ON FRIDAY March 20, Fife Day Care Services was running a thriving, busy club, full of laughter.

While there was much speculation about an impending lockdown, when it was finally announced Carol Reddington, like many, hoped it would only last around 12 weeks.

Lockdown meant the closure of the day centre in Cowdenbeath popular with over 65s in the area.

“I suppose we were all a bit naïve to begin with and thought we might be back in the centre three months later. I remember thinking ‘how are we going to help people for 12 weeks’, and now it has ended up being nearer nine months,” said Mrs Reddington.

With more than 30 years in her field, she was heartbroken to have to pull the shutters down on the club. How they adapted and the plans they put in place to help people feel connected is why their work is being highlighted through The Herald’s Tackling Loneliness series.

“We knew this was going to be hard on our pensioners and their families as well and we thought what on earth are we going to do,” added Mrs Reddington. “We thought of the idea of a befriending scheme where people would get a phone call from us. However, through the phone calls it became apparent to us very early on that people were becoming anxious and bored and really missed the social interaction so we came up with the idea of activity packs.”

They applied for funding to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and Age Scotland and were successful in securing more than £9000.

Mrs Reddington added: “We developed the activity pack idea and began dropping them off, albeit socially distanced, at our service users' homes. Even a short visit once a week made such a difference and the feedback on how it made people feel was immense.

“From art colouring therapy, to jigsaws and arts we put together what we could. We were also able to buy a couple of laptops and printers and began putting together information packs as well. With the loss of social contact at the centre and the activities that we do, including some which are aimed at helping mobility, we knew that some people were finding it difficult. We had information sheets with exercises people could do safely at home.”

One thing that has made a massive difference was being able to resume home visits with social distancing in place.

Mrs Reddington added: “It was recognised that we were providing an essential service so from around August we were able to resume visits. We noticed it made a huge difference to people and really lifted their spirits.

“I think in way lockdown affected pensioners more so than some of us who were working through it or occupied in other ways. Their social life was cut off and it was a real challenge for people so for us to be able to help people one to one again was very important.”

With a vaccine programme already under way Fife Day Care Services is already looking to the future and want to be ready when they are told they can reopen.

“We have to have hope and look forward to the day when we can welcome people back although it will be very different to what people were used to. We would usually have 20 people at a time, but when we can reopen it will have to be limited to 12 people and even then split into two groups of six.

“Everything has had to be carefully risk assessed even down to our meal prep and how the the meals are served. They will all be prepared and sealed.”

Before lockdown Fife Day Care Services had been working on community project with employees from Sky in Dunfermline.

“We had been working on a volunteer training programme and employees from Sky were due to come and work alongside us, but all of that had to be stopped,” added Mrs Reddington. “However they still wanted to help and put together Christmas goody bags for our pensioners. It was lovely gesture and it has brought a smile to the faces of many people knowing that others are thinking of them.”

One couple who have just received their gifts is Angus and Catherine Gilfillan, from Cowdenbeath. Mr Gilfillan, 76, lives with the dementia and was a weekly attender at the centre.

"I have really missed going to the club. It is so well run and I like to have a blether with everyone," he said. "They have done a great job in lockdown and have kept in touch regularly with phone calls. It was a lovely surprise to receive a gift bag as well."