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Making dreams come true for older people in Colchester

The Wishing Washing Line: If you had one wish, what would it be?

The Wishing Washing Line, Colchester

Meeting Michael Bolton. Cooking your own dinner in KFC. Having Butlers in the Buff round. Having a friend to knit with. These are all wishes from care home residents which have been granted by the Colchester community thanks to The Wishing Washing Line.

The brainchild of Tony Lee, the first ever Wishing Washing Line started in Essex and now groups have set up across the UK in London, Bristol, Bath and Edinburgh while globally The Wishing Washing Line stretches as far east as Auckland and as far west as Winnipeg, with one in Long Island.

“I was a consultant and volunteer in care homes in 2016 and was promising the earth but as one person I couldn’t deliver it all. The idea of The Wishing Washing Line came to me in the car park and since then over 12,000 wishes have been granted to care home residents across the world,” said Tony.

“We wanted to improve the residents’ quality of life. Some care homes are brilliant but it is more about bringing the community feel back,” he added.

Traditional volunteering is obsolete

The Wishing Washing Line has a physical presence in Tesco’s shops, Morrisons and places such as libraries where an actual washing line has wishes attached to it. During their shopping trip, the public can view the wishes and then offer to help out and ensure the wishes are granted.

However, as the physical washing line only has limited space, Tony will maximise the use of infinite space available online and use QR codes in micro-boards in outlets such as Costa and Starbucks.

The Wishing Washing Line is part of the FANS (Friends and Neighbours) network of projects and has numerous partners including Colchester Borough Council, Essex County Council, police, Tesco’s, Independent Age to name a few and is part funded by North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group. Tony says it works because it is quick, relatively cheap and the person helping receives personal gratification while the care home resident gets to live out one of their dreams while living in a care home.

“A volunteer comes forward to help with one of the wishes, the wish is granted, and we move on to the next wish being matched,” said Tony, although he acknowledges that there are some regular volunteers.

“Previously volunteering was down to newly retired people who wanted something to do in their spare time and help out where possible. The Wishing Washing Line has made the traditional form of volunteering obsolete – anyone can volunteer to grant a wish, young or old,” said Tony.

“It works because it links people with similar interests. If someone is asking for someone to meet and knit with, I’m not going to put myself forward as I can’t knit. However, if someone wants to go to a cricket or football match I can do that,” he added.

Tony Lee, founder of The Wishing Washing Line

Drinks with Arnold Schwarzenegger

Tony has a number of favourite wishes that have been granted.

“Gladys wanted to meet Michael Bolton. We added the wish to the washing line on a piece of card. From that one piece of card, someone saw it who had contacts in television and spoke to Lorraine Kelly and there was a video link from Michael Bolton to the care home transmitted on Lorraine,” said Tony.

“Another chap, Tom Johnson, who had dementia used to come up with some ‘tall stories’ about how he used to be friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger and how he was a world weight lifting champion. His wish was to go back to a gym. It was arranged for Tom to go to Extreme Gym and when he walked in, a gym instructor pointed to a photo on the wall. It was Tom, as a British, European and World weight-lifting champion shaking hands with Arnold Schwarzenegger and it turned out they did go for drinks. At the gym, he was lifting 140kg. He gained free access to the gym, free gym equipment and sportswear. Not only did this improve his physical and mental health but it also stopped his dementia in its tracks so the condition didn’t worsen for over two years.”

“Another guy wanted to cook his own dinner at KFC, one lady wanted a girls’ night with Butlers in the Buff while another lady, who was 101 and had never been in trouble, wanted to be arrested. She was arrested for being “too good a law abiding citizen” and handcuffed and taken off by the police,” said Tony.

A wish being granted.

Mr Motivator gets involved

The operation may look like a large scale operation but it is down to Tony, his two colleagues Christina and Jo, and a board of trustees.

Furthermore, Mr Motivator, AKA Derrick Evans MBE and a friend of Tony’s gets involved and provided an in-person fun training session aimed at gentle movement for care home residents in support of The Wishing Washing Line.

Tony said: “Although the wishes can be small, as a charity we hold the view that the sky is the limit. We encourage the care home staff to have conversations with their individual residents and really think about what activity or experience would improve their quality of life through community connection. They don’t just have to wish for someone to come and sing and dance if what they really want is to go to the theatre! Or to re-visit somewhere they used to go in the community before they moved to live in a care home, or even to actually meet their hero……

“Of course, not everything in possible, but some amazing outcomes have come from a simple wish…..Gladys getting to meet Michael Bolton, Tom going to a weightlifting competition and ending up with a weightlifting gym in the care home garden, Vera receiving a personal video message from Judge Rinder, a 'Ladies' request to see Butlers in the Buff being filmed by national ITV, John wanting a ride again in an old Routemaster Red Bus.

“Big wishes which can make our care home residents feel that they still matter as individuals, that they are not isolated and forgotten, and knowing that others remain interested in helping to fulfil their personal wishes and dreams can also be hugely important to the self-esteem and wellbeing of the residents. It’s not always just someone to come and have a chat, or bring their pet to visit, but the individual benefits of that too should not be underestimated,” Tony concluded.

The Wishing Washing Line, Colchester

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