the back of the scheme making those contented gentle clucking sounds that seem to promise really great eggs. While staff assembled in the lounge for their monthly team meeting, I fell into conversation in the corridor with one of the residents – a regular at consultation events. Martin is not always easy to please, and I thought he might bend my ear about something. I told him he was looking well.
“Ah” he said “Well, I’ve just been elected to the regional residents’ panel, so I’m just getting used to that. Catching up on the paperwork and everything. I need to take it seriously and support the staff – we have to recognise there’s always two sides and us residents won’t always get what we want.
“And” he added, beaming uncontrollably “I’ve also got a new partner, he’s a bit younger than me, so…”
“You’ve got a lot going on in your life!” I said – and the discussion passed on to the business the panel would be scrutinising, and how the sheltered housing service was developing.
On the train on the way home, I reflected on a successful team event, and also on that brief conversation at the start of the day. Two things really struck me. First off, how constructive Martin’s attitude had been to his role as a resident representative. In the past he’d been less than happy with changes we’d made in the service. I’d been held to account by him in a very uncomfortable residents’ meeting. But that was in the past. And as a volunteer in our resident governance structure, he recognised his role was to scrutinise, yes – but also understand the organisation and the reasons for sometimes unpopular decisions. That’s a brilliant attitude.
The second thing that struck me was how casually he mentioned his male partner. 50 years after Stonewall, in LGBT+ history month, there are still too many LGBT+ residents who feel unable to be fully themselves in their sheltered or extra care schemes. It’s the stuff of stand-up jokes how prejudiced older people can be. But it’s no joke if you feel alone and isolated in what should be a welcoming and supportive community. Every scheme should be like Martin’s, where who you love is no big deal.
By the way, some names and details have been changed but this is a true story. I’m wondering what comes in the next chapter?
Erosh is leading the way in connecting older people’s housing providers and sharing new ideas. We’re working on a good practice briefing on supporting LGBT+ residents. If you have a success story, let us know. We’d love you to join us and join the conversation.
Robin Deane is Optivo’s head of independent living.