The Essex Charity behind Care Home FaNs
The My Home Life Essex Community Association is the charity behind the Friends and Neighbours (FaNs) initiative for care homes. FaNs was well and truly 'Made in Essex', but through the power of Social Media the idea of FaNs is being replicated nationally and now even internationally! We regularly get enquires about 'How to do FaNs' and we are keen to share our ideas and experiences to benefit older people living in residential care settings, wherever they live.
The MHLECA Management Board meets monthly but in a small organisation the volunteer Trustees are also 'hands on' with different areas of responsibility. We are a small, informal and friendly group, working on the basis of mutual respect and trust, and we all love what we do. Working to develop FaNs as a means to help older people in care homes remain meaningfully engaged with their wider community is a really positive experience. We are lucky to have a great 'Team FaNs' as well as all the amazing people in Essex and beyond who have embraced the idea of becoming FaNs to improve the quality of life for older people in Essex care homes.
History of My Home Life Essex Community Association (MHLECA) - where did we come from?
The My Home Life Essex Community Association (MHLECA) grew out of the Relatives and Residents Association (Essex) that was formed in 2008. Our original purpose was to offer free, confidential and expert advice and support to older people who were considering, seeking, looking to fund, moving into or living in residential care, and to their families. In 2010 we were registered as a Company Limited by Guarantee and we were able to appoint a Development Officer.
To extend our support to people living in care homes, we began to recruit, train and support a growing group of volunteers to visit and befriend existing residents. This became a 'Community Visitors' pilot scheme (funded by a grant from the Essex Community Foundation). At this time the county council had just stopped sending 'Lay Visitors' into the Essex care homes and we recognised how important it was for care home residents to continue to have contact with individuals who were not care home employees.
The care home sector often gets more attention when things go wrong, and many people working in care homes feel very undervalued for the tough job that they do. It was clear to us that the public, and particularly the local communities around care homes, could play a vital role in helping improve the quality of life enjoyed by residents. At the same time people in the wider community could gain a better understanding of and respect for the care home staff.
The national My Home Life movement had been established to improve the quality of life of everyone connected with care homes for older people and has become the recognised voice for the sector, promoting best practice through appreciative support and transformative action. This approach was adopted by Essex County Council to create a 'My Home Life Essex' movement and there was active encouragement to involve Essex care home managers . We liked the positive philosophy of working with the Care Home Managers to find out and focus on what already works well to further improve quality of life for residents. In 2012, in recognition of our identification with My Home Life Essex, we changed the name of our organisation to the My Home Life Essex Community Association (MHLECA) and in 2013 we were also registered as a Charity.
We developed a new partnership with Independent Age to provide the advice line service in line with our original role. We expanded our commitment to the well-being of care home residents (in partnership with Age UK Essex) with a 3 year Essex County Council grant funded project to develop community engagement opportunities to support Essex contracted care homes to use wider community resources with their residents. This developed into the wider Friends and Neighbours (FaNs) initiative which is the current focus of our charitable activities. Today we work with any interested Essex Care Home and help make connections between their residents and the individuals, groups or organisations who want to be FaNs.