In a virtual ceremony on 19th November, Frances Peake was named Carer of the Year in the Kütchenhaus Pride of Devon Awards 2020.
Frances (known as Fran) was nominated for this award by Bev Hopkins for looking after her brother, Kevin Mears, at his home in Christow. Kevin was diagnosed with early-onset dementia five years ago at the age of 63.
In a sad twist of fate he then died unexpectedly at the start of November – the day after we interviewed Bev for this article. But Bev decided it should go ahead regardless as Kevin would be so happy that Fran is getting the recognition she deserves.
Fran, 52, lives two doors down from Kevin’s former home and when his health started to decline she was working for the local Friendly Faces agency that specialises in looking after the elderly and those with dementia in their own homes. Meanwhile, Social Services had recommended Friendly Faces to Bev and her sisters, as the family were struggling to cope with their brother’s increasing needs.
“As he got more ill and his routine became more limited he’d be up at Fran’s house two or three days a week,” recalls Bev. “But Fran and her family were brilliant about him knocking on their door morning noon and night. She started cooking his dinners. He’d forgotten how to use a knife and fork and liked to eat with his hands so she’d be cutting it all up for him.
‘He hid food all over the house so she’d be finding potatoes under the bed. His personal hygiene also took a dive so she’d take his laundry home to do. And the thing is, she was doing all this in her own time but I think that’s just in her nature – she’s amazing.”
Fran’s boss, Friendly Faces founder Claire Northmore adds: “Fran’s skills working with people with dementia are fantastic because she’s patient but she also has a knack for finding out what really matters to that person and then she uses that to try to give them the best quality of life possible.
‘For example, favourite clothing is often an issue for people with dementia as they like to keep on wearing it. So when Kevin started wandering off along the roads at night, she found a special fluorescent spray to use on his favourite coat so it looked the same in daylight but became reflective in car headlights.”
“In hindsight you realise that Kev was probably on the autistic spectrum,” says sister Bev. “He always liked order and routine. You couldn’t touch his comic before he got home from school… In the end we had to have him sectioned which was awful. Fran, bless her, was going to his place five or six times a day.
‘I live in Exeter and Sheri’s in Newton Abbot. Our other sister Dawn was ill at the time. We just didn’t have time to do all the things Fran did and Kevin would never have managed to stay at home for those last two years without her. ‘In the end I think Fran meant more to him that we did,” she concludes. “He trusted her and would let her do things that no-one else could do.” He had even given her a nickname ‘the boy’ possibly because of her short hair (he pronounced it ‘bey’). Later when he got really distressed during his time in the specialist hospital he would call out, ‘No, no, the bey will come,’ which was heart-breaking to hear.
Though Kevin was a gentle person his restless energy and repetitive behaviour did not make him easy company – unless you were Fran: “He was a bit of a character,” she reminisces fondly. “But I was always pleased to see him. And his family were really supportive, too. I’d say he needed a bell for his back door so I could hear him going out. They got one. I asked for a self-flushing toilet and one appeared.
‘For years I used to be an auxiliary nurse,” Fran explains. “But it was never really my thing. I always wanted to spend more time with the patients talking to them and getting to know them but that can’t be done in hospital, of course. I knew I wanted to work with people with dementia and help them stay in their own homes for as long as possible, so this really is my
This year’s Kütchenhaus Pride of Devon Awards virtual ceremony video is currently hosted on the Radio Exe YouTube channel at