The invisible heroes of our community

The final official Clap for Carers took place last Thursday and Ross-on-Wye residents showed up on their doorstops in force to celebrate and congratulate the incredible bravery and selflessness of carers in our community. Our immediate thoughts are with carers employed by the NHS or care agencies, however there are also around 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK who are our community’s invisible heroes working in isolation.

Carers’ Week (8-12 June), is an annual campaign supported by charity Carers UK, to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges unpaid carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. It also helps people who don’t think of themselves as having caring responsibilities to identify as carers and access much-needed support. Carers UK reveals that a staggering 70% of carers are having to provide even more care for their loved ones during the coronavirus outbreak which puts incredible strain and pressure on not only emotional and physical wellbeing but also on their mental health. Sadly, More than half (55%) of unpaid carers told the charity they feel overwhelmed managing their caring responsibilities during the outbreak and are worried about burning out in the coming weeks.

Ross Good Neighbours – set up in 2019 to support the vulnerable in the community with shopping, pet care, medication deliveries and ‘phone friends’ – has been helping families struggling to cope with the additional pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic over the last few months. The team is sending a clear message out to all carers in the community – Jane Roberts, Chair of the Ross Community Development Trust, commented: “If you are a carer, in any capacity, and are unable to shop for yourselves or your loved ones – or are uncomfortable about going to supermarkets, perhaps following a shift – please call Ross Good Neighbours and we will help you with your weekly deliveries. Leave a voicemail on our dedicated Message Line (01763 802046) and one of our volunteers will call you back or you can place an order online at www.rosscdt.org.uk by clicking on the ‘How we can help’ link”.

In addition to the volunteer support on offer, many carers work around the clock with Ross Care Group, which is a collaboration of well-established local companies working together to improve care services within the community. The group comprises Total Living Care (TLC), Ashfield Care, Hands and Multi-Train. James Lloyd from the Ross Care Group commented: “We work really closely with all the local services to improve care in Ross on Wye and are very grateful for the support of the Ross Community Development Trust and its Ross Good Neighbours scheme which actively assists in helping those more vulnerable in our community. Ross Care Group is also very keen to push the integration of Health Care and Social Care more intensely once lockdown lifts (something we started prior to the pandemic) – we believe this collaboration is unique in England and will give Ross-on-Wye a great advantage in being able to better support the vulnerable in our community.”

In Herefordshire, free support is offered by the CarerLinks team at Crossroads Together, who offer emotional and practical support to unpaid carers.  CarerLinks help carers to protect their own health and wellbeing and cope with their caring role. Further details and information can be accessed by contacting Crossroads Together on 01432 663057 where you can speak to a Carer Advisor who will provide a listening ear and can link you into valuable free services and support. Alternatively, you can email them at herefordshire@crossroadstogether.org.uk or visit their website  at www.crossroadstogether.org.uk.

CARER PROFILES:

We spoke to two local carers, on what their roles involve and the challenges they face.

CARER PROFILE #1: Becci

Where are you based? Ross-on-Wye 

Describe your usual day as a carer: I work 12 ½ hour shifts from 07:30-20:00 or 20:00-07:30 three to four times a week. I assist people with washing, showering, bathing, applying creams and clothing and also make people their breakfast and help them with feeding if needed. I also help people to the toilet, make sure they are drinking enough fluids and checking on how they are or whether they’ve spoken to their family today. I tell them what I have been doing, and we share stories of our lives – past and present – throughout my shift. 

Have you always worked in care? Mostly, yes. 

What made you want to work in care? I wanted a challenge. My first job in care was working with adults with learning disabilities. I had been previously working in a pub. 

How has the lockdown affected your role? I have been redeployed twice, which was my own choice. The hours have been the same for me. I pick up bank shifts in Gloucester and Cheltenham hospitals and it has been hard to find the shifts. I usually book a few shifts weeks in advance. 

