If you work with Sydneysiders, you better like coffee and cake…

My time in Sydney is almost at an end.  I have an hour or so this morning to blog something then I’m off out again to visit University of New South Wales to look at the work they are doing around developing an eLearning resource specifically for those supporting LGBTI people who present with BPSD (Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia).   I cannot thank everyone enough for their time, generosity and positivity.  I’m really looking forward to spending time with UNSW today.


I arrived in Sydney a bit later than expected due to a flight cancellation.  I had no time to suss out the neighbourhood and only had time to let my lovely partner know I had arrived safely (he worries about it…) before crashing out in bed.  The next day saw me visiting by Carrie Hayter who runs her own consultancy business and Samantha Edmonds from the National LGBTI Health Alliance.  Both insisted that we chat in one of the million cafes in Newtown.  My chai addiction is now totally out of control 😉


Carrie is just fabulous company and knows everyone!  She has provided me with such great contacts which I can follow up with when I’m at home.  She even suggested that we put together a symposium at a conference in 2019.  I’m saving for my return ticket already.  Carrie is the Vice President of the NSW branch of the LGBTI Ageing Interest group and works closely with the Australian Association of Gerontology and was able to give me a great insight into the current political landscape in terms of aged care.  She has such a vast amount of experience in the care sector generally that knowledge and wisdom just flows out of her.  I very much hope that we get to work together on something in the future.  She’s just fab.


Then off to meet with Sam at another café.  Very grateful to have this meeting as Sam was only in Sydney for a few hours before jetting off somewhere else.  Even with suitcase in tow, she found the time to chat with me.  Sam is leading on the Silver Rainbows project, an LGBTI inclusive aged care initiative.  We talked about the political and legislative changes which have enabled this project to continue and the challenges of changing attitudes through training a large workforce.  I am beginning to get a much firmer grasp on what needs to be in place to achieve inclusive care.  Government backing, funding, project leads, fair representation of those who are being supported, accreditation, ongoing change.  It’s a challenge but do-able – hopefully in my lifetime.  My head spinning with new information, grand plans and hopes to make a difference I took myself out to dinner and headed back to my hotel for an early night as I had a very early start the next day.


The following day, bright and early I headed off out for a day at Uniting.  Uniting are a very large faith based care provider.  They were one of the first organisation – and I believe the largest to date – who obtained their Rainbow Tick Accreditation.  The wonderful Fleur was my chaperone for the day and had worked out an amazing timetable of events – I was glad to see that we ended up in a bar at the end of the day!


During the course of the day I met some fabulous people who talked with such passion about inclusive care and answered all my questions fully.  Probably the highlight of my day was meeting with Bernette who talked about how supported she felt living in a Uniting home.  Bernette took us to a local Portuguese café where we enjoyed a delicious lunch whilst she told me about her history as one of the 78ers and how proud she was to have been able to attend the Mardi Gras recently – photographic evidence of which hangs pride of place in her residential facility.


On my whistle stop tour I met with Tony who is responsible for training who talked me through the training packages which were being rolled out prior to the Rainbow Tick and continue to be included in induction, online and as refreshers throughout the work force.  I met with staff who were responsible for managing packages of care and heard their anecdotal evidence of people who had previously had bad experiences with care providers but who now felt welcome, included and celebrated.  I had long conversations with staff about how inclusive care for the LGBTI+ community was embedded within a faith based organisation.  It was a fascinating and exhausting day.


