Greetings everyone. It is a pleasure to be asked to write a series of blogs reflecting upon the ‘essence’ of Abbeyfield. Whatever our connections with Abbeyfield, recent or ‘maturing nicely’, we all have the opportunity to be ambassadors for our family Society…
Caring, Openness, Honesty and Respect
I have begun this latest reflection on the Abbeyfield Values at the time the BBC is celebrating 100 years since its Charter of purpose was declared. It has also been a time of remembering Richard Carr-Gomm on what would have been his 100th Birthday. All healthy institutions and charities pay attention to their underlying values and their core purpose. In the light of their heritage and on reflection they redefine them. In changing times it becomes ever more vital and Abbeyfield continues to do just that.
Recently I saw a programme about Aretha Franklin paying tribute to the ‘Queen of Soul’ who died in 2018. She sang her version of the 1967 Otis Redding song, ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’. In the lyric she emphasizes that she requires ‘just a little bit’ of respect. As we know respect has to be earned and yet in care it is a pre-requisite. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth much was described about our Queen’s values of Faith and Service to others. Many commented on her as a person who was respected for her long service and influence for good. Part of the coverage of Lying in State showed some film footage of Richard Carr-Gomm standing with Prince Philip, RC-G being on military equerry duty. It was around the time of the announcement of the engagement of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip.
Respect is the last piece of our Values series. I will endeavor to weave the strands from the other contributions which reflect our whole approach to people as unique individuals and to our diverse communities both small and larger.
There are many interpretations of the word Respect and aspects of Self-Respect. The core of the word is to ‘treat someone with consideration’…(1)
In the area of care we nurture respect when we facilitate residents to tell their stories. This can be expressed in poetry, song ,dramatic presentations,art, and encouraging finding new skills or refinding original skills and interests. We certainly help to nurture respect by celebrating many things in our own care communities and the places they are set. Celebrating mutual and individual gifts, the seasons and all the positive things of life. Many residents express this by helping to enhance our community gardens and environment. Above all to share meals together is at the heart of mutual respect, sharing conversation and laughter and giving thanks for those who prepare the food. Respect is also expressed through giving residents their privacy…
What spurred on Richard Carr-Gomm in his vision for Abbeyfield was his post-war experience as a tramp. On his Army leave travels he visited the Cottolengo Community in Turin, Italy. It was not the disabilities and the deficits of the 8,000 people of all ages and their circumstance that disturbed him most but the deprivation of people being without human company. In this he described ‘Loneliness’ and at the heart of this the lack of respect for the human condition and the story behind that deprivation.
Our founder describes part of his journey through post war Italy which describes how he felt being on his own. ‘With my clothes unchanged, my beard ragged and my shoes worn I did look like a tramp, so it was not surprising that in no place did anyone seem pleased to see me. During all my travels through Italy the only time someone was kind was when I was in Venice; I was almost penniless and unable to buy a proper meal, but an Italian in a restaurant told me what to eat, paid the bill and even gave me a British newspaper to read.’ (2)
The holy ground of coming into the presence of somebody for the first time (and every time) beckons and requires respect for the person. Listening to them is being respectful. Giving them time is being respectful.
All this requires passion for the cause and the sacrifice of self.
The British sign language for our values of the cause which we encourage are:-
The hug is the sign for Caring, Openness with arms outstretched, Honesty, where the index finger touches the lip and then goes down to an open palm and then Respect when we salute with both hands…
All the small practical things we can do to respect others: learning basic sign language, understanding the needs of the others in every way i.e. wheelchair users, the partially sighted, those with learning difficulties those of other cultures, the list goes on. It is being open to those who are very different from us. As well as all these things it is the small everyday cleanliness and upkeep of the physical environment that shouts out respect to the residents and the wider community.(3)
Giving respect also helps us to grow our own self respect and part of that is to look after ourselves in body mind and spirit. This is vital in building our own resilience in changing and very challenging times economically and politically. Mutual respect for our colleagues and support through thick and thin has been expressed in so many thoughtful ways during Covid times and beyond. Either by Zoom technology or by creative house and home ceremonies to honour loved ones. Many of us have gone through or are going through the trauma of the death of loved ones. During my own experience of restricted ceremonies the respect shown to express creative ceremonies near and far have been very moving. To see friends come out onto the pavement to say their goodbyes, when only restricted numbers were allowed at services are never to be forgotten experiences.
So, Respect , is the thread that joins all our values of Caring, Openness, Honesty and Respect. It is the golden thread of our weaving of care for people of all ages as whole people. It is the business we are in and has a special place in the extra ordinary heritage and nature of Abbeyfield.
As Ella Fitzgerald says through the lyric of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, ‘Take Care – TBC’, which being interpreted means Take Care of Business’, through Respect.
Blessings and respect,
Canon Edward Pogmore
(1) Definition of Respect - The Concise Oxford Dictionary
(2) ‘All Things Considered’ – An Autobiography, 1922-2004, by Richard Carr-Gomm, p.57. Published by Thrift Books 2005
(3) ‘Spiritual Life, Care and Fulfilment in Abbeyfield by Jenny Kartupelis, published by Abbeyfield Society, 2015, pages 10-12 ‘Being at Home with Ourselves’