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It started when New Zealand was plunged into lockdown because of Covid-19. In March 2020, the whole country was asked to stay home in their bubbles. For those who consider Meadowbank Care Suites their home, this means there will be no family visits, and no trips outside.

May Ann French, the facility diversional therapist, thought it was the busiest she has ever been in her role. “Those were challenging times,” she says. “The residents were anxious because most of them are used to going out and seeing family quite often. Some don’t understand why we had to shut down, stay in, and do social distancing.”

Because residents can’t be visited by family members, she organised FaceTime and Skype calls for them. “We contacted the families and asked them to book ahead of time if they want to say hi to their mum or dad. Most of them took the opportunity so it was a busy time.”

To keep residents occupied, engaged and entertained, May Ann started ‘armchair travel’. Using technology, she took them around the world but in the safety of their favourite armchair. “It’s a virtual reality experience using virtual reality goggles. I load it up with 360-degree videos. Once they put the goggles on, they can feel like they’re in it and they loved it.”

Residents were amazed of the outcome, and so armchair travel started. With the support of her line manager, Julia Abad, the team decided to push on. Their first flight was to London. The village was decorated with union jacks, there was the iconic red telephone booth, and everything British they could find.

The experience begins with a boarding call – announcing their destination for the day. “We crafted passports and boarding passes as well. So, when they enter the room, they hand us their passport and boarding pass.” They also decorated the place depending on where they are bound to go that day. Some staff even dressed up. To complete the experience, their chef provides the destinations’ ‘local cuisine’ where possible.

“Of course, we made sure that all the protocols are followed to ensure our residents’ safety. Everyone got on board and participated.”

Since then, the residents have been to Mexico, Ireland, Belgium, Brazil, Paris, India and even Hawaii. “I loved it when one of the residents who was on a call with their family member, she told them that she has just been to London that morning.”

“We also have a resident that used to be a pilot. I downloaded a flight simulation for him, and he was really really into it.”

Staff are innovating to ensure their residents’ wellbeing are looked after. May Ann says they constantly evaluate what they do for their leisure activities to cater for individual’s interests and capabilities. “We recognise they are all different and have different likes and abilities. We also do exercises, quizzes, painting, one-on-one time, shopping and aqua walking! So, whatever that resident would want to do with their time or within their own room, we try to cater for that.”

A recent graduate of the Apprenticeship in Diversional Therapy with the support of Industry Training Organisation, Careerforce, May Ann found that the learning from the programme alongside her skills and experience prepared her for the challenges that came with the lockdown. She believes that she and her colleagues would be even more prepared in case something similar happens again.

“We have learnt a lot and we’ll know what to do.”

In 2020, the government recognised the health and wellbeing sector as a priority sector, and the impact of Covid-19 on employers. In response, it launched the Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund (TTAF), and the Apprenticeship Boost Fund.

TTAF removes enrolment fees from most Health & Wellbeing programmes through to December 2022. Apprenticeship Boost provides a wage subsidy to employers of apprentices of $1000/mth for apprentices in their first year, and $500/mth for apprentices in their second year, up to $16,000 for each apprentice they employ.

Contact Careerforce to find out more about the Apprenticeship in Diversional Therapy designed to upskill and recognise activity coordinators, leisure coordinators and recreational therapists.