A story by Western Isles Community Care Forum
Eolas is our social group for unpaid carers that meets in a relaxed setting in various locations. Carers have the opportunity to relax and enjoy refreshments with other carers who fully understand their situation. They offer each other peer support, share information and enjoy a chat together.
What Eolas did
The pandemic initially curtailed our planned activities so we transferred the service over to a digital platform. Whilst not as good as a face to face meeting over afternoon tea, it did enable unpaid carers in the Western Isles to remain in contact with each other, which was especially welcomed during the lockdown. An advantage of the digital service was office staff were able to join in and ‘meet’ carers they had been corresponding with over a long period.
To compensate for the loss of the afternoon teas, we delivered a treat box to each attendee as a surprise (photo attached). In June we were able to resume the face to face meetings in local hotels and restaurants. We saw a rise in the numbers attending compared to the previous year, which was encouraging. Carers were able to support each other, discuss services, ask questions and on some days, just relax and enjoy a bit of banter and have a laugh.
At two separate locations we held candle making workshops with local businesses. The carers thoroughly enjoyed the session, especially their bespoke candles! It afforded them a time to forget about their caring responsibilities and have some fun. One carer attending a workshop told us “I would have gone bonkers if I hadn't gotten out. Eolas is a brilliant thing - carers need it.
We could do with more things like this. Family carers tend to be undervalued. The more we have of things like this, the better. It was so good to see XXXX enjoying herself again - she loved the candle making session”
Carers were able to have more opportunities to enjoy a life outside of their caring role, felt better supported to sustain their caring role and their health and wellbeing improved.
What Western Isles Community Care Forum has learned
We learned, when we unexpectedly encountered a pandemic, that this project can be delivered in a different way. As we were not able to meet face to face for a time, we set up Eolas sessions over a digital platform, which brought changes to our project plan and budget but not in a negative way. It was not as good as sitting in a relaxed session over afternoon tea but at least it kept carers connected to each other.
They were still able to support each other and discuss any pertinent issues. One advantage of this was that all the staff could join and put a face to the carers they had been dealing with over the telephone for quite some time. By encouraging carers to come to Eolas, in particular those new to our service, it enabled staff to get to know them better and when a trust is built up, carers are more likely to share their problems which in turn leads to getting more support.
How Western Isles Community Care Forum has benefitted from the funding
By hosting this service in public places, it raises awareness of our Organisation and also raises awareness of unpaid carers. It enables us to provide an additional support service to carers that also gives them short respite breaks from their caring roles. The relaxed nature of this group provides the opportunity to strengthen relationships between carers and staff, which can only be a positive outcome for carers. Discussions at Eolas enable WICCF to get an insight into what are the issues for carers, the services they feel work well and those which don’t. This knowledge helps us to better support carers and identify gaps in services.
Improved wellbeing for carers - It is anticipated that 88% of carers who attend will have improved health & wellbeing. Improved wellbeing for those being cared for - 45 people will have a better experience of care
98% of carers who gave feedback (37 out of 43) reported an improvement in their own health and wellbeing. Many carers reported it was good to get out of the house and meet other carers over afternoon tea. One said: "It has a community feeling. I get support with any issues I might be thinking of. Plenty advice. Realising there's me as well that needs taking care of. It's a God send. Best thing I've been involved with all year." 75% reported the cared for had a better experience of care, 22% said it was the same, 3% said no improvement. A carer told us "I thoroughly enjoyed the candle making session and the baking. You feel refreshed after attending and when I go home I have more time to sit and talk with my husband."
