A story by MECOPP
Creative Companions provided short breaks opportunities to Gypsy/Traveller carers in Edinburgh/Lothians, Perth & Kinross and Argyll. Plans for family days & residentials were severely impacted by COVID-19 & replaced by online activities, afternoon teas, guided pamper sessions and Festive packs.
What Creative Companions did
Creative Companions delivered the following short break activities: story telling session and ghost tour in Edinburgh; afternoon tea sessions in Edinburgh/Lothians, Perth & Kinross and Argyll; guided on-line pamper sessions with accompanying carer pamper packs in Edinburgh/Lothians and Perth & Kinross; and; Festive Packs for carers in the same latter local authority areas.
Our beneficiaries were primarily carers with some activities including the cared for, within the Gypsy/Traveller community. Beneficiaries were identified through our existing network and we were also able to identify new beneficiaries due to more cares being identified as a result of our COVID work.
Carers were identified on the following basis: those who had acute caring situations, who were most at risk of isolation and poorer mental/emotional wellbeing; and, those who were not linked into any existing services. We were also able to link beneficiaries in with other existing MECOPP Gypsy/Traveller workstreams such as our creative arts work to increase the number of opportunities available.
The project addressed the priority areas of equalities and reaching those not well served by existing short breaks provision. We were able to achieve this through the longstanding and trusting relationships we have built up with the community over many years.
Although the impact of COVID-19 had a significant effect on what we were able to deliver, the flexibility of the funder enabled us to think more creatively about what we could deliver within the ongoing restrictions. One notable success we would like to highlight is the creation of an on-line tutorial to support the delivery of the ‘virtual’ pamper sessions for carers. The production of this resource included script development, filming and editing..
As with many projects, COVID-19 meant that the original project did not go to plan and we were unable to deliver against our original activities which were based on physically bringing together carers. We focused on delivering short term ‘inputs’ such as the afternoon teas and Festive packs that were designed to help carers feel valued and not forgotten.
What MECOPP has learned
The impact of COVID-19 on our ability to deliver the short breaks activity as originally planned has been significant. For a community where access to services is underpinned by trust built on direct contact with workers, we cannot overstate the constraints we have had to work with.
Historically, our short break activities have been based on bringing carers and where appropriate, cared for people together in a setting which is culturally appropriate whether this is through the family days or residential short breaks provision. Previous evaluations have reinforced the benefits of a distinct ethnic community being able to give and receive support with their peers with no fear of cultural misunderstanding, racism or discrimination.
The loss of these opportunities due to COVID-19 has had a considerable negative impact on Gypsy/Traveller carers who describe these activities as ‘a lifeline’ and ‘the highlight of my year’. To illustrate this, set out below are some quotes from the evaluation: “I am missing the residentials because it got you away for a couple of days and seeing friends that you hadn't seen for a while and having people to talk to. It lowers your stress levels if youre’ stressing out because you’re doing other things that are provided for you there.” (Carer Perth)
“Not being able to attend residential has had a major impact on my mental wellbeing especially through the lockdown. I am looking forward to them starting up Gin." (Carer Perth) "I don’t think I realised how much I got from the events, day events or overnight. Now that we are stuck in and it’s been going on for so long I could really do with something like that again! " (Carer Edinburgh)
A further challenge we experienced was the loss of one of our team in Argyll. Public health travel restrictions meant that we were unable to deliver on two activities - the cares pamper packs and the Festive goods - to carers and the cared for in this location. Despite efforts to make alternative arrangements, we were not able to progress this aspect of our planned activities.
COVID-19 also amplified awareness of the ‘digital divide’ experienced by the Gypsy/Traveller community not only due to significantly lower levels of digital literacy but also lack of connectivity, access to hardware and poorer financial resilience. This severely limited our ability to move activities on line. The one exception to this was that beneficiaries were able to access the ‘guided pamper session’ primarily through mobile phones on an individual basis.
We have been able to take this information and feed it into wider Scottish Government policy agendas such as ‘Connecting Scotland’ and digital health and social care. We have also been able to utilize this experience as evidence to secure funding for devices and data for a limited number of Gypsy/Travellers including carers.
The evaluation has also underlined the value placed by community members on both the family days and the residentials and evidences that the approach we have consistently taken is meeting the needs of carers within this community. This quote received from a carer encapsulates the general feeling: " I loved getting away and meeting up with other Travellers and having a craic – to be honest it’s the best part of my year. I ken it’s only a night or two but it gives me a such a break and I go back home to the same stuff but I really feel like I’ve had a rest and that’s what I need the most. "
How MECOPP has benefitted from the funding
Despite the impact of COVID-19 on our ability to provide our intended activities, funding from Creative Breaks has enabled MECOPP to demonstrate that the health and wellbeing of our beneficiaries has been at the forefront of our efforts to support Gypsy/Traveller carers. Our evaluation demonstrates that even short term activities have had an impact both on carers feeling valued and not forgotten. We believe that this has helped to strengthen our reputation with the community. We have been able to secure additional funding to build the digital capacity of the community by highlighting barriers which have prevented us from delivering on-line short break opportunities. Linked to this, we have also become very active in policy and strategic work on the roll-out of digital access to health and social care more generally.
