COVID-19: Man, 63, says ‘so much has changed’ in village as he leaves care home for first time during pandemic

Many of us are dreaming of a foreign holiday, but John Walker, 63, would be happy with a car ride.

John lives in a care home in the market village of Ramsbottom, in Bury.

"This place, here, you’ve got freedom," he tells me, "but you’re still in the home."

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John has dementia and, after a fall, broke his hip.

He hasn’t left the grounds of his care home since the pandemic began, not because he hasn’t wanted to, but because government guidelines meant if he did, he’d have to self-isolate in his room for 14 days upon return.

"So much will have changed outside, I just want to see it," he says.

Tuesday was the first day John could leave the home’s grounds, for a trip outside, without having to quarantine.

But the weather had other ideas.

It was a wet and windy day in northwest England and a walk, or a trip to the park, was off the cards.

"I only live a mile away from this home and things have completely changed," he told me. "I look forward to even sitting in a car, going in a car and driving through Ramsbottom would be a privilege."

The care home staff, like us, couldn’t help be moved by such a simple plea and manager, Stacey Atkins, sprang into action.

"Shall we go for a ride, John? Just around the centre of Rammy? To see how it’s changed?"

John was in his slippers but that wasn’t going to stop him.

He climbed into Stacey’s car and gave a delighted wave as they drove off.

It was just a 10-minute ride around the village and we chat again when they get back.

I ask John how he feels.

"Good," he says. "Excited. My heart is going! So much has changed!"

"It’ll be the garden centre next!" Stacey adds, "when the weather’s better!"

"Yeah, they’ve got a coffee bar," John says.

It was only after we’d left the home, and John was back inside in the warm, that the camera crew and I scroll through the footage from a small camera that we’d managed to pop into Stacey’s car, just before John got in.

And you could see how precious a trip this was.

John’s there, in the passenger seat, pointing out what’s changed.

"That block of flats wasn’t there!" he says at one point, "and that used to be a garage!"

For John, whose world has shrunk so dramatically, this glimpse of the world through a car window felt like freedom.

But it’s what this trip reminded him of that feels most poignant.

Stacey and John drive past the pub where John met his wife, Julie.

"We’d swapped coats, and she was wearing mine and I was wearing hers," he tells Stacey, "and we just sat there drinking, and that’s where I met Julie."

Watching that footage, we realised what people like John have lost this past year.

It’s not only new experiences, but just something as simple and as comforting as cherished memories.

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