What kind of image portrays care in the UK? I have seen hundreds of brochures from local authorities, charities and private providers of care which depict elderly and disabled people representing a different reality to what can be a very difficult ‘way of life’. Care represents many facets of life, but I doubt that what I call the ‘Florida’ look of older people that you find in some north American image libraries would resonate with an older person getting by on a pittance and living on the 18th floor of a dark, dismal inner-city high-rise block. And yes, it is true that some disabled people are hot at wheelchair basketball and tennis (and we have pictures of the latter on our library), but I would wager that for most disabled people in the UK, getting through the minutiae of life, washing, dressing, logistics takes up a lot of their time and energy.
Yes, we want positive images of disability, but we also want realistic images. People do not aspire to a lifestyle where they require care, rather it is a reality they are forced to come to terms with. And that can be very difficult. Imagine things you do in private (eg bathing) being carried out for you by a carer. Imagine having to be helped by a partner to engage in sexual activity. Imagine going to a restaurant where another person has to feed you. At Care Images, we show care as it is, real warts and all. When we work with an elderly model and ask the lady what she likes doing and she answers rather tamely that she likes a little tipple and she has a bottle hidden away, we shoot the scene. Our strapline is ‘representing the community’, and it’s surely the case that a bottle of gin is more accurate than a facelift in Florida.
The lowlight of a tumultuous week for democracy in the UK was watching Hazel Blears on TV firstly saying she had been acting within the rules and then later proudly waving a cheque a la Neville Chamberlain returning from his meeting with herr Hitler. It could of course have been any one of many MPs named and shamed by what has become an excellent scoop for the Telegraph.
What these grubby little apparatchiks in the commons fail to understand is that you don’t have to break the rules to be doing something wrong. And this comes into focus by living and using public transport in one of the poorest areas of the UK, Hackney. While some rich and supposedly socialist MP was allegedly spending £18,000 on bookshelves (yes, bookshelves) before his retirement and not seeing anything wrong with it, all I see is people struggling to get prams on overcrowded buses, people who abuse alcohol asking for money and groups of people looking for bargains in supermarkets as they struggle to fill their baskets (note, not even trolleys).
And yet, if any one of these people dares to try and scrounge a few more pounds from the government in the form of benefits, the judicial system shows no mercy. What kind of society have we become where £18,000 on bookshelves is seen as something that is acceptable (by the person who put a claim in for them)? Do we really live in a country where people in power literally do not know the difference between right and wrong? What hope is there for future generations to care about the less advantaged in our society when they see their MPs on a gravy train out of control and with no brakes?
Hang your heads in shame, parliamentarians.
The default style of brochures advertising care homes for the elderly usually involves a mission statement, philosophy of care, a commitment to giving people choice and dignity, three-star Michelin meals and an array of activities that would make a Chelsea socialite turn bright green.
The reality of course, can be very different even in the so-called better private facilities. I know quite a bit about care homes for the elderly; in my previous life as a social worker and commissioning manager I used to buy beds and conduct audits on out-of-borough placements. In the last few years in my work at a design company specialising in the care sector, Create Services, and more recently for Care Images I have been part of the other side of the service in trying to provide a positive image of care homes to potential purchasers.
Of course, all homes are equal under inspection law but some are more equal than others in what they provide. And it’s the little things that make the big difference; how much more is it on a home’s budget to add value to the product by serving wine at dinner or provide the football free through Sky Sports? One home we did a brochure for refurbished the basement into a specialist gymnasium for older people and an adjoining mini cinema with weekly screenings of golden oldies like Brief Encounter (one of my all time favourites).
Another home cut a deal with a local Blue Square Conference football team and took some of the residents to the home games; I saw a feature on TV news a few weeks ago with a drama group doing reminiscence therapy with residents. In short, there are plenty of creative ways to provide care without breaking too much into the profit margins.
Living in a care home may seem like the worst of all possible options but is living at home in the so-called ‘community’ that good if you are stuck in a high-rise flat unable to afford the heating while waiting for a less than appetising meals on wheels?
I have had the pleasure of working with some outstanding care homes both as purchaser and provider of marketing materials. As soon as you walk in you can feel that there is something special about the place; the staff are enjoying their work, residents are clearly content and maximising their abilities and purchasers, whether self or LA funded, are getting value for money. And you know what the interesting thing is; the homes I am talking about are not always the most plush, they just know how to care for people.