RESIDENTS at a care home near Carlisle have been given the joy of seeing their families again in person.

The Knells Country House has installed a temporary balcony area to make visits possible from a safe distance, meaning loved ones have been reunited for the first time in weeks.

Owner and manager Mandy Farrer recognised how much lockdown was beginning to affect residents, particularly those who received regular visits, and decided something had to be done.

“It was having an impact on some of them. We were noticing quite a decline in people’s mental wellbeing because of it,” she said.

In as little as two weeks the balcony has been designed and put in place ready for people to enjoy.

“It’s done what we hoped and more,” Mrs Farrer continued. “Not just for the residents but for the families as well.

“They can’t cuddle them or anything but at least they can just see them in the flesh. It lights up their days.

“The reaction has been absolutely amazing. Everybody has loved it.

“It has given the staff a huge boost. To see the residents and the families happy, then it makes the staff happy as well.”

Staff also set up a social buddy scheme and each paired up with a resident to help them get to grips with technology and keep in continuous contact with their families,

Residents have adapted well to FaceTime, Whatsapp videos and Zoom, with one woman even having her 101st birthday party on Zoom with her family.

Tight restrictions mean only one family group can visit at a time and the balcony area needs to be booked in advance.

The outdoor decking space, which has been constructed around an existing conservatory, opened last week.

Judith Taylor, 62, of Kirkbampton, jumped at the chance to visit her mother Christine Sturgess, 93, as soon as the balcony was opened.

“My mother was in her element. We can talk the hind legs off a donkey. We chatted for about two and a half hours and had tea and cake,” she said.

“My biggest fear, is that it’s the twilight years for her and I just want them to be happy times.

“She’s from a generation that are far more stoic than the rest of us because they remember the war. She remembers having to go on a blackout train to school on her own.

“The isolation, to a certain extent, they are more stoic about than we are but I don’t want that to be her memory.

“Having that balcony is just the next step of going back to normality.

“Mandy and all the staff have been fantastic. Nothing has been too much for them.”

Thankfully there have been no cases of coronavirus at The Knells, which cares for 22 residents.

The home was among the first to lock down and closed to visitors on March 11.

During the pandemic, Mrs Farrer has re-registered as a nurse, having retired in January 2019, to help reduce the number of visits required by district nurses.

While visits to the home from healthcare professionals have been limited, the risk posed by coronavirus could never completely be eliminated.

“It’s been quite nerve-wracking at times because you come and you don’t know what every day is going to bring,” said Mrs Farrer.

“There’s always been that worry. Although we’ve limited visits [from health professionals], you can’t stop them completely.

“We know we are not completely out of the woods. We still have to be alert and continue with the infection control policies in place and listen to advice from Public Health England.”