Has there been any particular moment during your shifts that really touched you? I spent two shifts in a care home where one lady is at the end of her life; her husband passed away recently and she’s just giving up. She is 100 years old, an achievement in itself. Amongst all the manic there, she sometimes got overlooked. I sat on the floor next to her bed after doing what I needed to help her with, and just held her hand. She kept squeezing it and I kept telling her it was OK and that I was still there. She had a drink with me, only thickened water, but smiled at me and whispered “lovely”. And do you know what, it was lovely. It was so lovely to help her have a drink, to sit and hold her hand and to have a small conversation with her. She is lovely. It is so hard to know that her family aren’t able to be there with her and share those moments she shared with me.

What is the most challenging part of your job right now?  Knowing that people aren’t seeing their family or having any visitors. Making time to chat with them and bring some ‘normality’ into their lives. 

Tell us something about you: I’ve recently started running! And I’m surprised at how much I enjoy it. I love walking around our beautiful town and finding new paths along country lanes. 

Tell us one thing that nobody knows about you: I’m in the middle of filling out my UCAS application for a nursing degree. 

Is there anything that you’ve missed the most during lockdown? Being able to go out for drinks or dinner – aad driving to Locks Garage for ice cream! 

What will be the first thing you’ll do when lockdown completely lifts? Go and have a big hug off my mum and a cup of tea and a proper natter. 

CARER PROFILE #2: Michelle

Where are you based as a carer?  I live in Ross on Wye with my partner and two adult children, one whom I care for, my son, who has Autism with co-morbidities.

Describe your usual day as a carer (days, timings, overview): I work part time and care for my son. My son is still in education, although due to the current crisis he is accessing college work online. I am currently working from home for the same reason. Juggling work and caring can be difficult at times but it gives me peace of mind knowing that I am available when he requires support.

Have you always worked as a carer or did you fall into it due to circumstances? My son is in his early twenties now, was diagnosed with Autism at age 3. I used to work in the nursing profession before I had both my children and believe that the experience gave me the patience, understanding and ability to advocate on his behalf and continue to support him to have his say.

What circumstances changed for you which led to you becoming a carer? As a parent caring for a disabled child who is now an adult, a lot of the time people would say to me ‘but you’re a mum caring for your child so how can you call yourself a carer? Surely you are doing what mum’s do?’  I would explain it is the ‘extra over the ordinary’ that a parent does when you have a child with disability that makes you a carer. Caring for a child with disability is lifelong. A child with disabilities becomes an adult with disabilities. With a lot of input from family and professionals alike, the hope is that someday my son will be able to be as independent as possible and be given the same opportunities as anyone else to live a safe, happy, fulfilling adult life with the right support in place.

How has the lockdown affected your day to day life? It has been difficult especially for my son because he needs routine and structure and used to love going to college. College was his main source of social interaction and has therefore become more socially isolated as a result. Fortunately, my daughter, his sister, has been a good source of support for him and she has been amazing in helping to keep him focussed on his college work, going for walks together and keeping him company especially whilst I am working from home.

If you are in full or part time work as well as being a carer, what are you finding most difficult right now? It has been challenging at times although, fortunately, my daughter has been a great source of help and support for her brother, which has enabled me to continue working from home without many disruptions.

If you could change one thing for carers like yourself, what would it be? For family carers to be given the recognition for the invaluable care and support that they provide. Family carers save the economy a fortune and regardless of earnings, I feel that all carers should be entitled to carers allowance and that it should be increased to a liveable wage.

Tell us something about you: I love walking in forests or near rivers as I find this very relaxing.

Tell us one thing that nobody knows about you: I learnt to belly dance – years ago!! I was pretty rubbish at it but is was so much fun!

What have you missed the most during lockdown? Seeing friends and extended family.

What will be the first thing you’ll do when lockdown completely lifts? Go on a family outing to the beach!

1 Comment

  1. Michelle is my beloved daughter of whom I am so very proud. She is one of the most caring women I have ever known, apart from being her Mother. Michelle she has raised her two exceptional children almost single-handed, one being her beloved autistic and extremely talented son, the other her giving and caring daughter who assists her brother in leading a normal, happy and enjoyable life in all respects. Yes, they are my grandchildren, of whom I am extremely proud, but Michelle is an outstanding and selfless carer for others as well as her immediate family, in spite of her less than perfect personal health. I live in South Africa, where Michelle was born, but can honestly say that she is an unselfish and devoted credit to whatever service she is involved in. I am humbled and blessed to be her Mother.

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