Vamos Theatre and care home providers, PrimeLife, have come together to create an innovative teaching programme helping care home staff rediscover their skills of human-to-human connection following the pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic had a severe effect on both residents and staff in care homes. Residents were isolated for long periods with limited access to families and friends, and care home staff came under severe pressures. According to research, this impacted negatively on those living and working in care homes, with feelings of low mood, depression, fear, loneliness and isolation. Many care homes are still impacted by a loss of confidence amongst staff in connecting with residents, particularly with those for whom language is difficult, such as people living with dementia.

Vamos Theatre has teamed up with PrimeLife to develop a unique programme of training with the aim of helping staff revisit their skills of empathy, trust, listening and insight, especially through non-verbal means. Beginning with a small pilot trial in two care homes, staff teams learned the importance of using their eyes, ears, facial expression, body language, touch and playfulness to connect with residents without the need for language.

The training programme will focus on empowering staff to understand the importance of non-verbal communication and the impact of ‘listening with your eyes’ – being able to see and respond to someone’s needs through body language, tone of voice, touch and empathy. Vamos Theatre’s visits to PrimeLife care homes also include a performance of Mischief, an interactive, playful show for residents and staff, and Joy in a Box, a bright red box containing everything staff need for creating positive, engagement with residents, such as balloons, scarves, ribbons and water pistols - plus ideas for over twenty specific activities.

PrimeLife staff have loved the training so far and it is already having an impact. Care Home Manager, Kerry Howell, says “Vamos Theatre for me is the most magical thing I have ever seen. Seeing the difference in the residents that find communication the most difficult is amazing. Not all the residents that live here have family, so the staff have become their family and are helping each other get over the sadness.

Kerry has not only seen the difference herself but has received compliments from her local Contract Monitoring Team that the use of eye contact between staff and residents is outstanding. Kerry notes that the training has helped the staff build as a team, with no longer being ‘them and us’, just us.

Vamos Theatre's Artistic Director Rachael Savage, comments, “We are delighted to be working in partnership with PrimeLife on this important project, helping to give staff back their confidence and to remind them about the positive impact of non-verbal, empathetic communication. We hope to be able to bring about culture change, one inspired by genuine connection, kindness and empathy.

Vicki Shaw, Director of Quality Matters at PrimeLife, added, “Now that we are living with Covid-19 as part of our daily lives, we felt that we needed to re-focus what is essential to life - making and supporting relationships and having fun! Our collaboration with Vamos Theatre, the messages that they share with our staff, and the skills they are helping staff to develop, can be summed up best by Norma, a resident at Seacroft Court. Norma said, ‘I am going to drink this up and keep this forever.’”