The Tunbridge Wells-based care home, Birchwood House, and sister company Birchwood Care Services, operating in the community, have unveiled Birchwood Smiles – a new initiative to show the smiling faces of its staff behind their masks.

Every team member will now wear a lanyard around their neck, with a large picture of their smiling face on it. This will help them to engage with residents and clients, even when wearing full PPE.

“So much of caring is about making a human connection and we wanted to remind our clients that there’s always a smiling face behind the mask. If you smile at someone, nine times out of ten you’ll get a smile back, and what’s important to remember is sometimes we’re the only people our clients see in a day.” Commented Wendy Ryan, manager of Birchwood Care Services.

Ryan added: “For those who have dementia this is even more important. Continuity and routine are essential. A familiar face helps build rapport and trust. We want to create a positive, happy feeling for all clients.”

This simple gesture is already proving effective. Although there are hopes of a Covid-19 vaccine being rolled out soon and elderly people will be the first to receive it, Birchwood is preparing for PPE being a part of daily life for some time to come.

Birchwood has adapted its services throughout the pandemic, locking down Birchwood House early in 2020 and introducing family visits to Birchwood House in June, using a fully secure visiting area. Birchwood Care Services has adapted by significantly reducing staff interaction and making more use of video and telephone supervision .

Birchwood Care Services also held its first virtual Care Awards in 2020, to keep morale high and thank staff for their continued efforts. Categories included “Going over and above” and “Best compliments from clients”.

Keeping clients’ spirits up throughout has been a priority, with organised afternoon teas, a Harvest Hoedown, Halloween and Guy Fawkes celebrations for the elderly people Birchwood cares for.

Niral Patel, Birchwood’s owner, adds: “It’s our team’s smiling faces that so often get mentioned by residents, clients and their families. So, everyone loved the idea of Birchwood Smiles and quickly got behind it, and we’ve been able to roll it out across all of our staff.”