There are many things to consider when choosing a care home, but to know a place properly you have to meet those already living there. Debra Barnes is introduced to the dwellers at Spring Lane.

With a communal area designed to emulate the lobby of a grand hotel and a glass of sherry served before lunch every day, Spring Lane is not your average care home. Visiting the property in Muswell Hill is like stepping back to a time when nice manners were the norm and afternoon tea was an every day event.

Remembering the niceties of yesteryear is not really a stretch for many of the residents at Spring Lane for aged between 74 and 102 years old they see the past with more clarity than today, but some like to keep up their old traditions.

Spring Lane allows that to happen in a happy, stimulating home environment where people who didn’t

Top: Left Bonnie Gunton and fellow resident Ilsa Robinson and Below: Residents enjoying the afternoon sunshine after lunch and that essential glass of sherry.

Left Bonnie Gunton and fellow resident Ilsa Robinson

know each other before forge friendships that make all the difference to their well-being.

They also get to enjoy the sort of food they would happily order in a restaurant as I discovered on the Wednesday I visited and checked out the menu and pondered over whether to have the Chicken soup with knaidlech or Fruit Juice; Casserole or Spanish Omelete or the Pear Helene or Lemon Sorbet. Then I saw Sunday’s menu and considered coming back.

The the daily activities are the kind you might find on the more sedate parts of a cruise ship. Spring Lane manager Sam Wood explained: “Every morning we have an exercise session and a current affairs discussion group. There is always plenty to talk about and we usually have a lively debate!

On Wednesday afternoon there is also live music ranging from kettle drums, opera trios, and jazz singers to a klezmer band which comes in from Highgate synagogue.” Small wonder the residents aren’t bored, but as I discover when I meet them these are really not the sort of people who could ever grow tired of life or struggle to find something to say.

Residents enjoying the afternoon sunshine after lunch and that essential glass of sherry.

Residents enjoying the afternoon sunshine after lunch and that essential glass of sherry.

Bernard Gosschalk is a typical Spring Lane tenant if there is such a thing, but his fascinating life would make him the perfect guest at any dinner party. In his youth Bernard was a social activist in Cape Town who was jailed twice for anti-apartheid activities and met with Nelson Mandela.

From South Africa he went to Manchester University to be a Professor of architecture and latterly he wrote the book c ‘Z – A Shared Journey’ which is about his late wife’s battle with Alzheimer’s.

Now, aged 88, Bernard tells me he is starting a new life in London. “My heart is in Cape Town, my house was in Manchester but I’ve moved here because my four children, who all live in London, were worried about me.” So what does Bernard think of Spring Lane?

“My children did a lot of research and decided that this was the best home for me. I’ve only been here two weeks, but I can see that the staff are very cheerful and supportive.

There are lots of activities although I’m an oddball; there is nothing physically active enough for me so I

do my own exercises in the corridor and outside!” On his suggestion I moved outside to chat with Mrs Ilsa Robinson, an 86 year old Kindertransport refugee. “I am happy with the home but not happy with my condition” explained Mrs Robinson who has spinal problems which mean she needs help looking after herself. “My daughters live nearby and we chose the home through recommendations.

“I enjoy the cultural activities such as poetry reading and art appreciation. The Wallace Collection brings in copies of their art sometimes for us to see and learn about. I have also decorated my bedroom with some of my late husband’s paintings.”

Art is a popular activity at the home and on the walls of the communal areas hang some of the annual art projects which the residents, staff and friends take part in, jointly recreating paintings by artists such as Chagall and Van Gogh, with surprisingly good results.

One of four London homes run by the Springdene care homes group, Spring Lane has an open-plan feel to the communal ground floor areas while the other floors each have small quiet rooms with kitchenettes. Bedrooms are all en suite and residents make their rooms as cosy as possible with plenty of photographs as well as pot plants, cushions and throws.

Some even bring in furniture among them Mrs Robinson who brought a family heirloom, her grandmother’s chair which she refused to leave behind. Bonnie Gunton, 85, brought some paintings, a desk and a couple of chairs from her house in St Albans.

Many of the residents have moved from places as far away as Edinburgh, Yorkshire and Norfolk to be near their families. “We like the families to be involved,” explained Sam. “Every summer we hold a BBQ for residents and their families which is a really enjoyable event.

Van Gogh

Another painting by the residents inspired by the great Van Gogh

Spring Lane also has its own hairdressing salon where 20 ladies can get their hair done every Thursday, and the chiropodist comes in regularly too. The home is registered for dementia care and the top floors are for those who are suffering from this condition, with their own lounge and activities appropriate for their needs.

Betty Kidd from Stockton-on-Tees moved into Spring Lane at the end of last year, but she told me she is frustrated. “I am

Above: Chagall, Van Gogh and other great artists provide the inspiration for the artwork lovingly re-produced each year at Spring Lane by the residents and staff. Each person is responsible for creating a single square of the chosen painting and then they are all joined together to make the final image.

Chagall, Van Gogh and other great artists provide the inspiration for the artwork lovingly re-produced each year at Spring Lane by the residents and staff. 

a do-er” explained the 85-year-old. “I’ve done the housework all my life and now I have nothing to do. I wouldn’t mind doing the ironing!” Unfortunately this is not an option for the residents.

Activities organiser Caroline does however try to find something to keep most people entertained. So there’s Bingo for the number-lovers, assorted games, quizzes for the residents who like to flex their general knowledge muscles and reminiscence sessions to keep the mind young.

Dance is a favorite with movement and sports to keep the body moving as an after-breakfast activity for those who don’t want to simply snooze. But sadly, for Betty at least, there’s no ironing.