Making Caring Visible Valued and Supported across the South Tees
Last week, Carers Week, was up there with being one of my favourite weeks as the Project Lead for We Care You Care. It was fantastic to get out in the local community and meet some really interesting people both carers and professionals. Despite working closely with professionals from a range of local organisations over the last two and a half years, this was the first opportunity I have had to meet many of them in person, after forging our working relationship online because of the pandemic.
What did We Care You Care do to support Carers Week locally?
- Making Caring Visible: I spoke with two incredibly strong and humble local carers in advance of the week to share their stories and make the realities of looking after loved ones in the South Tees which were shared on our website and Facebook page. If you haven't had a chance to do so yet I really do recommend sitting down with a cuppa and having a read of both Rahima and Sarah's experiences.
- Making Caring Valued: I developed a timetable of activities which captured the main activities and events taking place across the South Tees by carers organisations to make caring valued locally. Activities included young carers sessions, carer picnics, day trips and information sessions to name a few.
- Making Caring Supported: Working together with key local providers and both local authorities we organised carers' information drop-ins and awareness-raising stands throughout the week to ensure carers had access to information and support.
I have had the pleasure of meeting lots of unpaid carers throughout the week at our partnership events delivered with Carers Together, The Junction Foundation, Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind, Redcar and Cleveland Mind, Kinship and Healthwatch South Tees, supported by both Local Authorities at the Cleveland Centre (Middlesbrough) and Footsteps in the Community (Redcar). Collectively we engaged with roughly 127 people looking after loved ones locally and signposted them to 29 local services including bereavement support, social services, social prescribing teams, Tees Valley Buddies and specific local carers services.
Power of connection
Getting out in the community really highlighted the power of connection. I am a working carer myself supporting a family member with depression whilst raising two young children so I know all too well the pressures and constant juggling act many local carers are experiencing. Meeting with a wide range of individuals whose caring roles were varied, many of them dissimilar to my own, all presented with the same challenges and frustrations which resonated with me; including:
- The carer's needs are felt as being secondary to the person they are caring for i.e. putting everything in place for their loved one and nothing for themselves.
- The weight of feeling responsible for their loved ones can be emotionally exhausting and overwhelming.
- The perception that the carer should be able to manage things themselves.
- Assumptions that nobody can help or not being in need of support.
- Not being aware of the range of support available.
We were able to provide support, information, advice and further signposting to all the carers that we connected to and it was fantastic to see how positive this engagement was for people, either from the comments they made to me on their way out or from the visible change in their body language. Carers said:
I care for my granddaughter who suffers with her mental health, my priority is making sure she has all the support she can get and I have been so busy with this that I didn’t realise until we came along today just how much my own mental health was suffering.” – Carer who attended the Cleveland Centre Drop-In.
I was just passing and came in for a nosey and I am glad I did, met some lovely people from organisations I didn’t know existed, looking forward to getting some help for me.” Carer at Footsteps in the Community Carers Drop-In.
Saw the event on We Care You Care’s Facebook which I have been following for a while, I have been a carer for years and just got on with it myself, I pushed myself to come down today and meeting with everyone made me feel less anxious about stepping out of my comfort zone and asking for help.” Carer at Footsteps in the Community Carers Drop-In.
There is no secret or shame to the fact that I have found developing We Care You Care challenging, communications and website development was so far out of my comfort zone not to mention the project being in its infancy at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic which increased caring pressures upon me. I started to feel overwhelmed with the pressure which I was largely putting on myself. My mental health declined and I started to suffer from anxiety. I contacted my GP and asked for help, the hardest thing in this process was recognising I needed it, I accessed talking therapies and I am in a fortunate position of having a great support network around me of friends, family and colleagues who have all really helped me and continue to do so.
Engaging first-hand with local carers and being able to relate to their experiences stoked the fire for me of why I do the job I do. I started working for MVDA around seven years ago with a passion for empowering others and making a positive contribution to communities. Connecting with the community has re-grounded and focussed me professionally, I will ensure I make this part of my work plan moving forward and not see community engagement as a luxury for campaign events.
What else did we do?
My colleague at MVDA, Sue Naylor, has been working on establishing the charity as a distribution centre for the voluntary sector. Sue has established relationships with a wide range of businesses that pass on surplus stock or seconds which would otherwise go to landfills. These items are then distributed to voluntary sector organisations to be used to benefit communities. Sue was able to create some fantastic goodie bags (the picture left shows an example) for Carers Week to be given out to carers we collectively connected with at the drop-in sessions in the Cleveland Centre and Footprints in the Community. All organisations added their service leaflets and collectively we handed out 22 bags which were really well received.
Firstly I am connecting to all the organisations who worked on the collaborative local campaign so we can collectively share feedback and capture our learning to ensure we build on future community engagement and develop our working relationships.
I can't wait to get back out in the community alongside colleagues from local provider organisations to connect carers to services and raise some much-needed awareness of unpaid care and the wide range of support options available across the South Tees... watch this space!
If you would like to share feedback from your experiences locally of Carers Week 2022 you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org