For 45 years Kathy McGrath-Gunn has been on the front line of providing care and attention to some of the north-east’s most vulnerable residents.
What she couldn’t have known though is that in the same year as she reached the incredible landmark, which she has spent the entirety of at Anderson’s in Elgin, she would also be tested like never before.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed people across the world to limits they didn’t know they could reach.
And at Anderson’s it has fundamentally changed the atmosphere in the care home, which can trace its roots back to 1832.
Through it all Kathy and the rest of the 110-strong staff have worked tirelessly to lift spirits amid the gloom of separation from friends and family.
Along the way there have been highlights, Kathy was made an MBE in October – an award she said was recognition of the work of everyone at Anderson’s – as well as boundless generosity from the local community.
However, the care home manager, who began her career washing floors and dishes, described the last nine months as the “most stressful” of her life.
She said: “It’s definitely the toughest thing I have faced.
“I think the social distancing has been the hardest. We have five separate units at Anderson’s and we’ve had to keep them all separate.
“We’re used to everyone mixing together, people buzzing about and all the sound that goes with that.
“Our residents and staff have found it incredibly difficult to miss what was a huge part of their daily life.
“We still have a lot of laughter and a lot of fun, but it’s not the same and still very difficult.
“We can never forget that we’re carers. It’s our duty to work our socks off to fulfil life to the best of our ability – whether that’s our catering team, bringing laughter or providing care itself.”
Keeping in touch with family
Throughout the pandemic Anderson’s has improvised with a series of indoor activities to maintain the link for residents to the outside world.
A virtual fireworks display and bonfire were held in November while the historic home received its traditional, but scaled-back, makeover for Halloween.
Meanwhile, the residents enjoyed their own Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival alongside a series of outdoor activities in the large garden.
Kathy said: “All of that has been hugely important. Digital technology has completely changed how residents keep in touch with families.
“Our main Facebook page is important but all of the units have their own personal page over and above that.
“The response from the community to some of the appeals we’ve put out for items has been really incredible.
“We had a Mexican night one day and put out an appeal for sombreros thinking ‘who’s going to have some of them lying about?’ – within 30 minutes there was someone knocking at the door with three.
“The generosity of people never stops surprising us.”
Changing with the times
Anderson’s origins come from the rags to riches story of Andrew Anderson – whose mother cared for him in the ruins of Elgin Cathedral when he was a baby while relying on the generosity of others.
Very quickly he showed signs of being bright and eventually joined the Army, rising to become a Major General.
When he died in 1824 he established a trust of £70,000, the equivalent of £6.2 million today, to form an institution to look after the old and educate the young.
To this day the home remains run by the board of governors he prescribed in his bequest.
Kathy said: “I lived at Anderson’s for my first 10 years. It was long hours from 7am to 10pm and our weekend was finishing at 5pm on a Friday and back at 1pm on Sundays.
“It still had that institutional feel back then, it was still very much the original building, but through the years we’ve had two big renovations.
“The care sector has also changed dramatically since then. When I started the men and women were in separate parts of the building, I remember when that changed it caused a lot of excitement.
“It’s been ever-changing over the years. The focus now is so much on quality of life and people’s own choices, it’s not a case of packing them off to bed or the bath anymore.”
Despite the challenges that have been thrown at Kathy and the rest of the sector in 2020, she remains enthusiastic about the future of Anderson’s and the wider industry.
She said: “There’s so much still to do. I’ve had two major refurbishments at Anderson’s while I’ve been here and we’re working on the next, it never stops.
“There were plans to upgrade all the rooms this year as well as looking to the future with the installation of a new larger lift.
“All of that has had to be postponed because of coronavirus, but we’re all still very excited about the next phase for Anderson’s.”