As care homes across Manchester witnessed tragedy, these humble heroes battled a pandemic to keep residents alive

By Helena Vesty

Looking back on the last 18 months, many care home staff stand and marvel at how 'normal' working through a pandemic has become.

Only when it's pointed out do they consider how 'terrifying' it first was to don their uniforms and go to their jobs on a Monday morning in March of 2020, trying to hold their nerve as they cared for the most vulnerable.

But as Covid-19 took an insidious root within care homes in particular, the news awash with residents and staff alike whose lives had been claimed by the disease, many social care staff sacrificed seeing their families to keep their roster of patients safe.

READ MORE: The faces of Manchester's frontline fight against Covid-19 unmasked - meet some of the incredible nurses who saved thousands of lives

A year-and-a-half on, these workers reminisced about the day they learned they would be attending to residents suffering with a then-mysterious virus that was sweeping the nation.

In September, they received a 'long overdue' thank you, as the region's Hallé Orchestra performed a new piece celebrating their work through the pandemic, named Fanfare for Care.

The Hallé Orchestra played a new piece celebrating care workers (ASP)

The rousing musical piece brought tears to the eyes of some care home staff, who remember difficult moments as the Covid-19 death rate climbed, as well as the triumphs of getting people through the height of a pandemic.

These are their stories from the frontline.

Care homes up and down the country experienced severe loss due to Covid-19 (ASP)

Nicola Edwards

Left, Bernadette Callander and, right, Nicola Edwards (ASP)

Nicola Edwards is a member of the Manchester City Council care team, helping patients with reablement - whereby people have to relearn or regain some of the skills lost as a consequence of poor health, illness, impairment, or from going into hospital or residential care.

“It was terrifying, we were told that we would be going to attend to Covid-19 positive people," said Nicola.

“All we were seeing on the news was people in China dead on the street.

“It was really worrying, but you just had to get on with it.

“It was like you never finished work, you followed the same procedure at all times - avoiding contact with friends and family - your life became work to keep residents safe.

“But I just did my job, I found it a bit awkward when people started clapping at us. It was like when people sing ‘happy birthday’ at you!”

Anthony Petrou

Anthony Petrou (ASP)

“We were outside our comfort zone but we had to do this. Our staff are very experienced and wanted to help make a difference. People who were knowledgeable, trusted and capable," said Anthony - another member of the reablement review team.

“It was very difficult for staff. We had to follow the rules of lockdown and they were changing all the time. Staff found it hard to explain to residents and families that the normal way of visiting wasn’t available anymore.

“The staff did the best they could, they really went the extra mile in some very hard circumstances.

“We came together and we’re proud of that.”

Liz Woods

Liz Woods (ASP)

Liz Woods is the manager of the Ross Place Day Centre in Ardwick, where the orchestra came to play their piece for the first time.

She explained that, at first, day care centres found the changes wrought by the pandemic hard to keep up with.

Liz said: “Our work in adult social care day centres actually had to stop in line with government guidance but the staff who were able to work were redeployed into other areas.

“It was scary, I’ll be honest, we were all really quite frightened.”

Steph Butterworth

Steph Butterworth (ASP)

Steph Butterworth is the Director of Adult Social Care for Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council and on behalf of Greater Manchester Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.

She took a leading role in Greater Manchester's response to the pandemic.

“We were moving into a pandemic that none of us had experienced," Steph told the M.E.N.

“We were learning everyday what to do. It meant, for staff and residents, it was a scary time at the beginning - but we had to think of how we could keep people as safe as possible.

“People were really strong and resilient, they worked above and beyond, and gave a lot of themselves over to the job when they have families too.”

Jo Chilton

Jo Chilton (ASP)

“I started as a care manager all over Greater Manchester," explained Jo, the Programme Director for Adult Social Care Transformation within the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership.

"It’s not just the last 18 months, I have been waiting for someone to say thank you to care staff. There needs to be that parity of support people have had for the NHS for care home staff as well.”

Gillian France and Cathy Sutcliffe

Care workers Gillian France and Cathy Sutcliffe, along with residents they look after (ASP)

“We just didn’t know what to expect. We couldn’t go out and see the families, we weren’t allowed into people’s rooms, especially elderly years," said care workers Gillian and Cathy.

“I was driving to work, but I felt like the only one. All the roads were so eerily quiet. It felt surreal.

“Finding things for people to do, keeping people entertained in their own flats was difficult.

“And thankfully, we didn't have anybody with Covid in our flats, we were all really careful.

“There was a lot of anxiety at the time and I don’t even think I’ve thought about it. It was one of those things you had to get on with.

“That’s what we do, it’s your job. We’ve done it for a long time.”

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