Spotlight: Fern, Good Living Advisor at St John’s Foundation

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  • Spotlight: Fern, Good Living Advisor at St John’s Foundation

The Good Living Service at St John’s Foundation could not operate without the dedication and care of its Good Living Advisors. To capture the work the Good Living team does behind the scenes, we sat down with Fern to talk about their role.

Fern joined St John’s Foundation seven years ago as an Independent Living Assistant supporting those, living within our Alms-community who needed care. However, after realising that the team could have a broader impact on the wellbeing of residents as well as older adults in the wider Bath and North East Somerset community, St John’s established the Good Living Service in July 2021.

Fern, along with a team of six other Good Living Advisors, support 100 St John’s residents, as well as providing guidance and care to all older adults who use St John’s services

Fern has numerous responsibilities as a Good Living Advisor, but one of the most impactful elements of the role is the work carried out in admissions. Good Living Advisors support the admission process for those looking for accommodation and this includes carrying our assessments.

“When I go out on assessments, seeing the disparity of wealth within the community really drives home the need for good quality affordable accommodation in BaNES for older adults. Often these assessments take place in accommodation that is not suited to older adults’ needs, whether that be a risk to their health, a lack of accessible amenities, or an absence of community. Our service endeavours to meet those needs, whilst supporting independence.

“On a more uplifting note, one of the most amazing things about working as a Good Living Advisor is how welcoming everyone is. I’m non-binary, and the amount of support and love I have received from our residents is so heart-warming. We provided Equality Diversity and Inclusion training on request from our residents, who wanted to understand the experiences of the LGBTQI+ community better. Being able to build these relationships is so valuable, and it really does feel like being part of an extended family.”

Another part of the role of Good Living Advisors is the provision of activities. Activities are a core part of St John’s delivery for older adults living in the almshouses and the wider community, providing essential opportunities for socialisation, movement and nutrition. Some of the most popular activities include ballet, yoga, cook and eat, and art classes, some of which have multiple sessions to meet demand. All the activities can be adapted for people’s individual needs and many are provided by external tutors.

There are also resident-specific activities, such as Cosy Cooks, in which Lauren, another Good Living Advisor at St John’s, creates a homecooked meal for the residents which is eaten in a communal setting, offering opportunities for connection, as well as a nutritious meal. In 2023, the classes saw more than seven thousand attendances and a total of 71 activities were run.

Fern says: “Isolation is one of the greatest challenges older adults face, impacting life expectancy and health in a really profound way. With a growing older adult community and increasing austerity there appears more impact on essential services, such as transport, increasing  isolation , so it’s really important to tackle this. The activities we run help bring people together and are easily accessible from the city centre or near the RUH, so lots of people can get involved.

“Another aspect people often don’t think about when talking about problems older adults are facing, is nutrition. It’s vital to be able to have good food, but for a lot of older adults, this can be really difficult as they either never had the opportunity to learn how to cook or have lost that ability. This is exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis which is making it harder to access healthy food or create a hearty homecooked meal.

“Our Cook and Eat classes, Cosy Cooks and other communal food activities, like cheese and wine nights and Christmas dinners, help meet both socialisation and nutritional needs. And it’s always so lovely to gather for a meal together! It really helps to build relationships between people.”

Another key part of a Good Living Advisor’s role is signposting people to relevant services. St John’s works with multiple partners to tackle issues affecting individuals, and Fern helps residents and people in the community to find the right people to help them.

Fern says: “Understanding which agencies to engage with to resolve the challenges someone is facing is one of the best ways to ensure they are getting the support they need. Some of our partners include Age UK and Citizen’s Advice, both of which are extremely helpful for older adults who need assistance, particularly financial assistance. Knowing what benefits and support you are entitled to, and then advocating for yourself or finding someone to advocate for you, means you are more likely to get the the full benefits you are entitled to.

“It’s also important to find ways to increase independence, especially as you grow older. Many of our activities have an element of this, especially our fitness activities like Pilates which can help people keep their bodies and minds healthy. Another really useful partnership is with Tech Connect who run a Connecting Generations workshop for us. During these sessions, we can help people with any tech support they may need, whether that’s teaching them how to use a particular app or helping them organise their computer files.”

Working as a Good Living Advisor lets Fern be part of a team that helps change the lives of many people in a profoundly positive way. Fern is also excited to be helping us with the planning and preparations for our Founder’s Day, a little later in the year.  At this event we will celebrate the people that have supported the BaNES community for the past 850 years by having a party with our almshouse residents in the St John’s Foundation courtyard. We’re extremely grateful to be able to work with Fern and  the entire Good Living team everyday and be inspired by the creativity and thoughtfulness of their work as we continue to tackle the issues faced by older people in BaNES.