Caring for a relative or friend who has an illness or disability can be a very rewarding experience, but it also presents challenges. Balancing a caring role with work, relationships and other responsibilities can often leave carers feeling stressed and isolated, and friends can struggle to understand their situation.
Quarriers runs Carer Support Services in Moray and Aberdeenshire, offering support, advice and information for carers of all ages. The services encourage carers to get in touch even if they don’t have a clear idea of what help they are looking for. Sometimes all it takes is a friendly voice at the end of phone who is there to listen. Once the individual carer’s needs have been assessed, a support plan is put in place, covering anything from signposting relevant information to accessing short breaks and specialised training.
“We support carers to recognise that they need to look after themselves too,” says Sandi Downing, Project Manager of Quarriers Carer Support Service in Moray. “A real challenge is people recognising that they are carers. They often don’t see themselves as carers and don’t know the impact that their role is having.”
It is important that carers take time to nurture their own interests and personal development as this helps them to recharge their batteries, build confidence, meet new people and recognise that they have a life outwith their caring role. To help facilitate this, Quarriers offers activities including cookery classes, art groups, carers cafes, Stay and Play groups and relaxation sessions along with training courses including SVQs.
Rosemay looks after her husband who has vascular dementia and macular degeneration. She first got in touch with Quarriers five years ago, and says that since then, the service has helped to open up her world.
She has eagerly taken part in courses on sign language and healthy eating, and enjoyed attending art workshops and showing her work at an exhibition at Moray Library. In particular, she has appreciated the opportunity to meet other people who know what she is going through.
“I’ve found that people don’t always understand your situation and they can shy away,” she says, “but the people you meet through Quarriers understand and stay with you.”
In April 2016, Rosemay and her husband went on a short break to Newbold House in Forres through Dementia Adventure. This presented an opportunity for Rosemay and her husband to enjoy activities together and create new memories as well as allowing Rosemay time to herself. One of the excursions organised on the trip was a boat trip: Rosemay was keen to go, but as this would have been a challenge for her husband, a volunteer offered to stay with him while she enjoyed the trip. It truly was a holiday for them both.
Gill’s life is busy balancing the needs of her son, who has cerebral palsy, and her nine-year-old daughter. She felt that her friends slipped away as they didn’t understand the challenges she faced, and she didn’t know where to turn to. Then she was referred to Quarriers through Quarriers’ GP initiative, and the next day, she was at the service speaking to a support worker.
The carer’s assessment helped Gill to decide to have counselling, and she says that having the chance to talk about her son’s diagnosis was a huge help. Her daughter began receiving support through the service too, and thoroughly enjoys attending young carers’ activities.
Gaining knowledge about her situation and what resources her family is entitled to is very important for Gill. She has attained her SVQ Level 2 in Health and Social Care, which has given her the confidence to advocate on her son’s behalf on issues such as accessing self-directed support budgets and appropriate resources at school.
Quarriers also works closely with schools to provide support for young carers. Carers’ assessments help to determine whether the caring role is appropriate for the age of the young person and whether there is potential to eradicate the role. Caring responsibilities can have a negative effect on a young person’s school work and may mean they don’t often get the chance to see their friends and simply enjoy being young.
Young carers can also benefit from support to develop life skills such as cooking and budgeting, and training in areas such as assertiveness to empower them to stand up for the person they care for.
“These children have so much heart and maturity, and I don’t think they realise how special they are,” says Support Worker Heather Knowles.
For 14-year-old Emily, the support from the service gives her the chance to have a break from looking after her mum and her two-year-old brother. Through the service, Emily has been attending cooking classes, and particularly enjoyed going to the Young Carers Festival in West Linton in June where she had a chance to meet other people in similar situations and enjoy a range of activities.
“The service makes it easier for me and my mum,” says Emily. “I have other things to do now, and being able to go places and not worry about Mum is the best.”
Twelve-year-old James says that being able to speak to his support worker Heather Knowles has been very beneficial. Heather provides a listening ear whether James is concerned about his caring role or any issues about his recent move to high school, and he feels that this has helped him to worry less.
Jessi, aged 15, has been caring for her older brother for as long as she can remember, and while she feels proud to be a carer, every day is a challenge. A real benefit of Quarriers’ support has been meeting other young carers who understand how she feels.
Creative Breaks provides funding for organisations to develop short break opportunities for carers, and the carer can decide what respite means for them, from a traditional break to a gym membership or a college course. Through this programme, Jessi was able to visit friends in England and enjoy a real break from caring. She is passionate about drama and spoken word poetry, and through the service, she has time to enjoy these outlets.
The support she has received from Quarriers has inspired her to work towards a career in psychology. “The best thing about coming to the service in the amount of care and understanding that the staff give,” she says, “and I want to be there in someone else’s life to give them space to breathe too.”