A catch up with Jane Wynne Willson

The computer is absolutely life-saving, it’s kept me going. And nobody ever notices but I knit during Zoom meetings!

9th December 2020

Hi Jane. How are you? Can you tell us a little bit about your lockdown experience?

At Extra Care, it’s not just a national thing, we have our own rules too. We were told not to go out of the grounds at all which for me was an absolute nightmare. You couldn’t even walk by oneself in the open air and that was awful in the spring and summer.

This last fortnight has been better because we’re still able to go out and I’m still driving. So I can drive up onto the hill, do my shopping and go for a walk a couple of times a week in the park. That’s what keeps me going, just walking by myself or, when we’re allowed to, walk with one other.

Last time we spoke, I remember you telling me that you’re a big socialiser.

I do like chatting to people. That’s what was so nice coming to live in a place like this, you make new friends. It’s ten years since my husband died and living on one’s own is a bit tedious really.

Did you find that you were still able to chat to people during the lockdown?

We still aren’t allowed into each other’s apartments or cottages. We are able to meet in the garden and, as long as you kept at a distance, you can talk. But the seats in the garden between the main building and the cottages aren’t long enough for people to sit on two metres apart.

How do you feel about the restrictions put in place by Extra Care?

I think it’s extremely understandable. They’ve got a huge responsibility with 300 people here. They’ve protected us and we’re very grateful. At the very beginning I think there were four people who had the virus and sadly one died. I mean that’s one out of 300. That’s incredible.

All the social distancing is very effective. A lot of people are incredibly nervous. We are very vulnerable, that’s the point of staying in your own room. But people who can’t get out for months and months on end, it’s not good for their health and it’s not good for them mentally.

With facilities closed, do you still feel a sense of community here?

During the big lockdown, everything was closed. The only thing that stayed open is the little shop. The Bistro was only doing take-away meals. They’ve since put long tables in the hall so that they can safely serve meals with people at a distance. But that’s meant we can’t use the hall for activities like Tai Chi and concerts.

So I do lots of my activities on Zoom now. I have Italian lessons and a special dancing class. I’m not a great lover of dancing but a retired ballerina called Jenny Murphy calls us once a week and we do all these movements at home. We’re doing the Nutcracker at the moment and it’s terribly difficult but it’s not too embarrassing if you’re in your own room. She knows all the movements for old people to keep them supple. I really look forward to that.

I can tell you look forward to it because you’ve got a massive smile on your face.

It’s quite funny really. I’m 87 and it’s a bit farcical trying to look graceful. I’m just not at all but it’s good and we all enjoy it.

How are you finding Zoom and other technologies?

The computer is absolutely life-saving, it’s kept me going. I have Zoom meetings regularly with my family and then I have my various committee and discussion meetings. Without Zoom I think I would have been really, really desperate.

A lot of the residents don’t actually have computers. For example, I was heavily involved in a poetry group here and we haven’t started it again because half of the group don’t use Zoom. It would be quite a good thing to do on Zoom too.

You sound like a Zoom pro?

I think somethings are better on Zoom than they are in the flesh actually. An interesting talk by somebody is just as good to listen to on the computer. And you can just leave if you get fed up and hope nobody notices. Actually, nobody ever notices but I knit during Zoom meetings!

Are you knitting now?

No! I’ll tell you about another thing I’ve organised though. I’ve got a very old friend in Liverpool. She’s 93 and has almost lost her sight. I’ve known her all my life and so one day I said to her “Would you like me to read to you down the phone?” And I did. We’re now on our fifth book. She enjoys it and it’s much more fun than just reading to oneself. You can share the jokes and discuss the things that come up in the book.

That’s so sweet. What have you appreciated most about Bournville Village during lockdown?

They’ve protected us in lockdown. Not being allowed outside was a bit of a farcical rule because if you’re on your own, walking in the open air, there was no possible danger. You know if one meets somebody on a path, you step to one side but anyhow. I just felt you’ve just got to conform because they are doing their best to keep us safe.

I think it would have been harder just to be on one’s own. Having people in the same boat as you is nice. You can have a little moan together when you meet in the garden or going over to get your newspaper. I’ve actually made a lot of new friends.

How did you meet your new friends?

In the summer, I did a lot in the garden and of course one could just chat to people on the doorstep. Then there are all the events that are laid on. Susie, our Events Organiser, has made sure there’s something happening all the time. It’s going to be very difficult during the winter but, for example, on Saturdays, the Birmingham Brass Band is coming to perform in the garden. We sit outside with hot water bottles on our knees and join in. It’s been extremely cold but it’s very good and she’s so excellent. She really keeps us going.

It’s almost like lockdown gave us new routines didn’t it?

I’ve found it incredibly helpful having a routine. I’ve got a Fitbit and every day I put down how many steps I’ve done. I was able to walk three kilometres just going round the little garden here, round and round like a teddy bear! Without a routine I think one could just let oneself go. For example, not being able to go to the hairdresser, everyone got in quite a state about their hair. It’s a long time to go without a cut.

It sounds like your daily walk is very important to you.

It’s quite unusual to be able to walk three miles. Honestly, a lot of people here have problems with mobility. I won’t be able to soon I dare say but while I can, it’s incredibly helpful for one’s health and wellbeing.

Do you have a lockdown revelation? Something you’ve learnt about yourself or a thought you’ve had?

I’ve got very pernickety in my ways. Everything has its exact place in a cupboard and I have particular routines now. For example, I lay my breakfast before I go to bed every night so it’s all ready by the internal phone in the morning. It helps me to remember to dial 777 at the start of the day. That call lets reception know I’m okay. I was never like this before though, I suppose it’s just living on my own.

I think there’s comfort in routine though?

I think so. Even now in this latest lockdown, I get really fed up at weekends because nothing’s happening. It’s very empty over there in the atrium, I go and get my Sunday paper and everything is ever so quiet. I really like Mondays because things start up again. Yes, I’m not very good about being by myself actually.

Tell me a little bit more about the atrium, how has that changed?

The atrium is an amazing thing. I’ve never been on a cruise but apparently it’s like the inside of a ship with its palm trees and the groups of sofas. Loads of things did go on. For instance, every Saturday morning there was a bring and buy sale. But now the sofas have all been turned inside so you can’t sit there. That’s spoiled the atrium really. With the absence of the hall too, that’s taken the soul out of the place really.

Do you do any volunteer work here?

I volunteer on the reception desk Wednesday mornings. It’s quite alarming when the phone rings because I have slight hearing problems so I can’t always hear what they’re saying. But I do it just to help out a bit. I was helping in the gym too before it closed. I don’t have to help with the apparatus thankfully. I just watch the desk, help people sign themselves in and watch everyone sweating.

I also do litter picking up, I do that at the weekends. I mean nobody’s asked me to do that but I rather enjoy it.

Thinking of your lockdown experience, is there anything you’d change about the retirement community?

No, I think they do extraordinarily well. It’s just unfortunate that this ghastly bug is going around. I’m much happier here than other people my age who go and live on the South coast. Usually their partner dies and they’re stuck there on the Costa Geriatrica completely away from their friends. It’s just sad. So that’s what I really liked about moving into a community because you don’t have to be alone. We look out for each other.

I’ve been here for two and a half years now and I’m still very pleased with it. It feels like home.