Further updates on this amazing adventure to come.  Must dash I’ve got a bus to catch 🙂

Week 2 – Melbourne


This past week has been full on but brilliant.  I have had back to back appointments with some lovely people.  My contact at Hepburn Health was unfortunately off sick, but her colleagues made sure I was accommodated.  Then a day spent with Pam Kennedy as she delivered the fourth session in the How To… programme which is a precursor to the Rainbow Tick.  Pam then let me spend the morning with her the following day so she could talk me through the Rainbow Tick Accreditation process before I headed off the the Matrix Guild in the afternoon.  Matrix Guild are an organisation who champion the rights and needs of older lesbians.  We had an interesting discussion about TERF wars which warrants a blog of its own.  Below is a photo of the How To… gang :)\



I had a bit of a gap on Thursday morning so spent some time in the State Library.  The idea was that I would start writing stuff up but in fact the building is so beautiful, I ate my lunch outside whilst listening to a rather good busker.  The inside is just as lovely so you end up spending too much time looking at the exhibitions and art installations than writing up.  I can’t wait to go back if I have time.  Although time is something I seem to be constantly short of so I doubt I’ll get to visit again.


Friday was a long but fabulous day spent with Lifeview in Chelsea, a coastal suburb of Melbourne.  I still cannot get to grips with space here.  An organisation can be ‘in Melbourne’ but also be a 2+ hour trip away.  (I equally cannot get Australian’s to understand ‘small town’.  When I was in Adelaide my family were saying things like ‘well, Adelaide is small because it has a population of 2 million’.  I live in a small town with a population of 15000.  On this point, we are never going to understand each other J).  Travelling to Chelsea was a bit of a trek from where I am staying but I LOVE the trains here.  For a start they are clean, cheap and unless you are in super peak times you can get a seat.  I also love the stations, they stop at sleepy suburbs with wooden houses with stoops which are decorated with lattice metalwork which reminds me of some bygone era.  They just invite you to enjoy a glass of something whilst sunning yourself and watch the world go by. It’s hard to feel stressed here.

But trek to Chelsea I did and was greeted by a beautiful neighbourhood, the station was a spit from the beach and I was early for my appointment so spent some time dipping my toes into warm sea and getting sandy feet.  It wasn’t a bad start to the day by any means and I couldn’t help but wonder how quickly someone would step in if I was toe dipping in the North Sea in September…  I wrenched myself away from this gorgeousness and headed to Lifeview.


I was made so welcome from the moment I walked in.  Lifeview have 4 homes across Melbourne, Chelsea being the smallest with 45 beds.  They operate a Home 2 Home model of care and whilst I was predominantly there to see Rainbow Tick in practice, I was so glad to bear witness to their Home 2 Home model.  The Home 2 Home model moves away from what the Lifeview staff refer to as the Hotel model, where residents are waiting on hand and foot.  Here, the ethos is different.  The Chelsea home is divided into three neighbourhoods with about 15 residents in each. Residents are welcome to visit the other neighbourhoods if they wish.  Each neighbourhood has 2 ‘housemates’ who are paid staff.

Lifeview has previously had a more traditional model of care with PCA’s and nursing staff providing care to the residents.  Lots of work was done to ‘untrain’ these staff when moving from traditional to Home 2 Home.  Housemates were recruited not only from existing nursing and PCA staff but was also offered to housekeepers and hospitality staff too.  I like this idea.  From my observations in various institutions, it seems to me that it’s the person who collects the laundry or takes the menu that has the most conversational time for residents so why not enable them to work more closely with them.  There was some concern that people were not qualified within the organisation at this time, but I would argue you can’t teach someone to be respectful, considerate, empathetic.  For sure there was a period of stress and concern during the early phases of transition to the new model of care but this was short lived and managed well by all accounts. In the run up to changing the model of care, Lifeview observed the numbers of  different staff who came into contact with residents in an intimate space over a 24 hour period.  They found their was the potential for 19 different staff to attend the personal care of each resident.  The average was 10 different members of staff.  Bear in mind this is just personal care support, if you include all interactions the number of different staff would be much, much higher.  This result was a driver behind the more relational care model that Home 2 Home offers.

The residents equally felt unsure of this new model.  They liked being waited on and having things done for them and were reluctant about changing this.  Spending time with everyone on Friday made me think that the model seemed to be working pretty well.  What I saw looked a lot like friendship between residents and staff.  There was lots of laughter, probably helped a little by Happy Hour when the drinks trolley comes out and an entertainer is brought in, lots of hugs and more than a dollop of silliness.  If the time comes, I would want to stay somewhere like this please!

