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The value of a front door key

old key isolated on white back ground

I was fortunate last week to spend a few hours with a resident living in a housing with care complex. The scheme covered 8 floors and my new friend, I’ll call her Kay, had lived there for 31 years. We toured the scheme visiting an amazing array of art and cultural activities. In the process Kay told me a lot about her life. Although she was a little confused and repetitive she shared many memories that were clearly important to her. I learnt that she was one of 8 children but only 4 were ‘still around’. She was a spinster who had cared for her mother and then lived with her brother becoming his carer until he passed away after a long battle with cancer. His death was such a low point for her that she tried to take her own life, saved only by a chance visit of a neighbour. She was then offered a flat in this scheme and in her words ‘It changed my life’.

She said I feel safe here, everyone is friendly, there are things to do if you want them and I can go out when I like – not that I do now I’m more doddery!

I asked Kay “What was the most important thing to her?” Her first answer was her door key which made a lot of sense. She then said she has 2 lovely carers to help her wash and dress every morning. “I don’t know what I’d do without them. I don’t need much help really but I couldn’t cope without them”

I wonder if those carers know how much difference they make and how important they are to Kay. Sometimes just a little help can make a life worth living. With minimal support Kay has maintained her independence and her self- esteem. Just as important is a sense that she is in control of her life symbolised by her precious front door key.

One of the pieces of art work that we looked at was an installation in a small spare room. Residents had worked together with an artist to produce a sculpture of a variety of keys mounted by wires onto a disc that carried a number of small spotlights. In the darkened room the keys were enlarged onto the walls as shadows which really made them look powerful. The shadows were accompanied by a recording of various residents telling short stories they had written about keys. This was such an imaginative way to share the tenants’ thoughts and to promote reactions. It shows the value of employing professional artists to support older people to be expressive. They clearly got great pleasure from producing something that was meaningful to them.

I left Kay enjoying a cream tea and telling her friends what a great afternoon she had had – so had I.