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This blog is the final piece in a series responding to the RSA's work on Reimagining the care home.

Through my work with the National Care Forum, I see vibrant communities of people living in care homes across the U.K. But people outside of the care sector often perceive things through a different and, in my view, tainted lens. Care homes are seen as unpleasant institutions that people ‘end up’ or are ‘put in’. Those outside of care homes often tend to see health conditions and buildings, but not people.

If you think of the words ‘care’ and ‘home’ separately, a range of warm images and feelings will ordinarily come to mind. However, too often when these words appear together as ‘care home’, negative connotations emerge and we lose sight of the individual person and see an anonymous cohort of people who are typically age 85+; have four or more long term conditions; may have a degree of cognitive impairment; and need end of life care.

Typically, though not exclusively, care home residents are older, and they have lived varied and fulfilling lives. They have made significant contributions to our society, have had unique life experiences, and still desire to live, love and laugh. First and foremost, they are people who have the rest of their lives to live.

I cannot do justice to all the innovation that National Care Forum members are engaged in to recognize this, but I can give a flavor:

  • WCS Care in Warwickshire have launched an innovation hub which enables the sharing of new technology and emerging best practice in order to transform care and improve the lives of their residents. As part of this, WCS have partnered with researchers from Coventry University to evaluate how the use of technology acts as an enabler to the care and support provided by staff.

  • Somerset Care were involved in Ages 2.0, an international research project with the University of Exeter. The study examined the affect that social media can have in helping to alleviate loneliness in older people, with positive results widely reported in the national media including The Guardian, Daily Mail, and Western Daily Press.

  • St Monica Care Trust is all about community and building relationships including across the generations. The Trust plans daily activities for elderly residents and local preschool children and has become the subject of Channel 4 series ‘Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds.

And these examples are not exceptions - nearly 80% of care providers are rated as good or outstanding by the Care Quality Commission.

We need to build a consensus for changing perceptions, to be a force for change and understand the important place that care homes have in our communities. A great opportunity to start this journey is coming up – with Care Home Open Day held this year on the 21st April.

I encourage readers to explore that which you do not know: to visit, to be inquisitive, to have an open mind. You will then discover that care homes are places where people live and have fun and laugh, as well as receiving highly skilled care for their complex care needs. Start challenging your perceptions now.

The RSA’s Health as a Social Movement programme and Health and Care Fellow Network provides a platform to explore and question together to create a future that we are part of and can positively influence.

Sharon Blackburn CBE, RGN RMN. FRSA is Policy and Communications Director at the National Care Forum

The National Care Forum (NCF) is a member organisation for not-for-profit care and support providers operating across the UK. NCF is linked to The Global Ageing Network and CommonAge, enabling shared learning and collaboration across the globe.

Read more about the RSA's work on Reimagining the Care Home in this blog by Research Assistant Becca Antink

Read more about the RSA's work on Health as a social movement

Read the the previous blogs in this series including Sara McKee on 'Choosing a positive future for ageing' and Steve Acklam on 'Choosing the right care home.'

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