The management reported that the incidence of falls had fallen as had the incidence of infections since the new model of care was introduced.  I asked about staff retention which is often cited as an issue in the UK when we talk about training needs in care homes. I think I’m right in saying that their staff turnover used to be 21% and had dropped to 3% since the new model (don’t quote me on that, that’s from memory I’ll have to listen to the recording again).  I also interviewed a staff member who said she had always worked in aged care and was now dedicated to Lifeview and the Home 2 Home model.

I’m interested in resident experience too, so after a brief tour I was invited to join the Marigold Circle.  The Marigold Circle is a small group (photo to come!) who meet fortnightly to talk about LGBTI+ issues.  They have a different topic every week and is hosted by the what would be called Activities Co-Ordinator at home, I guess.  This particular Marigold Circle had been put on just for me because my availability didn’t fit with their usual schedule.  I felt very honoured and a little but humble that the residents would accommodate me like this.  The topic for this week is the postal vote about same sex marriage.  To be honest, it’s pretty much the topic wherever I go in Australia 🙂  The discussion is facilitated by the use of statements which are then discussed by the table – things like ‘If we legalise same sex marriage, children will grow up gay’ (the use of children’s wellbeing in this debate is a particularly underhanded tactic being adopted by the No campaign) or ‘Will churches be forced to conduct same sex marriage services’. You get the idea.  It was great to be part of this discussion and to hear other people’s experiences and opinions.  The upshot is that the Marigold Circle will be posting a resounding Yes in the campaign.  The Circle is open to all residents regardless of sexual orientation.  Staff told me that the motivation for some was to enjoy a forum where they could openly talk about their gay son or lesbian daughter as well as their own relationships.

For this particular Marigold Circle – and I suspect because I was visiting – they had a special guest from another Lifeview home.  As an openly gay man, he contributed to the discussion and was bloody good company.  I was lucky enough to interview him about his life and I hope to see him again at the 3rd LGBTI Conference we are both attending in a couple of weeks.

I was then invited to have lunch with the residents.  All staff eat lunch with the residents.  I’m just going to say that again – All staff eat lunch with the residents.  Apologies for my excitement about this, but it reminds me of the all too short stint I had working for my local hospital.  One of the initiatives which I was trying to instigate was around helping patients with dementia to eat more/better.  I suggested that staff eat with patients but this was met with several barriers, including no space for tables, infection control, too busy, etc. etc.  I was therefore delighted to see this in practice.

Under the Home 2 Home model, residents choose the food they would like to eat.  There is a kind of working group who meet with the chef regularly and discuss what sorts of things they would like.  Chelsea opted for fish and chips on a Friday and I have to say it was pretty darn good.  Chunky chips with homemade coleslaw and crispy battered fish – made me homesick but happy.  Staff told me that one of the residents had asked for sardines on toast one week as he used to enjoy this as a kid.  Before they knew it half the residents were asking for the same, so sardines on toast is now a regular feature on the menu.  I’m guessing from a budget point of view this works pretty well too!  The assumption that when you give people the choice they will always try to screw you for something expensive certainly wasn’t played out here.

The residents are expected to help around the home as much as possible, so place mats are cleared, dishes put away, and tables wiped.  Residents who I would probably see being fed in a UK care home, were encouraged to feed themselves even if they got a bit messy.  I sat next to a lovely man who had some difficulty with communication and coordination but winked and smiled at me throughout lunch which he fed himself.  Conversation over lunch was about how everyone was feeling, telling me about the various adventures they had in the home – including one about Joan (80+) dressing up in a sequinned thong bikini, she advised me never to dare her to do anything, because, and I quote “I bloody well will” – and what they were looking forward to.  Mostly they were looking forward to a bit of a post lunch snooze so they would be suitably rested for happy hour.

