Lancaster estates manager pulls retirement community together during lockdown

A woman who started her new job just two weeks into the first national lockdown tells how she has helped keep a retirement community in Lancaster together during a tough year.

Thursday, 25th February 2021, 7:00 am
Andrea Stewart.

Andrea Stewart started her role as estates manager at Williamson Court in Greaves Road in April 2020.

Andrea is responsible for the day-to-day running of the development and is the first port of call for the community of over 70s that live there.

It was two weeks into the first national lockdown, and Andrea knew she had a challenge on her hands, but she believes the second most recent national lockdown that began in December, has been the hardest to bear.

She said: “The biggest challenge we face at the moment is boredom. Everyone here is extremely compliant because they are all of similar age and circumstances. What we don’t have now that we had in March, is the good weather.

"What all my homeowners tell me they miss the most is going out for brunch, for meals. Something I think we’re all desperate to get back to!”

At Williamson Court all of the homeowners live independently in their own apartments – whether privately owned or rented. Andrea describes how no two days are ever the same, and especially now dealing with the pandemic.

Where she’s able Andrea tries to find ways of easing the situation on everyone at Williamson Court.

She said: “Every Thursday morning we organise a cake run where our homeowners have a choice of cake delivered to their doors.

"We also do a gin trolley on a Friday night so they have a little treat to look forward to on the weekend. One of our carers, Elaine, takes on the role which she does voluntarily and is something we have maintained throughout.

Andrea has also helped to set up a telephone delivery service with the local Spar convenience store next door, so homeowners can have groceries delivered to their doors for free, meaning they don’t have to leave their apartment.

When they require something more, Andrea and her team make regular trips to post letters and retrieve special requests like a favourite bottle of wine or packet of biscuits, and if these can’t be found at the Spar, she is only too happy to help.

Almost all the homeowners and staff have now received their first Covid-19 vaccinations at Williamson Court, with a small number who are slightly younger in age hoping to be in the next wave.

Andrea describes receiving her vaccine, saying: “It was a big relief and I feel very lucky that I was offered it. Nothing matters more to me than keeping Covid out of this development and away from my homeowners so we must do everything in our power to do that.”

Andrea became a grandmother for the first time on Christmas Eve, but unfortunately what should have been a magical first meeting with her new grandson, Rex, had to be put on hold.

Two days before her grandson was born, one of Andrea’s homeowners sadly became ill. He lived on his own so this meant Andrea and her team were needed to provide him with one-to-one support and care in his apartment.

Andrea didn’t want to take any risks when it came to baby Rex, or to those in her care, so she waited more than two weeks after he was born to meet him.

“It was really heart-breaking for me not being able to see him and to be there after the birth”, said Andrea. “But I was so paranoid of passing anything on to either of them that I knew it was the right thing to do. Now we’re in a second lockdown I can no longer see him again, except for on Facetime which will have to do for now.

“It will be a really lovely feeling when I can finally hold him in my arms properly and give him a great big cuddle.”

Andrea and her team were able to host a range of socially distanced outdoor activities last year, with homeowners enjoying sweet treats and coffee in the gardens, a Remembrance Sunday afternoon tea, as well as quizzes and plenty of dressing up from the staff for Elf Day, Burns Night and Christmas jumper day in an effort to raise a few smiles.

One positive to come out of lockdown Andrea says is the individual bonds she’s formed with the homeowners.

She said: “Before, there would be great big get-togethers in the communal lounge, parties, games nights, coffee mornings. That’s all had to be paused for now of course. However I do see the homeowners as they walk past the front desk, and from a safe distance we can have a one-to-one chat and it’s really nice because you have that chance away from everything, to learn so much more about them. It’s the part of my day I look forward to the most.”

Andrea has enjoyed a long career in health and social care and is a mum to four boys, including 15-year-old twins, but in 2018 she decided to take a break and start her own business in outside catering.

It was very successful and she was able to sell the business in just two years in February 2020, prompting her move back into social care, albeit in a very different type of role now managing an estate at Williamson Court.

She said: “There’s nothing not to love, it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to take the hassle and maintenance of keeping a property away from the homeowners and support them to lead their independent lives.

"Usually within six months of moving in to Williamson Court, the homeowners blossom into what I can only describe as what they would have been like 10 years prior - relaxed, happy and full of life. It’s a joy to witness.

“The support that both the team and the homeowners have received from McCarthy Stone has been second to none. McCarthy Stone have sent magazines to the development for the homeowners to enjoy, hosted virtual talks and entertainment.

"Had I not been at work during these last few months I don’t know what I would have done. Coming here to Williamson Court has been my saviour really.”

Andrea has welcomed some new faces as a result of the supportive yet independent lifestyle on offer at Williamson Court, with a number of apartments still available to those looking to move.

Williamson Court features a selection of 54 one and two-bedroom Retirement Living Plus apartments, exclusively designed for people aged 70 and over.

McCarthy Stone received the Housebuilder Special Recognition Award 2020 for working hard to protect its customers – Covid-19 infection rates among homeowners are significantly below the national rate of infection across all age groups – and for innovation in the retirement sector.