Gypsy/Traveller Carers’ Project
A story by MECOPP
We organised a programme of short breaks (residential and day events) for carers, and those being cared for, from the Gypsy/Traveller community in rural and urban areas of Scotland.
Each break was designed to reduce isolation, promote wellbeing and improve knowledge of mainstream carer-related services.
What Gypsy/Traveller Carers’ Project did
Over the last we have organised four residential short breaks, in London, Penrith, Pitlochry and Edinburgh (three lasting two nights and one lasting one night), and four day events in Crieff, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth. The programmes of each event were based on participant feedback including a mix of new activities and popular ones from previous events. A varied and exciting programme combined therapeutic activities and others designed to enable participants to have fun and relax, including yoga, singing classes, classical Indian dance, basic first aid, Salsa, a boat trip, arts & crafts, herbalism, seated exercise, complementary therapies, swimming, a 'pamper day' and afternoon tea in a posh hotel! This flexibility was popular with carers who were attending for the first time and/or anxious or hesitant to experience a short break without feeling under too much pressure.
Short breaks were promoted via our outreach staff in Perth & Kinross, Argyll and Lothians with most referrals coming via word of mouth within the Gypsy/Traveller community, an indication of the trust that has been built up as well as the success of this short breaks programme. Building on feedback from previous years, this year we also sometimes combined breaks with sessions which focused on Gypsy/Traveller identity, much maligned and misunderstood, by attending, for example, a conference hosted by a London-based Traveller organisation, thereby enabling carers to share their learning, caring experiences and establish links with other Traveller groups.
In addition, for the first time, some carers also participated in International Roma day events that were held in Glasgow in April 2017. Similarly, during the Pitlochry residential, a session on 'Gypsy/Traveller heritage in Scottish museums' was facilitated by a volunteer who is currently studying for a PhD. In each case participants were able, in a safe setting, to relax, be proud of their heritage and reminisce, thereby reducing isolation and helping to restore cultural pride and identity.
A neighbour persuaded her to go along to a local afternoon event - complementary therapy tasters, crafts, a cuppa and some nice cakes - she felt so relaxed, had a laugh, learned about entitlements she'd previously been unaware of, made new friends and now regularly attends residentials.
She said "my daughter would love this, but then if she came I couldn't come [daughter caring for father in mum's absence], so I'll keep quiet for now"
She tirelessly tries to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health and in the last year has spoken about her experiences at a conference in the south of England with an audience of over 200 health and social care professionals. Along with others, she has contributed artwork to the Out of Sight, Out of Mind exhibition in Edinburgh during the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.
She also applied for funds, via the local carers centre, for her whole family to have a short break as a family, much needed respite and a chance to have fun as a family. At a recent residential staff observed her sharing anecdotes about the family trip but also sharing tips with other carers about how to access similar funds for family breaks.
What MECOPP has learnedOur project focused on carers from the Gypsy/Traveller community, but our model has now been successfully replicated within MECOPP with other minority ethnic communities.
We have learned not to cram too much into the programme, sometimes carers just want to chat and have a cuppa - for some this is precious, much-needed, time just to relax away from the stresses of everyday life. The success of this project has been the way in which it has been promoted within the community, ensuring access to carers who might otherwise be 'hard to reach'.