Complementary Therapy Social Groups
A story by PKAVS carers hub
We increased the frequency and reach of our complementary therapy social groups we run for adult unpaid carers living in Perth & Kinross. The sessions involve carers meeting for a cuppa and a chat before treating themselves to a nice, relaxing complementary therapy session of their choosing.
What Complementary Therapy Social Groups did
This project looked to build on an already well-established social therapy group programme we offered to adult carers living in Perth & Kinross. The existing social groups we delivered were mostly always fully booked and so we looked to increase the number of therapists at some venues, the frequency of delivery of the groups and also expand the reach of the groups out into other areas. The outcome of this would be more carers could attend with the services being more accessible to them in terms of locations and timings as we created some evening groups so working carers could also access these.
Unpaid carers were the direct beneficiaries of this offer as it was, they who attended the group which gave them access to information & advice, other carers who live locally and also a nice 45-minute pampering session. The indirect beneficiaries of these groups would be the cared for people as carers often fed back to us through the evaluations, we completed that it was these sessions once a month which were really good for their wellbeing and that this gave them the drive to carry on in their caring role.
A particular success which I guess is also a main challenge is how popular these sessions are and trying to be able to manage the demand. This has become more difficult as we see a 43% increase in carers registered with us over the past 2 years. Many of these carers have not had their care packages reinstated yet or if they have then they are reduced from what was available before. For this and many other obvious reasons this has resulted in more carers wanting to access more of our universal services like these social groups.
The project was suspended for December 2021 and January 2022 as we were trying to deal with the Omicron variant at that time. However, we were able to reinstate them in part from February and the demand we have seen since has meant that the full grant award will be spent. The other main problem has been with the cost-of-living crisis we haven't had anywhere near as much in the way of suggested £5 donations when carers attend these groups. This has meant we will be nowhere near the £7,920 we said we'd raise in donations when we applied for this funding.
What PKAVS carers hub has learned
We have done some partnership working whilst delivering these groups as we have invited partner organisations to come along and talk to the carers who attend the sessions. These can be organisations who cover all of Perth & Kinross or it can be more local support groups for a specific area. A large part of the groups is having professionals attend so carers can be kept up to date on what services may be available to them.
We have also learned that the cost-of-living crisis is becoming a major issue for carers and so much so that we aren't pushing as much for the suggested £5 donation we asked for before. We feel these groups should be available to carers based on need rather than ability to afford. £5 may not seem much but for some carers it could be an obstacle to them coming along especially if they felt awkward about not being able to make the donation. It has obviously impacted upon our income to deliver these, so we have had to find the funding for the shortfall from elsewhere (mainly Stagecoach who have supported these groups for years now).
The other issue that is difficult to manage is the large increase in carers registered here (43% increase in 2 years) and how many of these carers want to access us many of the universal services we offer. With the extended reach of the groups plus the complementary voucher scheme we administer on behalf of the HSCP we just about manage to make sure all carers can access something but if numbers keep increasing as they are (an average of 50 new adult carer referrals each month) then this will become a problem. More so now that due to funding restrictions the HSCP has decreased the number of vouchers carers receive through the scheme we administer on their behalf from 12 down to 6.
How PKAVS carers hub has benefitted from the funding
Without Creative Breaks funding we wouldn't be able to offer these complementary therapy social groups for a 'suggested £5 donation' as we currently do. This fund helps us subsidise greatly the therapist costs and venue costs which if we didn't have, we would either need to stop the groups or continue but charge the carers a much higher amount to attend. The groups help us develop partnership working opportunities with other organisations as often we invite them to come along to the groups so they can provide the carers who attend information and advice about their particular service. The groups undoubtedly also help raise awareness of PKAVS and the carers hub across different communities across P&K which hopefully means more carers become aware of our services.
Unpaid carers throughout Perth & Kinross will be able to access regular complementary therapies through attending these social groups. The feedback we receive from carers who attend the groups are they help them relax, share concerns, build peer support networks and gives them something to look forward to.
