Stepping Out Rural Breaks for Carers
A story by Care for Carers
The Stepping Out® Rural Breaks for Carers project delivered short residential breaks to carers in the remote rural locations of the Isle of Coll and the Isle of Lismore.
The project delivered a programme of activities and events to small groups of carers in these locations.
What Stepping Out Rural Breaks for Carers did
We delivered 2 residential short breaks to carers on the remote Isle of Coll In March 2018 and September 2018 and 1 residential break to the remote Isle of Lismore in May 2018. 26 carers took part and the remote breaks were supported by Astronomy Funders to support the costs and enable us to take more carers and to offer Astronomy activities as part of the Isle of Coll breaks.
Creative Breaks funding supported us to pilot a mid-week break to the Isle of Coll for the first time this year and fully funded the first pilot remote rural break to the Isle of Lismore. Carers have responded very positively to coming away in smaller group sizes of 8-10 carers. For some of the carers this was the first time they had visited an island community or spent time in such a rural environment.
The impacts for carers from this service have been strong, many carers have made new friends, joined together in a shared interest and have continued their interest and friendships beyond the break. The programme has been successful in taking urban carers away to remote rural locations but in doing so we have brought carers issues to light within those communities and opening up discussions about caring.
We have developed strong local networks on the islands and have been supported by the local communities to deliver this service. We have a volunteer minibus driver and a member of staff going through the Midas Minibus driving test soon so that we have back up if needed.
We have learnt loads. The preparation involved with this type of service is set at a higher bar; we need to have Plan B for accommodation, activity, travel in place which is a logistical challenge and one we would struggle to meet without the goodwill of partners.
Carers came from a wide range of caring situations and their age ranged from 40 to 88. We had a higher proportion of older carers over 65 come along on these breaks and significantly for the first time we had 36% take up from male carers in relation to the Astronomy breaks. We have never had so many male carers coming forward for a service before so this is an unexpected but welcome outcome with new learning for us attached to it.
What Care for Carers has learned
We have learnt some new things this year through this monitoring. It shows us that male carers and older carers experience significantly higher levels of chronic loneliness and isolation than other groups of carers. For the first time we have had a 36% take up from male carers and over 40% of the carers were over 65 years of age. We can see a difference in their scores for loneliness. This group of carer’s feedback for feeling less lonely do not improve to the same level as other groups of carers even when they have scored high for health & wellbeing improvements.
So, many male carers will report a significant improvement in their motivation, stress levels, positivity, learning and confidence but score no change or no improvement in their sense of loneliness. This is an unexpected outcome for us and something we are working on how to address and alleviate as we go forward next year. We know that carers tell us working in small groups is important to them and so we are planning to build in follow on sessions for small group work on specific themes for next year.
That way we can encourage some of these more vulnerable carers to continue their connection with us. We know that the majority of the male carers coming forward did so because of the Astronomy and Science connection that the breaks offered them so we need to build on this work too.
Taking this work to remote rural areas does involve lots of discussions about the group, everybody on the island knows we are there and there was lots of interest in carers and what they do. Just opening up some of those dialogues brings the issues that carers face to the fore and that is hard to measure but important to be part of and to note.
How Care for Carers has benefitted from the funding
This funding stream has supported us to build on the pilot Dark Sky remote rural breaks. Allowing us to try something new and untested. This lets us try something out, build evidence and learning and then be able to show that to other funders to build the service for the future. It is hard to find funders who will take some risk with their funding so Creative Breaks has been very important in enabling us to try out and develop these services. From running the Dark Sky Astronomy breaks we had a lot of enquiries from carers who were really interested in the locations but not the subject so we knew there was a demand for remote rural breaks. Creative Breaks funding enabled us to pilot breaks that focussed on being in a remote location and taking part in a range of activities such as music, astronomy, walking, art, socialising, cooking and eating together while there. This has resulted in us expanding and developing our service provision to new locations across Scotland. As an organisation this strengthens us as our knowledge and learning, staff skills and networks are growing all the time. It has been a really exciting year and the feedback from carers has been so positive we know we are headed in the right direction.
‘75% of the carers who take part in this project will report having improved wellbeing as a result of coming on the break’.
