The care home that makes dreams come true: A video message from Cliff Richard, a spin in a Ferrari, and even a ‘royal’ visit. In these gloom-laden times, meet the miracle care worker whose residents couldn’t wish for more!
- Residents of Stratton Court, Gloucestershire saw wishes come true in lockdown
- Those at the retirement village placed hopes on white-painted branches of tree
- David Ible, the Activities Lead, helped Marjorie, 89, get message from her idol
With lockdown, loneliness and the lack of physical contact with loved ones, it’s hard to think of a less appealing place to live right now than one of our 18,000 care homes — as the Mail has been highlighting in our Christmas campaign.
But for the 30 or so residents of Stratton Court, life hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as it could be.
Yes, the regular happy hours in the glittery bar are temporarily on hold, and the cinema, beauty parlour, massage room and lounge are not open as usual.
But there is one thing that has been perking everyone up: the small, spindly tree perched on the counter in the main reception area.
It doesn’t look much — just a tangle of white-painted branches with a few paper notes dangling off it on bits of string. But it has been making some extraordinary wishes come true.
The magic began in early October, with Marjorie, an 89-year-old widow, dementia sufferer and Cliff Richard superfan who has spent most of her life praying to meet her idol.
Frank, 94, who used to live in a farm, had his wish to sit in a tractor one last time come true due to a wishing tree at Stratton Court, Gloucestershire
‘I just love him. I love his music, I love what he does. I have always loved him,’ she would say, day in, day out. ‘Oh my Cliffy, my Cliffy!’
Until one day, with the help of David Ible, the home’s Activities Lead, she wrote down her wish on a piece of paper: ‘My wish is to see Cliff Richard… love him!’
She’d barely hung it on a branch of the little white wishing tree than, hey presto, a video message arrived from Sir Cliff, wishing her well and sending love.
‘Hi there Marjorie. I hear you’re not well and I just wanted to send this message to tell you you’re in my thoughts and you’re in my prayers. Lots of love and God bless.’
He even sent a little teddy bear sporting an ‘I love Cliff’ pendant and an autographed left hind paw.
It was one of the highlights of Marjorie’s life and all thanks to David, 34, a bow tie-clad ex-holiday park entertainer who tracked down details for Sir Cliff’s manager, emailed him on the off-chance and was flabbergasted when the video popped up from the 80-year-old singer.
Marjorie was beside herself. ‘I’ve always wanted to see him in concert, but it was always too expensive, too difficult,’ she beams.
Then things snowballed. When the video made it onto the Six O’Clock News, the entire dining room at the home near Cirencester in Gloucestershire fell silent as everyone watched in awe — and immediately got started on their own wishes.
Pictured: John, 91, a retired RAF engineer with a passion for fast cars, has his wish granted
‘I would like to have a French lesson and I would like for a cat to visit,’ wrote Deanna.
John, 91, a retired RAF engineer with a lifelong passion for fast cars dreamed of riding ‘in a Ferrari car — as I love them!’
One old boy who used to be a Butlins Redcoat desperately wanted to own his own coat again. Jim, 73, wanted ‘to see Eddie the Eagle again — as I taught him how to drive’.
Word spread through the local community and stories about the wishing tree started popping up in local newspapers. Soon the care home phone was ringing off the hook with offers of help.
‘The response has been amazing. But people love to help,’ says David. ‘They really do.’
Within weeks, John — who suffers from dementia — was beaming from the passenger seat of an 800bhp Ferrari Superfast 812 GTS, courtesy of someone local.
‘You should have seen John’s face,’ says David. ‘He got in, put the windows down and was absolutely beaming, saying ‘wow, wow, wow’. He was so happy.’
One care home resident, Marjorie, received a video message from her idol Cliff Richard
Next, former Olympic ski-jumper Eddie the Eagle (real name Michael Edwards) came up trumps, sending a lovely video message in which he thanked Jim for teaching him to drive, even saying that, without Jim’s tuition, he could never have driven to the ski slopes of Europe, where he practised before finding fame at Calgary in 1988.
‘He was amazing,’ says David. ‘I just emailed him and he came back immediately.’
