From Bubble Bath Day to Fix a Leak Week, it seems that every year more national awareness events appear in the media. If we had to choose one to celebrate this February it would be Random Acts of Kindness Day, taking place on the 17th. To mark the occasion we caught up with Jill Cownie, a resident at our Westbury Fields retirement village, for a chat about her story and the extra care she takes to welcome new members of the community.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Have you always lived in Bristol?
My childhood was spent pretty much everywhere because my father was in the Royal Air Force. We were constantly moving and I eventually went to boarding school because I’d been to so many different schools that I wasn’t really learning anything. I had always wanted to be a nurse, so when it came to it I trained at St Thomas’ in London.
At the same time my family were living in Wimbledon. One of my brothers was doing an engineering apprenticeship when he met a South African, who I later went on to marry. We moved to Derby when my husband got a job with Rolls Royce and we spent 40 years there. Once he had stopped work with early signs of dementia and I had stopped nursing, we didn’t have any relatives where we lived and, with two sons in America and one living in Bristol, it became obvious we needed to be here.
How did you hear about Westbury Fields?
Our son sings in a choir locally and he happened to have sung at Cote Lane [a St Monica Trust retirement village] on one occasion. He said, “That place might suit you in the future”. Though my husband was reluctant at first we decided to go ahead. We looked at Sandford Station, we looked at Cote Lane and then we looked here and this was obviously the right place for us. We put our name on the list and after two or three goes made the move.
He only had 15 months here, passing away unexpectedly while we were on a cruise over Christmas, but he was really happy at Westbury Fields. Though he didn’t want to move, once the upheaval of it was over and we were here he really enjoyed it. I already had friends and people knew me here, so I started a new chapter of life without him.
What kind of things do you get involved with here?
On site I clean all of the brass plaques on the benches. You would walk by and see ‘In Memory of My Darling Grandmother’ completely black and I couldn’t stand that. I clean them twice a week if I can, so they look nice and shiny. I help our activities coordinator by stapling our regular fortnightly newsletter, and I wash up after any event that has teas and coffees – almost everything here does! I help give out the drinks and know what most people have. I go to the craft sessions to help and am knitting hats for seamen at the local village church – many people on big container ships are from all over the world and they don’t have winter clothes. So they like hats and 6 foot long scarves!
I also go on the trips with Andy the minibus driver, who is lovely – a true Bristolian. He’s got a wonderful sense of humour and is the most kind, considerate person. He sees people on and off the minibus to their flat, he jokes and teases. A lot of the little bits I’ve learned about Bristol have come from Andy. Because I’m still fit and was a nurse, when I go on the minibus with him I feel like a sort of deputy carer – keeping an eye on the other people. But that’s being a nurse, it’s in your blood and you can’t help it.
On top of that, I try to call on every new lease-holder resident within a few days. I introduce myself and help set up the dishwasher and washing machine if they need – these things can be foreign to people when moving and it helps people settle in. Every Wednesday morning we have a coffee morning run by the residents. It struck me that there are some people who might not get a Christmas present so this year I did a Secret Santa. In the past I’ve had to think male and female, but this year everybody got a packet with a fridge magnet with a list of helpful numbers on it.
And, of course, I’ve got to know the Sales team well. Sarah and I were in the promotional film they did for Westbury Fields and when the team have one of their presentation days I go to the presentation and help answer any questions. Then we break out into groups and take people round. They see a few different flats, the cricket pavilion, the croquet lawn and I’m there to explain that the doctor’s surgery is up the road and other things about the local area.
What advice would you give someone considering a retirement move?
I always say to people on the presentation days – don’t leave it too late, do it while you can make the choice and not your relatives so that when you arrive you get on and enjoy it. And be really ruthless and declutter. It’s a big move. Bring your happy memories and leave your sad memories behind.
To read more about our Westbury Fields visit the main retirement village page.