Outcome was achieved with over 75% of carers reporting a slight or significant improvement in their wellbeing and positivity. Over 75% reported feeling less stressed, rested, safe, having learnt something new, made new friends and having more confidence. Carer comments in relation to this outcome, ‘Felt everyone made me welcome and socialise with each other and able to speak to others that are in the same situation. On going home I do think it will make a difference as batteries recharged.’ ‘This would probably be almost impossible to do on our own, so this is very calming and restful, no traffic, wonderful, wish it was longer’ ‘I will remember the tranquillity of the location and the possibility of seeing the Dark Sky. Astronomy was very informative and spectacular planetarium.’ ‘I loved going running on the island by myself, and all the musical things we took part in, the ceilidh, music workshops and the informal singing ‘at home’ with the others in the group.
I contacted you in April to inquire about the Stepping Out respite breaks. At the time I was in a very poor state and hardly functioning, a really dark place which I don’t want to recall. With your help I was placed almost immediately on a Stepping Out Break. I never wrote to say how grateful I was and how timely this Stepping Out Programme came into my life. Unfortunately soon after I reached my breaking point and my daughter was taken into emergency respite hospital care in the middle of a dispute over the design of the ramp the council had been building for her wheelchair. Nevertheless, I still remember how some simple activities and treatments from the Stepping Out break made me feel. It brings me to tears to recall my memories, sitting and drawing, a foot bath and someone else caring for me (that was a big one!!!) and most of all being among other humans with the same experiences as mine. Even 5 months later I am still crumbling thinking about this break, it was alike a life-line to keep me afloat. Every time I sat down to write my feedback to you I got so emotional that I was unable to write it. Now that my cared for person is in long term care I have been better able to look after myself and do more of the things I like. I have been volunteering with a number of carers charities in the city to teach Emotional Freedom Techniques, which helps to reduce stress and increase well-being. I would love to volunteer to do EFT workshops on next years Stepping Out programme. This would be a small way to say Thank You and to express my deep gratitude for what Care for Carers did for me. I promise you carers will love it.
‘75% of carers who take part in this project will report having had a positive break for themselves away from their caring situation with their peer group’
This outcome was met with over 75% of carers reporting improvements in having a positive break, making new friends, learning something new and feeling safe and looked after. Carers Comments in relation to this outcome, ‘Very Local Hero, friendly, lovely people looking out for each other on the island, it felt very safe.’ ‘ I will remember this, the people, the views, the weather, the relaxed company, all of it really! A huge thank you to all the leaders who looked after us so well, nothing was too much trouble. It was well organised and got the balance between free time and group time right. Loved the singing on the last night.' ‘Sheer brilliance of all that effort put into all of us by all of you! Loved it’ ‘The whole weekend has been amazing. This is my only opportunity to have time away on my own. It is a world away from my caring responsibilities' ‘It was hard to believe that all that beauty is in my own country and I’ve never seen or experienced it before. I felt it all.'
Carer C is in her 60’s, she is a carer for her sister who has advanced dementia and is now in a home. She came forward for emotional support at a time when she was struggling with her own feelings of despair and isolation. She found it hard to relate to and open up to other people. During this time, she heard about the positive experience of another carer who had been on a Stepping Out residential break. She seemed reluctant to make an application initially but with encouragement decided to apply for a break in 2018 (this was the first break that she had applied for with us). She was keen to learn about astronomy and to go as far afield as Coll. She had also not taken a break away by herself as she did not feel that she had anyone to go with. Prior to this Coll break the weather presented us with some challenges and we had to keep carers informed that we may have to stay in Oban as the ferries may not leave for Coll and/or we may struggle to get back from Coll at the end of the break. Carer C had notified us that she may have to cancel at short notice because of her sisters deteriorating health but she was willing to go with the flow in relation to the weather conditions and willing to stay in a youth hostel overnight/or an extra night on Coll if necessary due to travel disruptions. The uncertainty became an adventure in itself and carers were very understanding and supportive of staff trying to negotiate alternative arrangements. Staff noticed a big difference in this carer by the end of the trip. We had been concerned about how she would interact with other carers in the group and also about her coming away so far, given her caring situation. The carer talked about her sister a great deal at the beginning of the break and at times she was tearful. The carer participated in all the activities including dancing, astronomy and a tour of the Island. And, by the end of the break, she was talking about herself more, acknowledging her own interest in Astronomy and travelling, realising that that she needed to think about something other than her sisters condition and to pay more attention to her own needs and interests. She was also more thoughtful and showed a lot of interest and kindness towards other carers in the group. We had a very diverse range of people on the break and not people that she would normally have had the opportunity to spend any time with. She was also so much more relaxed by the end of the break. She invited people to the pub, she laughed and sang and was happy to participate in all the activities, including encouraging a younger carer to participate in dancing lessons. One of her comments was “....... we began as strangers and ended up as friends”. It was difficult for C to go home. She had spoken about her isolation in prior to the break. She appreciated the company,the time, the space, the environment and the opportunity to have fun with others. One of the things that staff noted was how light and relaxed two of the older female carers had become over the course of the break (including the carer above). Both have extremely challenging, enduring and difficult situations and do not find it easy to let go. Having met new people on the break and getting to know our staff better, the carer has expressed a desire to know more about all our other activities and support. She would also benefit greatly from another break with us and will apply next year for this. The nature of this break- the four days together, spending a considerable amount of time being together, sharing meals, exploring the Island and being transported by the wonder of the Astronomy is unique. It allows people to know one another more fully, to understand and empathise and to enjoy each others’ company. Relationships with staff become more trusting- carers share very difficult life experiences whilst learning to be in an environment that does not demand the usual things from them.
