The Daily Sparkle
If you are familiar with the world of care homes where older generations and those who live with dementia reside, The Daily Sparkle is quite possibly already on your radar. The brainchild of Chris Harding, since 2009 this unique newspaper has been spreading sunshine and energy through care homes on a daily basis, 365 days of the year. Even on Christmas Day, a copy of The Daily Sparkle arrives, regular as clockwork.
We were lucky enough to have a chat with Chris recently, and he kindly answered a few questions.
Insequa: How would you describe The Daily Sparkle?
CH: We like to refer to ourselves as ‘The Activity Coordinator’s Friend’. It is a reminiscence newspaper created for older people and people with dementia. It’s a daily publication that goes out to 100,000 users, featuring four reminiscence articles about the small things in life. Inspired by life in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s, the reminiscence columns are written to provoke memories, prompt conversations and help people connect back with times when they were younger, stronger, more important in their lives; when probably they felt better about themselves, quite honestly. It’s also got a quiz, maybe a craft project or challenge and a song in each one. Support notes are provided which enable carers and activity staff to understand more about each of the columns, therefore have more confidence in engaging in conversation with the residents.
Insequa: How did you identify the need for the Daily Sparkle?
CH: It was luck. I used to be a psychotherapist and my journey in to working in the care home sector came about when a colleague contracted a muscle wastage condition. He was only 50, and he had to go into a nursing home. Over three months I watched him decline from being a bright shiny person into someone who was practically comatose. That upset me tremendously. So, I stopped working as a psychotherapist and decided to do something about it. There are hundreds and thousands of people like my friend who are in the same situation.
Insequa: So how did it evolve?
CH: Initially, I started as an entertainer. I developed something called The Variety Hour where I would go into care homes and entertain the residents. We broke the time down into sections of five minutes, each including reminiscences, quizzes, songs, physical exercise etc. It was very popular and for seven years I did that, and I trained a lot of other people to do it, too.
Insequa: How did you make the leap from entertainer to publisher?
CH: I could see what I was doing was working, but it only made a difference while I was there. I was only invited into care homes once a month. What about the rest of the time? So, I looked for things that would work on a daily basis so that every day there would be some stimulation, fun and enjoyment offered to residents.
Through my role as a psychotherapist I’d worked a lot with reminiscence – it was my chief tool of the trade. I knew everybody enjoyed reminiscence, so I just thought “Let’s try it.” I didn’t do any market testing, I just launched it on a hunch. I tested it with about twenty or thirty care homes in my local vicinity, and it went down really well.
Encouraged by the reaction, I pursued the idea. I studied the elements of writing for people with dementia and looked at the science and art behind enhanced readability. The Daily Sparkle writers have all been trained in writing for people with dementia. They’ve had to learn to write in a way that appeals and triggers those memories we’re trying to tap into.
Insequa: Is there a secret to getting people to engage?
CH: It is important to learn as much as you can about people. One or two facts should be enough to unlock the door. You’re looking to find a way of reaching them through something that’s personal to them. It could be the occupation they had or their interests…were they interested in football or fishing? If you can find the interest that a person has or had, that makes your job so much easier.
Over the years, working as an entertainer with a regular round of care homes that I would visit once a month, I got to know the residents and became aware of their needs. When people start sharing about their early lives, they become involved, become very animated. Something changes in their persona and they start talking in great detail about their life – you get to find out what makes that person tick. It’s not just about knowing their favourite food or TV programme, but all the little habits, the nuances, the bits that make us all individuals.
Insequa: What do you write about?
CH: We publish 120 different articles every month in The Daily Sparkle, covering a wide variety of topics – there’s usually something in there for everybody. We never recycle content, it’s always fresh. For example, today’s reminiscence columns feature pieces on traditional red telephone boxes, manual typewriters, the history of Lego and car tax discs – all topics chosen carefully to resonate with older generations and to spark conversation and discussion. Finding an article that chimes with a resident’s interest makes their day instantly brighter and also the carer’s job much easier.
Insequa: With staff recruitment and retention in social care such an issue, and also budgets tight, do you find the job of the Activity Coordinator is not prioritised?
CH: The most precious thing an Activity Coordinator has is time – it’s their biggest resource. We often hear about Activity Coordinators being pulled away from their role to do care duties. It’s frustrating for them because they know they can do their best work and have the best effect by being an Activity Coordinator and doing what is needed on that level. It’s difficult.
Insequa: How do Activity Coordinators access The Daily Sparkle?
CH: We have an app for the use of the Activity Coordinators – it’s got all the content that’s in The Daily Sparkle on it, including the music. They have access to all the songs, quizzes, articles, challenges – basically all they need to run a full-blown activity and engagement/reminiscence session. Care Homes who are subscribed to the service receive the week’s schedule in advance so they can plan ahead. We offer a free trial so care homes can try out The Daily Sparkle for themselves. You can only really get an idea of how powerful it can be, by giving it a go.
Insequa: You clearly have a passion for this type of approach – how do you spread the word?
CH: We are the biggest trainer of Activity Coordinators in the UK. Each year we train over 1,000 people to do this valuable work in training sessions all around the UK. We run several different courses that are constantly developing and improving in order to find ways that make Activity Coordinators’ jobs easier and more fulfilling.
Insequa: What’s next for the Daily Sparkle?
CH: We are working with some of the bigger, high end care home companies to enhance their offering to prospective residents. They are seeing that potential customers want to know about the standard of activities a care home offers. They are becoming more selective about finding somewhere to live that fits their needs. This has become an important question for groups to answer, because at the end of the day they are working in a competitive market. We help them showcase their care home’s activities as part of their marketing efforts. In addition to this, they get knock-on benefits of improved staff retention and increased support for the compliance manager who is delivering good quality person-centred care, as demanded by the CQC.
So, there you have it, The Daily Sparkle. Want to introduce some light and laughter into your care home? Grab yourself a free copy. And if you need any support with tender writing , compliance or CQC Quality Support, get in touch with Insequa for friendly, expert help – 0115 896 3999.