By Justin Mazzotta (MSc Advanced Dementia Studies Alumni)
‘Voices from the frontline’ is a theatrical adaptation of a piece of research carried out by the University of Bradford’s Centre for Applied Dementia Studies during the coronavirus pandemic. The production aims to represent the experiences of frontline staff from care homes across the UK during this time. It is a rare perspective and insight into the voices of social care staff and it gives us a valuable opportunity to understand and learn from their experiences. The production drew on the research which involved 20 students on the University’s MSc Advanced Dementia Studies programme, all of whom were directly involved in frontline dementia care services during the pandemic. The play presents a collision of two worlds totally out of sync: on the one hand a government aiming to provide guidance which was virtually impossible to follow; on the other, care home staff afraid and unsure what was happening and how to do what was the best for their residents. The production provides a reflective space which developed from the research, where staff are able to think about and process the tragic events many of them experienced in their daily roles during the pandemic. It is safe to say their voice was not represented by media during the pandemic much at all.
The production involved a cast of six social care staff and a narrator, the research lead Dr Andrea Capstick. The delivery was presented as a discussion in a support group type context, with care staff taking it in turns to express their experiences and reflections with Dr Capstick providing context and an overview to help move the play on chronologically from the beginning of the pandemic through to the current situation. The carers addressed each other whilst addressing the audience which gave a sense of solidarity between them. The sense of support and understanding for one another was an enduring theme throughout the play and this gave it notable strength and warmth, considering a subject which wasn’t easy to talk explore.
The play hit hard with facts about the pandemic and its impact on care home residents and staff. For example, it highlighted the lack of attention on care homes from the government and the media during the pandemic who tended to focus solely on the NHS and hospital admissions, only later acknowledging the impact in care homes: over 40,000 care home residents died during this time. As we now know the pandemic was not handled well by the government where care homes were concerned, especially in relation to hospital discharges for asymptomatic coronavirus cases. The impact of this policy was devastating for people living and working in care homes, many of whom were living with dementia.
Perhaps most importantly, the play acknowledged and honoured the victims of the pandemic: including almost 1000 staff who lost their lives as well as the residents living with dementia. The play feels an important tribute to social care staff who did not receive anything like the heroic status and plaudits NHS staff received during the pandemic. Furthermore, it was poignant to be reminded how hard the pandemic was for social care staff, not just because of the stress and uncertainty they experienced but also because they are known to experience work bereavements as personal losses. The play ends like a memorial to the 1000 staff who lost their lives as a result of coronavirus whilst carrying out their daily duties. This is brought to our attention when the staff step forward on stage together for the first time and a symbolically empty chair is left alone behind them on the stage.
We are still recruiting for our MSc Advanced Dementia Studies starting in September 22