75% will report improved knowledge about how to support their mental health following a residential break 90% will have experienced a therapy taster or wellbeing related workshop during a residential break 50% of participants will have tried to access local wellbeing services during this period
This outcome was only achieved in part as we were unable to deliver against the majority of our original planned activities which included specific targets related to mental health and wellbeing. However, two of our new activities did address supporting mental health and wellbeing more broadly - the afternoon teas to enable carers to take 'time out' from their usual caring responsibilities and the carers pamper pack. From our evaluation results, 47 carers stated that the revised activities supported their mental health and wellbeing: 38 carers reported that the activities had a 'big' impact on their mental wellbeing; and, 9 reported a 'small' impact. Additionally, 46 carers reported that the activities had a 'big' impact on their feeling valued as a carer and 1 reported that it had a 'small' impact.
Z (carer) lives in the Perth & Kinross area with her partner and her son who has significant additional support needs. Z is the primary carer for her son but also has poor mental health herself which the pandemic has made worse. Lockdown has been particularly difficult for Z as the family has been confined to the home and she has not been able to benefit from the support she would usually get from her immediate family and neighbours. The carer support worker maintained regular contact with Z to support her emotionally. Through the revised short breaks activities, Z received a carers ‘afternoon tea for two’, a carer pamper pack and a Festive Box. Z shared the afternoon tea with her family commenting that it ‘lifted her spirits’ to be able to share a different experience with them. Z was also able to make regular time for herself using the contents of the pamper pack and the guided tutorial to give herself mini pamper sessions. The Festive Box was very much appreciated with Z commenting that it was a ‘very welcome addition’ for the family at Christmas. Although Z commented in the evaluation questionnaire that she misses the residentials, she stated that the ‘activities’ that were provided made her feel valued and recognized as a carer and did have a positive impact on her wellbeing.
60% will have participated in activities through MECOPP' Women's Voices project focusing on civil and civic development 40% will have engaged in other MECOPP arts based activities including Moving Minds exhibition, Out of Sight, Out of Mind exhibition and other creative activities
This outcome was again only achieved in part due to COVID-19 restrictions which meant that external exhibitions/activities were either cancelled or moved on-line. MECOPP was able to substitute other activities working with carers on a one to one basis instead of groups which reduced numbers overall. We we able to support a limited number of carers (7) to contribute to content for Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month website and an anthology of creative writing entitled 'Through Traveller Eyes'. From our evaluation, we can report that 3 carers said it had a 'big' impact, 3 a 'small' impact and 1 'no' impact. We asked an additional question on whether the other activities had enabled them to take time out from their usual caring roles: 35 said it had a 'big' impact; 11 a 'small' impact; and 1 'no' impact. We were also able to support 12 carers through Women Voices to participate in activities promoting civil and civic life, eg. Gypsy/Traveller CPG & SG planning groups.
K is a married woman in her 50s who lives on a private Gypsy/Traveller site with her husband. She has been known to MECOPP for many years but has always been reluctant to be involved in activities. Two years ago her mother was diagnosed with dementia and the family has rallied round to support her. Although other family members take on some of the caring responsibilities K often takes on the biggest share as she lives quite close to her mother. The MECOPP community arts worker was aware that K sometimes wrote poetry and approached K to see if she would be willing to contribute to a forthcoming MECOPP publication 'Through Traveller Eyes' : An Anthology of Writings from Scotland's Gypsy/Traveller Community. Although K was at first a bit reticent, after some encouragement by the arts worker and one of the carer support workers, K agreed to contribute some poems to the project. K had three poems published in the book and agreed to read two for the online launch of the book. On receiving her copy of the book, she said: “I feel proud that I’ve had some of my poems published. I’ve not achieved much in life but this is one thing I’ve really achieved and I’m proud of it. It’s something that my grandkids can look at when I’m no longer here and hopefully they’ll be proud to say that their granny had poems published.” This very positive experience has increased K's confidence and self-esteem and she is now keen to be involved in other aspects of our community arts work.
60% will report increased awareness of their rights as a carer 30% will actively seek to to access local wellbeing services,
As with the other outcomes, this was only partially achieved as we were unable to deliver the workshops which would have focused on raising awareness of carers rights. Using existing funds, we produced a film focusing on explaining changes to financial support for carers which was hosted on a dedicated Gypsy/Traveller Facebook page set up by MECOPP and a partner organization. In addition to this, MECOPP staff undertook regular weekly welfare calls to carers to provide emotional support, advice and information. This also enabled us to respond to ongoing issues, particularly in relation to improving financial resilience and liaison with social work support. We were also able to develop a dedicated service to support mental health and wellbeing (see casestudy below).
Regular welfare' calls to carers undertaken by MECOPP staff during the first and then subsequent lockdowns identified significant deterioration in mental health and wellbeing as a priority. Due to COVID-19, existing community resources experienced disruptions to their service and long waiting lists. Carers were also reluctant to access 'outside' services during this period. We were able, with the support of Scottish Government, to set up a telephone support service for the community and whilst access to the service was not exclusively for carers, analysis of referrals highlight that over 90% of individuals accessing the service are carers. The service was developed jointly with a partner agency which has developed their knowledge and capacity with another community not previously provided for. This service is now in the early stages of developing peer support groups which will be delivered online as we have secured digital devices and data for individuals.