With an increased number of therapists attending and with groups being delivered across existing and also new locations at differing times in the day we were able to ensure more carers were able to access these social therapy groups. The enhanced programme makes these more accessible as they are now delivered throughout P&K and with an increased number of therapists the carers have more choice as to what type of therapy they would like. The feedback we receive highlights that: the therapy session is a wonderful treat which helps the carers wellbeing, the social aspect is just as valuable with carers who attend continuing to offer peer support to each other beyond the groups. The chances to have a chat with a PKAVS support worker or 1 of our partners is helpful in that it keeps carers informed as to what else may be available. It's also worth mentioning we now have 43% more carers registered now than we had 2 years ago which adds to the demand for these sessions.
Carer A was referred into our service for support. These social groups are highlighted in the Welcome Pack we send out to all carers on receipt of a new referral. They are also mentioned by staff when they make a follow up welcome call to the carer some 7-10 days later. Carer A decided she would try the social groups in her area and so was booked in for a Reiki session when the group next ran. The feedback from Carer A was: “I found the session very relaxing, and P was very welcoming, and she explained what she was going to do very well, taking into account it was my first session. The session was very relaxing and set me up well for the day, it has also given me a few tips on how to try and relax”. Carer A continues to access these social groups most months and now also receives additional support from the carers hub through chats she's had with one of our support workers who was in attendance.
Carers will continue to report that accessing these social therapy groups improves their own mental health and wellbeing thus re-energising them to better cope with the challenges that caring brings.
We have a number of carers who access these social groups on a monthly basis which in itself is evidence that they have a positive impact on the carers own wellbeing and supports them to continue in their caring role. The other ways in which attendance at these groups can help carers mental health and wellbeing is they help create friendships that can continue to offer support throughout the month and not just when the groups are running. The groups also give carers a chance to hear first-hand what other support may be available to them through the conversations they can have with either the PKAVS carers support worker and/or any partners staff who also may be in attendance.
Carer J lives rurally and often finds services more difficult to access because fewer exist in her local area. However, she has regularly attended the social groups we run in Blairgowrie as these are more easily accessible for her as she only lives 3 miles away in Alyth. Carer J now comes for her therapy at the same time as another carer who also lives in Alyth who she met at these social groups before. They now use these trips to the social groups as a chance to catch up but even better is they meet up and keep in regular contact throughout the month too so offering each other some peer support and an often much needed break from caring. As part of the regular consultation, we do with carers who access these groups carer J fed back that: - 'These groups are a great treat and something I really look forward to. It's been almost reassuring to me to see that others have the same challenges as I do and that I am not alone. I have made new friends through these groups who understand what I'm going through, and this has been the biggest benefit to coming to these. Long may they continue.'
Carers will continue to say that their attendance at these social therapy groups have improved their own self-confidence and wellbeing and leaves them feeling better supported and therefore able to cope with the challenges they face.
Many carers can often feel forgotten about mainly because the focus of attention is often on the cared for person. This can often leave the carer feeling isolated which in turn can lead to a drop in mood and feeling less able to cope with the challenges of caring. These social groups are popular partly because they are something that the carer can access that has specifically been designed for them. The chance to meet other people who are experiencing the same challenges that they are showing them that they aren't and don't have to cope alone. The access to professionals to let off some steam can sometimes be enough for carers but these conversations can also lead to carers finding out about more support that may be available to them. The pampering session is the cherry on the cake. “The sessions are great; it is also great to see some old faces and gives me something to look forward to” “I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxation session; I actually fell asleep it was so relaxing"
For obvious reasons we had either no or a reduced offer to carers for these social groups during the past 30 months. However, we now are in a place where these groups are almost back to where they were pre-Covid. Carers have fed back to us that some were still anxious around attending large scale events and that the way these groups are good in helping with these anxieties. Depending on where the sessions are delivered there could be anywhere between 2 to 5 therapists delivering sessions. By limiting the numbers carers who were anxious have said they were more confident about coming to their session due to the restricted numbers at any one time plus the additional safeguards that both we and the therapists put in place. As time has progressed carers who attend seem much less anxious and have started to reap the benefits of coming along to these social groups again.