As did poet Pam Ayres — a lifelong heroine of Val, 86, whose dementia is so advanced she struggles to communicate, but loves Pam because her poems make her smile.
‘I Googled her name, emailed her assistant and that was that,’ says David. Within a few days Pam, 73, had sent a video of herself reading a joyful poem about a naughty terrier.
The impact on Val was amazing. Suddenly, she was smiling and chatting — finishing sentences, socialising for the first time in ages and making eye contact.
Nearly all of the residents in the £1,000 to £1,400-a-week care home section of Stratton Court, run by Aura Care, suffer from one form of dementia or another. It is a monstrous disease, robbing sufferers of confidence, dignity, cogency and precious memories.
But often, while short-term recollections are wiped out, some passions from the past stand firm — animals, music, fast cars or certain foods — memories of lives long gone.
Revisiting them for just an hour or so can leave them buoyed up for weeks — happier, glowing, beaming with simple joy.
‘It cuts through. It takes them back. It’s a link to their past,’ says David. ‘It’s had such an impact and been a positive boost.’
Marjorie watches her Cliff video constantly, takes the bear with her everywhere and when I meet her — separated by a sheet of Perspex in a very handsome visiting suite — still has a glow about her that matches her immaculate pale pink jumper.
‘She got a second life to her,’ says David. ‘She’s been eating more, talking more — she’s just much happier.’
Pictured: David Ible, Activites Leader at Stratton Court, who came up with the wishing tree
John, meanwhile, lights up at the very mention of the Ferrari. ‘Oh yes!’ he says. ‘So fast!’
Susan, 77, who grew up on a farm and loved animals, was transformed just by stroking a horse.
‘David has made so many wishes come true now, we’ve started calling him the genie!’ says Aura sales and marketing director, Peter Lloyd. ‘We’re going to buy him a turban and a sparkly blue outfit!’
Quite right too. Because David is the real magician here, not the tree. He is also an astonishingly warm and caring man who adores his fragile charges.
He spends half his week doing one-on-one sessions in their rooms — painting, singing, playing games or just holding their hands — and brings joy and kindness to everything and everyone.
Frank, 94 and Margaret, 98, (unrelated) had both lived on farms and missed the great outdoors, the livestock, the fresh air, but most of all, they pined for the machinery and wanted to sit on a combine harvester one last time.
David did his best, but even he couldn’t conjure a 15,000-kilo combine harvester out of thin air.
But he did manage to persuade a neighbouring landowner to lend two tractors — one each — for them to sit on. Frank and Margaret didn’t stop grinning for days.
Some wishes have been humbling in their simplicity.
Maureen, 59, just wanted to receive a beautiful blue rose — a bloom she had always admired, but never been given. Keith wants to visit the Forest of Dean, where he grew up, one last time.
Vera wants to go to the seaside — problematic in Covid times. ‘We could ship some sand in and make some cocktails, but that’s not the real deal, so we’ll have to wait.’ Other requests, however, are rather more niche.
So far, there is just one wish that has foxed even David. A wish by Dr Kappi, who lives in one of the independent living apartments that cost up to £540,000 and flank the care home.
‘I really want to sit in a Blower Bentley,’ he wrote. ‘It’s antique vintage!’ says David. ‘I’ve tried so hard to get one but haven’t managed so far.’
Not that he’s given up. He’s just not the sort. ‘Someone, somewhere will have one!’
Meanwhile, he’s been rattling through the rest.
Colonel Greville Tufnell — another resident in the apartments — produced a raft of wishes for the little tree: to go to Australia, have a glass of red wine, stroke a Labrador and ‘to see the Royal Family again after being a Grenadier Guard for 30 years’.
Even David the Genie couldn’t pull off a trip Down Under — not during Covid times. But the wine was easy and the Labrador was bought in by a local farmer.
And the royal connection? ‘Oh that’s all sorted!’ he says breezily. ‘The Queen’s Guard have agreed to come.
‘They were going to come on Remembrance Sunday, but now they’re coming in December — between five and ten of them, maybe more — in full uniform. We’re all really excited about it.’
Of course they are. What a man. What a place. What a beacon of hope in these terrible times.