RESIDENTS at seven care homes across the North East have been overjoyed to reunite with loved ones who can now visit the homes inside Covid-safe visitor pods.

After nine months of separation to protect them from Covid-19, residents can safely see their family and friends once again.

Arriving just in time for Christmas visits, the pods have been installed at Kenton Manor, Kenton Hall and Ashton Court in Newcastle, Craigielea in Gateshead, Wilton House in Darlington, Astune Rise in Middlesbrough and Peterlee Care Home.

The pods are made from airtight floor to ceiling Perspex screens, with access to their own door so visitors don’t have to enter any other part of the homes. Residents sit on the other side of the screen, enabling them to see and chat to their visitors using an HD speaker/microphone system.

One of the first visits to take place at Kenton Manor, reunited resident Rosemary Kendall with her husband and their son. At Astune Rise, the first visit took place between Evelyn and Colin Robinson who have been married for almost 65 years and never been apart.

Mr Robinson said: “Being separated for this long has been tough and I have really missed Evelyn. Although the home has kept us connected with phone calls and the staff have been fantastic, nothing beats seeing each other this close and catching up properly.

"It was fantastic to visit in person again and I feel really safe and warm not just being at a window. Thank you to the home for all they’re doing.”

Steve Massey, operations manager at Solehawk which operates some of the care homes, said: “Like all care homes our doors have been closed to non-essential visitors since the start of the pandemic, so this feels like a big step in the right direction to bring residents closer to their loved ones in a safe way. There’s more positive developments on the horizon for care homes with the new vaccine and lateral flow testing, with our pods allowing visits in the meantime while these are being rolled out.

“It means a lot to our residents and their families to see each other regularly and not being able to in person has been difficult. Our teams have worked really hard to create a safe environment for visits and there’s been a real buzz around the homes since they’ve been taking place.

"We can’t wait for the day when we can have visits under normal circumstances again, but hope the pods help residents and their families feel more connected in the meantime.”

Both sides of the pods are thoroughly cleaned in between each visit.

Visitors - a maximum of two people from the same household - are provided with PPE to wear to minimise the risk of infection between visits, and are also sent a copy of the homes’ responsible visitor code as guidance prior to their visits.