I was invited to join in for Happy Hour which mostly involved drinking wine and beer and having a pretty good time.  This week’s turn was a guy singing country songs in a cowboy hat.  Some weeks he leaves the hat behind and channels Tom Jones, but this week it was all Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash.  Watching the two centenarians in the room busting their moves was a joy.   One thing that struck me was that, yes there were several walkers some with oxygen tanks but that was about it for ‘equipment’.  There were no drug trolleys, no hoists looming over people.  This place feels like home.


As the rhinestone cowboy was packing his guitar away, one of the residents, Vince, was invited to sing to us.  Staff told me that this particular gent had been an entertainer in his youth – he claimed rock and roll ruined his career – but he had not sung in 50 years when he arrived at the Chelsea home.  With staff encouragement, he had slowly built up the confidence to sing again and to sing in front of the other residents.  We were treated to a rendition of Moonlight Becomes You which had me welling up because it reminded me of my children who I love to the moon and back – God I miss them.   Vince went to sit back in his chair but was asked if he would do another number, he didn’t take much convincing to then sing You’re Young at Heart which reminded me of the best boyfriend in the world who I adore.  Goodness knows how I kept myself together, I’m at a very funny age…


After Vince’s wonderful singing a call goes out over a tannoy ‘Can all available staff come to the dining room. Can all available staff come to the dining room.’  I’m on alert a bit as this kind of announcement would normally indicate some sort of crisis.  Here though it alerts staff to the fact that its dance time.  The corporate song ‘We are Family’ is cranked up and all available staff get their groove on, soon to be joined by residents.  It was pretty cool.


Not all residents enjoyed the hullaballoo so made their leave and inhabited quieter spaces for a while.  Vince the lovely crooner showed us a montage of photos from a recent masquerade ball which Lifeview had hosted.  He had edited it all together on his computer and put some soft jazz over the top.  Another resident, hearing the music came back to the dining room to dance and tell us this was ‘real music’.  She also told us her husband used to host a radio show back in the day.  Staff noted this and promised to find out more.

What struck me too was that those residents living with dementia were included in the population.  As I was leaving at around 4pm, most residents were chilling in their rooms, snoozing off the effects of Happy Hour and more time and attention could be focused on those with dementia who were still pretty active.  All was calm.  It was a pretty awesome day/week.

There is so much more I could write. About the numerous hugs from a member of the Marigold Circle, the relational care, the inclusive care of the LGBTI community, the five ways you can make my day, the drunken pig roast story and the big plans moving forward but I really need to write those presentations I’m expected to deliver in a few days whilst I’ve still got full wi-fi access to email them to the various organisations.

I’m jetting off to Sydney next week and have just looked at the reviews for the only motel I could get short notice.  I always tell myself not to read reviews after making the booking, but I always do.  It’s a mixed bag to be honest and reminds me of the time I spent in Hebden Bridge the first time I ever travelled alone.  I was in my room writing up notes from the days training I had had, when a man unlocked my hotel room door and walked in with a pint of lager in his hand.  We were both a little startled but being British, he simply apologised and left and I carried on working.  I slept with a chair wedged under the door handle and only mentioned it to staff when I checked out the next day.  Apparently, they have two keys for each room and their had been some mix up.  Luckily it wasn’t the middle of the night as I have visions of waking up to a man getting into bed a la British sit com.  So, I look forward to my slightly dodgy motel in Sydney and just hope I have a chair to wedge in my room 🙂  Every day is an adventure.


There are two kinds of time…

heart clockIt strikes me that there are two kinds of time when you travel. There is emotional time and actual time. When you plan an awfully big adventure like a Churchill Fellowship you think in emotional time. You think that a month away from your children, the love of your life, your mum and all your friends seems like far too long. You appreciate that those you love have encouraged you and promised you that it will fly by and you will soon be home. My family told me to rest, to use this adventure as a time to just go where I wanted to go, to totally please myself, to eat out and treat myself and not worry about the caring responsibilities which I worked so hard to make sure were covered before I left.

