Cups of tea, countless sandwiches and friendly faces were all present and plentiful at the north London care home I visited last Friday, during the annual National Care Home Open Day.

But with a sudden, long toot of a car horn, I witnessed something more unexpected.

Saying goodbye

“It’s Charlie!” shouted a staff member, and she and all her colleagues stopped what they were doing and rushed to the street outside. There, pulled up in front of the building, was a hearse, generously adorned with flowers, followed by a line of mourners’ cars.  The undertaker was bringing Charlie for a last visit to his last home.

Never could a visitor have been more welcome. Relatives were hugged and kissed; others were waved to. Everyone was acknowledged. “I should have worn my waterproof mascara,” said the manager as she blinked away tears. I asked her if this always happened when a resident died. “Especially when the staff are unable to go to the funeral,” she told me.

We went back inside and through to the garden, filled with families. A long wooden sign there read, ‘In memory of residents who had fulfilling lives here,’ and those staff I witnessed at work truly had a way of making every moment count. They had a gentle and sometimes cheeky easiness with the older people in their care. This was perhaps even more impressive than the hair salon (manicures and pedicures offered), and the weekly menu that regularly reflected the Irish background of many in the locality.

The right to a decent home

An undercover report by Channel Four’s Dispatches this week revealed poor practice at care homes. The staff I met were a true antidote to this: they clearly needed no reminder that, as a message on the wall proclaimed, ‘Our residents do not live in our workplace; we work in their home.’

The research carried out on care homes last year by Independent Age, Shining a Light on Care, highlighted the stark variation in quality and performance of homes across the country. Our work led to eight new ‘care home quality indicators’ for what good residential care looks like. These have been used by the London Borough of Camden and we hope they’ll soon be taken up by other local authorities.

Every older person has the right to a decent home and we’ll soon be launching a campaign to demand that standards are raised across the country. Watch out for it!