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Coronavirus: The strangers ‘virtually adopting’ grandparents and grandchildren

When Rosie Kirkin feels afraid about the war the world is fighting against the coronavirus pandemic, the 88-year-old recalls a lesson she learned during a very different war she faced as a child.

“In times like these, we’ve got to be kind and help each other and realise how necessary it is to reach out and be close emotionally,” she said.

“And to not be afraid to open up to strangers by making new friends.”

Image: Rosie Kirkin, 88, has adopted a ‘grandchild’ to help with loneliness during isolation

That desire to connect – with the help of technology – has seen Ms Kirkin virtually adopt a grandchild to help her through her time in isolation at her Surrey care home.

CHD Living launched its Adopt A Grandparent campaign last year to link elderly and lonely residents in their Surrey and south London care homes with local children and adults who don’t have or see grandparents.


When lockdown was announced and residents could no longer receive visits from their loved ones or their “adopted grandchildren”, the group bought online portals and swapped the face-to-fact visits with video chats.

In the past two weeks, volunteer registration have grown from a few hundred to 40,000, including applications from all over the world.

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Ms Kirkin was nervous when she received the first call from her “grandchild”, Anika Brandt, but after 20 minutes she was already inviting her new friend over for when she was next allowed visitors.

“Anika was very easy to talk to. We talked about each other’s families; I talked about how I love embroidery and ice-skating.”

When Ms Kirkin started telling Ms Brandt about how she recently ice-skated while pushing someone in a wheelchair at a CHD Living event, Ms Brandt realised she had seen that video on social media.

“I recognised her getting around the ice rink quite impressively,” she said.

Image: Anika says she speaks to Rosie about her family and their shared interests

“We were probably paired because we have similar interests in being active – although we obviously can’t do all the same activities due to our age.

“She is so lovely and friendly and funny; when I get off the phone I would tell anyone who would listen how much it brightened my day.”

The experience was particularly rewarding for Ms Brandt, who lost her last grandparent two years ago.

“I think it’s helped both Rosie and me,” she said.

“There aren’t a lot of things you can do in a time like this but this is one positive thing you can do in the world.”

Image: CHD Living staff help the residents work the online portal, which they use to link up with their ‘grandchildren’

CHD Living’s head of hospitality and communications, Shaleeza Hasham, said the campaign helped relieve feelings of loneliness and isolation for the older generation, who already suffered disproportionately with these feelings without the added stress of the COVD-19 crisis.

“It’s a tough time for the people we look after as some have dementia, will not understand why they’re required to isolate and aren’t used to seeing staff in PPE [personal protective equipment],” Ms Hasham said.

“But while there is a lot of angst and fear there is a lot of positivity globally and we’re seeing so much of that in our homes.”

Ms Hasham spoke of how one resident overheard a friend talking on the portal to a young child, and asked a staff member if she too could adopt a granddaughter – adding she’d like her to be from Australia, enjoy reading and like horses.

“We’re overwhelmed with the interest in volunteers in the past few weeks and it’s allowed us to pair residents with potential grandchildren from so many countries, based on their likes, dislikes and hobbies.

“It’s so humbling to see how many people want to give up an hour a day or a week of their time and just support each other.”


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