When residents leave Wytham Hall it typically involves them moving out of the borough of Westminster. Westminster is seen as a very desirable borough and this is reflected in the rents asked for and in the type of housing on offer. As a result, any move on from Wytham Hall typically involves the loss of those networks that our residents may have developed during their stay with us. There are obvious changes such as the need to register with a new G.P., but equally significantly there is the loss of routine, the loss of being known in one’s local shop, the loss of that nice lady with the big dog that stops and chats for a few minutes, the loss of familiarity. I suspect that it can feel as though a rug has been pulled out from beneath them and that this is not an ideal state of affairs in which to retake up your independence.

Some years ago, we agreed to try and limit the negative impact of such a change by providing at least one stable area of continuity. Residents were informed that we would remain in place on a low-level basis for a period of 6 months. Ex-residents were encouraged to visit, even if only for a chat and to seek advice should they encounter a problem. We felt that this was an appropriate use of staff time and effort as there was little point in our efforts generally, if we were to stand back and idly watch as the efforts of all concerned came to nothing.

Over the years our approach to after care has continued to evolve and the 6 month time limit for ongoing support has now become somewhat open ended. Ex-residents frequently visit and/or we visit them, e-mails are exchanged and we have even taken ex-residents out for lunch on occasion.

Recently this brought to my mind the plate spinning acts that were once a regular feature of UK television. For those that don’t recall them, the act involved a sequence of plates being set spinning atop a number of flexible poles. As each new plate was added to the action, the performer monitored those already spinning and, when necessary, returned to an earlier plate to accelerate its rate of spin once more. Once all of the plates were spinning the performer would snatch each of them off in rapid succession and then take their bow.

It strikes me that our aftercare approach can be likened to the plate spinner returning to the faltering plate to set it spinning once more. One ex-resident recently wrote to say

‘Just a quick one to say a Big Thank you to you both for coming to visit my place yesterday and take me for Lunch, it meant a lot to me and was a Real treat. I went back home feeling Great, it was well worth the wait. Thanks again.’

The pay off for such efforts is not all one way. Spending time with our ‘success stories’ can provide a boost to morale and remind us that there is the potential for light at the end of the tunnel when we are struggling.

Yesterday, an ex-resident telephoned to cancel an arranged meet up for coffee as he had been offered some work that he could not afford to turn down. As he began to apologise for letting me down, I pointed out that when a resident is unavailable as a result of being “too busy” it is about as good as it gets for us, as it allows us the satisfaction of thinking “job done”.