‘75% of carers will report that having a break has helped them to cope with and continue with their caring situation’.
We have met this outcome with over 75% of carers reporting that they feel more motivated, more confident, rested and recharged. One couple who care for an adult son with learning disabilities had been having problems with their own relationship and both of them spoke to staff at separate times about how much the break had helped to bring them back together. ‘through some of the music activities I felt connected to my partner again’ ‘I feel looked after myself and therefore more able to give. I feel supported and understood. I can go away by myself but find it difficult to take time away, since I moved in with my partner this is the first break away with my partner without his son. We really needed it.’ ‘Being away, even for 4 days brings an element of perspective to my caring relationship. Also, the knowledge that I can take a break makes a difference’ ‘A few days apart from the person you care for helps both parties to get space from one another, it helps’
Carer D has multiple caring roles including her mother and granddaughter and daughter in law. D came to Care for Carers through our Carer Support Work and would not consider any group activities or residentials for the first year that we worked with her. She felt that she could not leave her caring responsibilities for more than an hour at a time (the only time that she would allow herself to have a one to one support meeting). D had also had to leave work due to her caring role and did not have anything that she did for herself. She missed her job and the companionship and had stopped socialising. D gradually joined in some of our day activities and was also referred to a Women’s Support Group which she has continued to attend. As a result of our work with her and her trust in us as an organisation D came to her very first Stepping Out Break in 2017. This was a completely new experience for her and she was very anxious before the weekend. However, since then, she has attended another short residential breaks and has this year, been on the longer break to the Isle of Coll. From thinking that she could not be away for even one night, D was determined that she would and could go for longer and that other family members could help out. She had informed her family that she would be away and had given them plenty of notice so that she would feel ok about going away. Her need and determination to get away had also helped her family to realise how important the break was to her. In preparation for the break D had her hair cut and bought new clothes. She was so pleased to have this opportunity and was really looking forward to it. The ferry to Coll was the first time that D had been on a ferry and visited a Scottish Island. She was absolutely thrilled and enchanted and spoke a lot about how much she appreciated having the break to Coll, and that her family could not contact her easily, except in an emergency it allowed her to have a proper break without family calling or relying on her all the time. She also felt able to take time to be herself, to explore the Island and at the same time to participate in group activities and share meals. She has since said that she would also love to bring her family to the Island as it was so special and she had not seen such beauty in Scotland. The break has allowed us to get to know D better and for her to feel more confident about talking to us. D has since shared some very difficult personal information with us, including a very difficult financial situation and one that she has felt embarrassed to share with anyone else. As a result, we have been able to apply for additional money for her to, go on a short break with the person she cares for. apply for an addition to her income through a grant application that we had made initially for a new bed for her husband, referral to a food bank. D has also been helped to set up her own email, something she felt she could not do on her own and that she had no one to help her with. As well as all of the above, D continues to join us for activities and has introduced her granddaughter to some of the things that we have organised which include the “cared for” person, such as a theatre trip and a bat walk. D’s granddaughter also helps to care for a sibling who has autism and is therefore a young carer herself. She would not have come to any of our activities previously and is hopefully more confident in talking to and approaching us for support. D is more confident, more assertive, more aware of the help and services that exist for carers and feels more hopeful about her life, knowing that she has support and that most importantly she can access a break just for herself, where she will be seen as D and not just as a carer for her family.