Managers at the Star and Garter care home in Surbiton are determined Christmas won’t be cancelled this year. 

Thanks to an extraordinary donation of £100,000 from the Scheinberg philanthropic fund, Covid-secure indoor meeting rooms have been created in which relatives can safely visit their loved ones in the festive season.

The new rooms mean up to two members of a resident’s family can come to see them and converse through a floor-to-ceiling screen with microphones on each side.

Their construction comes as a national debate rages about access to care homes for the relatives of residents, some of whom have not been able to hug their families for months.

The visiting room at Surbiton has proved to be a ray of light after such a challenging year. And if a new testing regime can be introduced for designated family members - using lateral flow tests which give results within an hour - there could yet be visits without a screen in time for Christmas for relatives who have been tested.

Several staff and residents have tested positive at the home for retired service personnel, but that has not stopped them soldiering on.

When Phyllis, 98-year-old WWII veteran, tested positive for COVID-19, she feared for her life. But having recovered, she is philosophical. ‘I realise I was fortunate. It could’ve gone the other way. I was very fortunate to survive because so many people died,’ she says.

Bernard, a 92-year-old RAF veteran, who also lives at the Surbiton home, also tested positive, but remains defiant.

‘There was no time at all when I thought COVID-19 was going to kill me because I wasn’t suffering at all. God doesn’t give a sell-by date, does he! So it didn’t cause any psychological problems, because I live with the possibility of popping off any night.

‘I know it’s been very hard and challenging for staff here during the past few months, but I have never noticed a drop or change in the standard of care.’  

As for the staff, Jude Lally is a nurse at Royal Star & Garter’s Surbiton Home. She recalls: ‘One of the toughest times was the morning when we came in and I was told that a staff member had lost a very close family member. That affected us all very badly. It was really tough for us and I think we all cried.

‘Right now we see glimpses of normality, which is what I’m really looking forward to, that light at the end of the tunnel.’

Sure enough, the home is planning plenty of festive activities, including craft-making and Christmas concerts. On the day itself, each resident will still receive a personal gift from Santa and his helpers, and tuck into a traditional Christmas dinner.

With a month to go until Yuletide, the fighting spirit in this remarkable community is alive and well. Some of the residents saw off Hitler. As they have already proved, they are not about to be defeated by a virus.