Making meals a social event in times of Covid-19

‘So – how do you socially distance and provide a positive and meaningful mealtime experience for your club members to enjoy?

At the Bradbury Wellbeing Centre, a Grade 1 MCM accredited club for People Living with Dementia in Worthing, we had just this dilemma when welcoming our club members back to their mealtime experience again.

‘How do we keep our club members covid safe, engaged and linked to one another’, we asked?

It was going to be tricky with limited space and furniture – and most of all – we were worried that it wouldn’t be a great experience at all!  In fact, the need to be socially distanced could create different problems through our club members feeling disconnected and not a part of something…or even worse ‘institutionalised’!!! Eek!

In pre-Covid times,  wetimes, we were able to seat 8 people on 3 square 1mx1m tables together – and this simply wasn’t possible anymore – in effect – it would have meant 8 people required 8 tables or one each – this demonstrates the size of the problem we encountered.  On top of that – we also had to include space for our team members and volunteers to also join in the meal too.

We started off imagining that our only option was for all club members to have their own separate table – lonely and in the middle of the floor with nobody around to chat to or engage with in other ways. It was only when we started to stop thinking about it and actually designed it in real time and real space – that things became clearer.

Tip! Don’t think about it – just get on the floor, roll up your sleeves and map it out in real space.

So as a team Wwe rolled up our sleeves and got creative with the space, the furniturefurniture, and a tape measure as a team – actually trying out different arrangements with the furniture to create something that solved the problems for every element of our dilemma.

We had to use everything we had to make it work – we messed around, puffing and panting for a couple of hours – experimenting with different layouts – trying squares, and different ways of seating people in 3-4’s Covid safely.

Tip! Try connecting people visually as well as physically – for example – from side to side and diagonally – so that everyone can see someone else eating and enjoying their meal too.  AASs we know, referencing others during mealtimes is an important aid for PLWD to encourage eating. (Quote/reference)

Eventually, it became clear that a ‘cross’ shaped layout was the answer…this enabled 4 1mx1m square tables to be pushed together with one person on each end.  This enabled diners to be linked visually with one another, within earshot for conversation, all linked by a central theme and most of all Covid safe without feeling isolated and alone.

Tip! Use mitigating measures – can people sit back-to-back or side to side to reduce Covid risk, enabling more flexibility with your seating arrangements?

Once we had our safe configurationconfiguration, we worked on theming the ‘cross’ shaped layouts.  Joining the 4 tables together in this way gave us more of a central space on which to create even more interesting themes for conversation and interest. 

Another problem that we had of course, was keeping tangible and interesting items cleansed and Covid safe, but the larger central section enabled diners to have a visual shared interest which was beyond reach, with some smaller cleanable and related items closer to them too.  This meant that we reduced our risk too as items weren’t being shared with others, but it still enabled the club member to pick things up and engage directly with the theme.

There are a couple of pics here that show our current themes, which are refreshed regularly to keep club members engaged and interested.   When theming, we consider general topics that members will have connections with, e.g., gardens, games, pubs, travel, seaside, countryside……these mean we have plenty of resources to pick from and conversations around the topics are fairly easy and natural to generate as they are relatable.

We learnt through our experience to be creative, to ditch the desk and stop scratching our heads – and to dive in, roll up our sleeves and actually work within the space to solve our dining dilemma!

Gary Potter (Bradbury Wellbeing Centre, Service Manager)

Nicki Freeman (Head of Community Services)

Guild Care, Worthing

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