Then there is real time. The actual hours you have whilst you are away to gather all the knowledge, experience and wisdom that a Churchill Fellowship awards you. I listened to the advice not to over book myself, but felt guilty that I had gaps in my week.  On arrival, those gaps were quickly filled and now, not even half way through this amazing trip, I already don’t have enough time to do all the things, to meet all the people, to read all the words, to hear all the stories.   This trip has opened my eyes to the world.  It has made me realise that I am much less interested in space as I am in people. The sights have been nice, but it’s the people who have enriched and changed my world view.  I can only see and do so much whilst I am here, but this experience has caused a curiosity about the world and a need to know and go further and further which I hope never ends 🙂 (sorry kids, I will come home soon xxx)

Out and About in Melbourne


Today was an orienteering kind of day.  I was sussing out where the nearest station was and armed with my Myki card, I figured out (with more than a little help from the lovely people I am staying with) how to navigate the city.


It was blowy today in Melbourne.  They are not kidding when they say you can experience four seasons in one day.  The advice for Melbourne visitors in Spring is layer up.  I spent most of the day layering up and then shedding layers.  For a woman of a certain age who can’t quite regulate her own temperature this was practically moment by moment dressing and undressing.  I stopped for a while and dumped my bags on a nearby bench, maps went flying and a lovely woman who was sitting on the bench offered to hold my papers while I sorted myself out.


I’d like to introduce you to this wonderful person.  She allowed me to take a photo :


This is Mary, she is 87 and was just heading off to her Philosophy class.  We talked for a while and I explained my interest in dementia and how I was travelling on a Fellowship to find out more about inclusive care.  Mary told me that she kept dementia at bay by joining new classes, that she had never studied philosophy before so thought she would give it a go.  She also volunteered at the local court and supported students to attend murder trials at Supreme Court.  She had a career in teaching and loved to keep her hand in, but felt that she might give this up later in the year as at 87 she ‘figured she’d had a good run at it’.


We talked about how travel broadens your horizons and gives you a greater understanding of the world.  I will just leave that thought there for anyone who might be thinking of applying for a Churchill Fellowship J

And so the adventure begins…

I’ve made it safely to Doha airport and am just waiting for my connection to take me onto Adelaide.  I’ll not lie, saying goodbye to my family this morning was hellish.  I had managed to keep myself pretty much together until the best boyfriend in the world hugged me and I was undone by his affection.  I sobbed through the security checks, being ignored by fellow passengers and cared for by the excellent Qatar airlines staff.  I was ok wandering around duty free wishing I knew more about perfume, but eventually had to turn off my phone as the Facebook messages and texts were reducing me to tears.  I definitely felt the love J


I’ve never been on a ‘big’ plane and loved it the moment I boarded.  I would describe myself as a nervous flyer usually all that went out the window when I got on board – it was just like the movies!  I hadn’t even realised we had taken off as I was already plugged into Guardians of the Galaxy 2.  Cried a bit watching a movie called Going in Style but I’m at a very funny age….  Even managed to doze off a bit in front of some BBC documentary about extraordinary hotels, just like I do at home.


I’m now sitting in Doha airport waiting for my connecting flight to Adelaide.  This place is amazing.  I feel like I’m in a Bond villains lair – it’s fabulous.  There is a small white train which runs through the centre on a raised track which is all very sci-fi.  Having been sat for seven hours on a plane, I ventured off to walk a bit.  It’s a different world to the one I’m used to J  I shop in Lidl and Morrisons mostly but here I have the choice of Harrods, Polo, Swarovski and weirdly WH Smith.  The airport smells vaguely of expensive cigars and languages are being spoken loudly which I cannot identify.  People sound a bit aggressive to my European ear but all are friendly.  This really is an awfully big adventure for someone who grew up in a village and still thinks going to London is intrepid.