In these turbulent times, Aspens and care organisations like us are being called upon more than ever to care for the most vulnerable in our communities. In the midst of great uncertainty, when none us of us knows what tomorrow will bring, things are even more overwhelming for people who have complex needs, are on the autistic spectrum or have learning disabilities.

That’s why our carers, who work extremely hard at the best of times, are pushing themselves to the limit at the moment to provide round-the-clock care for those who need it. This is a snapshot of #lifeinlockdown at Fern, one of Aspens’ residential homes just outside Tunbridge Wells, which is home to people on the autistic spectrum and with complex behaviours and those who care for them, from the perspectives of a resident and a carer.

Stephen’s story

Stephen, resident at Fern

Stephen lives at Aspens’ Fern and requires round-the-clock support.

He’s used to leading an active life, volunteering at Imago, taking Aspens produce from the day services gardens to sell at the local Farmers Market and being creative in the Aspens art studio, so his carers have had to get creative in finding new outlets for his energy and creativity! Stephen now divides his time between playing ping pong, cutting interesting pieces out of magazines, being a roving reporter in the house keeping people up to date with what’s happening and helping the Manager with shredding paper and other tasks when needed, which he likes because it means he’s being useful. Online deliveries are hard to get right now, of course, but when a slot can be booked he’s asked for ingredients to home-make some delicious marmalade for everyone in Fern to enjoy.

Like the other residents, Stephen is happiest of all when he receives a care package from his mum and dad, who aren’t allowed to visit him at the moment, under the rules of lockdown. He can speak to them on the phone, though, which is always a highlight and staff have set up an e-mail address so that he and his parents can write to each other.

Annette’s story

Annette, Service Manager at Fern

Annette is a Service Manager at Fern. She oversees its cares and residents and ensures everything runs as smoothly as possible. She speaks here about life in lockdown:

“In my years working in the care sector, I’ve never known anything like this. I don’t think any of us have.

I’m pleased to say that Coronavirus hasn’t hit Fern, as yet – but we know if could strike at any moment so we’ve put contingencies in place to be ready if it does. Staff bring their overnight bags with them when they come for their shift so that, if there’s an outbreak while they’re on site, they can go into isolation with the rest of us. We’ve set up extra beds and bought more everyday things like toiletries so people will have the essentials if, suddenly, they’re not able to return home for a while.

As I’m sure most people would say at the moment, it’s the not knowing that’s the worst. We’re adhering strictly to all the rules of lockdown but you can’t help but feel that it’s like a ticking time bomb. You’re waiting for it to explode all the time.

It’s particularly hard because a lot of our residents simply don’t understand the concept of social distancing. Their instinct is to speak to people and be friendly, so we have to keep explaining why they just can’t do that right now. Some people with complex behaviours live at Fern and, the more overwhelmed they feel, the more it heightens their anxiety and increases behaviours, which impact both themselves and staff.

We try to keep up morale however we can. We ask our residents’ parents and loved ones to send in care packages for them, if they can, filled with all their favourite things, anything from gingerbread-flavoured latte sachets to weekly TV mags. The longer this goes on, the more it affects our residents and our staff. But we’re all in this for the long-haul so we all need to find ways to cope with the new reality and keep spirits up and support each other.