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TikTok has created some unlikely stars. The video-sharing app isn’t just a haven for teenage dancers, beauty vloggers and fitness influencers – recent sensations include an Australian livestock farmer and the Irish “batdad” who tried to remove a bat that had flown in to his family home. Now, TikTok users are flocking to the account of a new, unsuspecting celebrity: Ashworth Grange, a care home in West Yorkshire.
Since joining the platform a month ago, the residential and dementia home has achieved two million likes and more than 100,000 followers with videos of residents enacting TikTok trends and lip-syncing to pop music. One clip, viewed by nearly two million people, sees residents lipsyncing to the lyrics of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5. In another 15-second post, Sia’s Cheap Thrills plays as residents act out their Friday night preparations – one lady enthusiastically blow-dries her hair, while another is filmed merrily applying her lipstick in bed.
After a devastating year for care homes, it’s hard not to smile while scrolling through the clips.
When I visit Ashworth Grange, a broad, modern facility tucked away in the quiet backstreets of Dewsbury, staff members tell me that they are “gobsmacked” by the response they’ve had. Amy Fairest, the home’s “TikTok ambassador” and creator of its viral videos, says that the page was first introduced as a way of bringing “something different to the home”. “It's something that people could enjoy and keep our spirits high. We started it off as something that was just fun. But overnight, it went global. It’s insane,” she said.
Residents are similarly surprised by the reaction to their performances. Going viral has been “fantastic”, says June Stephenson, 88. “It feels great – I’ve never been famous before!”
The videos have attracted comments from users in Brazil, Australia and North America – but they have also enabled residents’ family members to keep in touch with their daily activities and give a heart-warming insight into their lives at the home. Comments beneath the video clips range from “Hi from Finland, you are the best” to “So glad dad is part of this”.
“I love doing it, and my family enjoys watching them,” says Stephenson, when I meet her in the garden of the home. The former receptionist’s children and grandchildren enjoy keeping up with her TikTok stardom, and her son has been watching her performances – which have included dressing up as a pirate for a sea shanty rendition – from his home in the Canary Islands.
Although she now performs in three or four videos a day, Stephenson had never heard of TikTok before the care home joined last month. “Being my age, I’ve never known anything like that, so it’s really good,” she says. “I think everybody enjoys it and it’s nice that your family can see what’s happening and what you’re doing.” When I ask whether there are any emerging celebrities among the residents, she is quick to respond: “Me!”
Stephenson’s delight is shared by Margaret Jones, 83, who has lived at Ashworth Grange since 2018. The resident, who previously worked designing patterns for carpets and rugs, said: “I think it is absolutely marvellous how well the page is doing. I have had so much fun taking part in the videos and it is amazing that people all over the world are interested in us.
“It is really good to still be silly at times – even in your eighties, we have all had so much fun learning the little dances or taking part. I think through creating the videos, I have made stronger bonds and friendships with other residents, too, which is always lovely.”
Like Stephenson, Jones has enjoyed sharing her TikTok videos with family members. When her four grandchildren watched her performances, “they all had smiles reaching from ear to ear”.
Home manager Paul Rowson says that the TikTok page has “really lifted people’s spirits”: “We’re always looking to do things differently where we can, and obviously TikTok is quite the rage at the moment, so that’s why we thought we’d join in with it.”
“The residents are absolutely loving it, the staff are loving it,” says Fairest, “and it’s bringing us all together. They always know I’m coming for a TikTok when I’m walking down the corridor with my phone.”
She says she often receives text messages from residents’ relatives asking when the next video is coming out and she says that it has been “a comfort to families” to see the residents having fun.
Yet while it boasts an impressive following, Ashworth Grange is not the only care home to have joined TikTok during the pandemic. Residents and carers at Teal Beck House in Otley similarly delighted an audience of thousands last year by taking part in TikTok dance-alongs, and Kettering’s Westhill Park joined the app in the first lockdown, posting regular videos of residents performing choreographed routines in their dance classes. Its account, though dormant since November, now has over 100,000 followers.
As curator of the Ashworth Grange page, Fairest doesn’t plan to stop creating new videos any time soon. As she points out: “you’re never too old for TikTok, and I think we’ve shown that now.”