“We supported each other, stayed safe, and battled on”: Inside north London’s Covid-free home care services

Penrose Care and Bluebird Care staff, pictured before the coronavirus pandemic. Pictures: Penrose Ca

Penrose Care and Bluebird Care staff, pictured before the coronavirus pandemic. Pictures: Penrose Care/Bluebird Care - Credit: Penrose Care/Bluebird Care

Every Thursday evening for three months, households across Britain stepped out onto their front doorsteps to clap for the UK’s carers. The ritualistic clapping, a collective outcry of support and admiration for the key workers who kept Britain going in the first lockdown.

Robert Padron with the Penrose Care staff at the Christmas Party in 2019. Picture: Penrose Care

Robert Padron with the Penrose Care staff at the Christmas Party in 2019. Picture: Penrose Care - Credit: Penrose Care

Home care providers are seldom mentioned in conversations about Britain’s key workers. While care homes saw a huge spike in cases during the first lockdown, only 2% of home care services recorded any Covid cases by the first week of September, according to the Care Quality Commission.

Two North London home care providers - Penrose Care, an ethical care organisation, and Bluebird Care Camden and Hampstead, which won an award for its performance in the pandemic, hold the accolade of having no coronavirus cases among staff and patients throughout the pandemic.

George Morris, 38, director of Bluebird Care Camden and Hampstead, said: “We worked tirelessly to understand what Public Health England’s guidelines [were] and what they required of social care providers.”

“The main thing was just sticking the rules and guidance provided, and we were able to get from day one until now - we still haven’t had a customer or a carer with a confirmed case, which is amazing.”

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For Penrose Care, securing the appropriate PPE and sanitation equipment early was key to their success.

Robert Stephenson-Padron, co-founder of Penrose care, said: “One of the co-founders of Penrose care, Dr Matthew Knight, emphasised to me early on in the pandemic that it was very serious and that we needed to be prepared.

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“We bought all of the equipment we needed - that meant that when the pandemic was in full force [we were ready].”

For their staff on the frontline, caring has been both tough and rewarding.

Penrose Care staff at the Belsize Streatery. Picture: Penrose Care

Penrose Care staff at the Belsize Streatery. Picture: Penrose Care - Credit: Penrose Care

Dawn Bartell, who has worked for Bluebird Care for over three years, said: “Travelling to and from visits on public transport was really tough but we supported each other, stayed safe and just battled on.

“I knew I had to carry on and work, so that all my customers would maintain consistency in the care they received. Like many of my colleagues, I took on extra calls so that we could carry on achieving the very high standard of care we are known for.”

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While work on the frontline is tough, some have found that their clients benefitted from the shift in caring arrangements.

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Penrose Care manager Olga Garcia Gomez began to work in a more hands-on capacity at the onset of the pandemic. Olga and her cat, Pelusita, even moved in with a client to provide the consistent care they needed.

Pelusita, who can be frosty with new people, took to the client right away, and they soon became firm friends.

“My client, he is 96, he has dementia, he can’t remember names or anything,” Olga said. “But as soon as the cat moved in, every single day he was getting up and saying: ‘Where is the pussycat?’

“As soon as the cat was involved, he did everything - he played with her, he tried to chase her.”

Penrose Care managers Robert Stephenson-Padron, Nikoletta Makouli and Olga Garcia at the 2019 Gobal

Penrose Care managers Robert Stephenson-Padron, Nikoletta Makouli and Olga Garcia at the 2019 Gobal Over 50s Housing Awards at the Court House Hotel, London, UK. December 3, 2019. Picture: Penrose Care - Credit: Penrose Care

According to Olga, this unusual situation brought around a marked improvement in her client’s wellbeing.

With carers from both companies frequently going above and beyond their duties, both George and Robert believe carers should be given the public recognition and respect they deserve for their public service.

George from Bluebird care said: “We’ve been thrust into the limelight, with social care and health care, and that’s been a long time coming with regards to social carers getting the recognition they should have.”

Robert of Penrose Care echoed the sentiments, saying: “The government needs now to really proactively rebrand social care as a job which provokes civic pride.

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“They’ve risked their lives - like all healthcare professionals have - during this pandemic. It shows how important social care is and how bad things can be if not done correctly.”

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