Care homes can be lonely and cruel places. But they can also be inspiring too

My old man said follow the van, and don’t dilly-dally on the way.” We are seated in a circle, singing. The woman next to me is lusty, her voice clear and her hands tapping out the rhythm; the man opposite in his wheelchair looks slightly dazed but he mouths the words. People who might not be able to speak can often find language when it is set to music. Memory floods back.

I am at a residential care home in Carterton, near Witney, Oxfordshire, run by the charity MHA, where two-thirds of the 68 people who live here have dementia. “I dillied, I dallied, I dallied and I dillied,” we sing, smiling, nodding, all joining in except the woman in the corner who stares shyly at her hands, and the one who is dozing. “And I can’t find my way home.”

I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of home in the past few weeks – not home as bricks and mortar, but home as a place you know your way around, where the faces are familiar, the routines settled, where the photos on the wall remind you of your past and of those you love; home as a place of safety and of belonging, where you do not feel scared, confused, adrift. Where you do not feel homesick…

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