Carer A's Mother is living with dementia but lives independently next door to her daughter. Carer A tends to Mum's medication, housework, shopping, provides supervision, transport and anything else her Mum may require help with. Although living independently, carer A has a lot of responsibility and is not free to come and go as she pleases. This is what she had to say about Eolas: "It has given me the opportunity to meet and chat to people in similar situations and to know that there is support available all the time, not just at the catch ups. There is opportunity to express worries, get advice from those who have had experience of various things/situations rather then just reading help advice. Being able to share the knowledge or tips I have found which worked and helped/ aided both myself and my mother is good. Also, to gain insight of future possible needs, get tips and advice not necessarily for right now, is beneficial. Opportunity there to get out to meet others, with no pressure to attend the catch ups but to me they are important enough to really take the time to ensure I can get to them as much as possible. To know I'm not the only one .....and I'm not doing this on my own I have backup. As regards Mum, Eolas gives me the tools to be able to cope with the harder times, so things aren't vented at mum or the situation we find ourselves in or helping with mum's frustration at herself for not being able to do things. I worry a little less about how to overcome the obstacles that pop up,( this road we are on is far from straight and smooth - so many bumps and obstacles on the way) and instead enjoy spending the time with mum, so she gets the better part of me, my time and my care. Her seeing me more relaxed and less fretted, helps her not to worry so much. She's then more willing to ask me for help, which also helps me to do what mum finds harder, or can no longer do for or by herself. End result - mum is happier, calmer, less frustrated and enjoying life a little more ."
50 individual carers will have had an opportunity to meet socially with other carers, whom they would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. Social isolation will be reduced and new friendships will be created.
43 individual carers had the opportunity to socially meet other carers. Many carers met new people and for some lasting friendships have been created. The candle making workshops we hosted were an opportunity for carers to try something new which was fun. Hosting these workshops kept our Eolas group fresh. "So good to get out of the house. Met people I was in school with and was good to reminisce. Great to socialise with other people - I felt important!" was what one carer said. Another told us "It makes me go out when normally I wouldn't, it's a good thing to have a reason to go out. It's a treat. Makes one realise one's situation is not as bad as others. Definitely reduced isolation for me."
Carer B left her own home to care for her elderly father who has dementia. After moving, she quickly realised that she had some acquaintances but no supporting relatives or close friends. Once she joined Eolas, she discovered the benefits - a whole new pool of faces to talk to and go out with to enjoy a coffee. Very soon she made some really good friends, who she meets out with the Eolas group as well. She told us "Without Eolas I don't think I would have met people. I really enjoy the banter there and without it I don't think I would have coped." She continued "The candle making session we attended was most enjoyable - I've never been to anything like that. I learned a lot about candles which I didn't know before." Having created all these friendships, Carer B now has a social life and looks forward to going out to meet friends. This in turn leaves her better able to manage the caring role which benefits her father.
50 carers will have improved resilience through sharing of experiences and information with other carers. This shared experience/information can potentially improve the care they give to the cared for person. Providing alternative care will enable more carers the opportunity of a break from caring.
43 individual carers attended Eolas. Alternative care was provide on 12 occasions to enable the carer to attend. Numbers slightly down as part of the project was delivered on a digital platform. A carer, whose partner is living with dementia told us "I feel I have a better handle on things now. Sharing experiences is really beneficial. You get pointers that help you. I'm so looking forward to the next one."
Carer C looks after her father who is living with dementia. Her husband goes to work early in the morning and is not back until evening which leaves her on her own for most of the day apart from when carers pop in. Carer A has no family living in the area that can help out, so is tied to the house apart from when she has residential respite. Our project provided alternative care to enable carer A to attend Eolas. There she was able to relax over afternoon tea (she loves to eat out) and enjoy the company of other carers, sometimes talking about their caring responsibilities and at other times just enjoying a general chat. There she met carers she had not known previously so has made new friendships. She told us it was essential that she got some time away from the home and by having a care attendant with her father, she could go away without any concerns about his welfare. She told us her father loves to have company, so he thoroughly enjoys time with the care attendants. Gives him somebody new to talk to and helps keep his mind active. When carer A returns home, she is more relaxed after her break and is better able to cope, providing a better experience of care for her father. The time apart also provides them with a new topic of conversation.