Older Carers Befriending and Wellbeing Project
A story by Glasgow East End Community Carers
We successfully delivered our Older Carers Befriending and Wellbeing Project 2020-21 under pandemic conditions which had not been foreseen at time of application. We provided a wellbeing breaks programme for older carers living in NE Glasgow.
Our approach is built on partnership & community, providing creative, meaningful breaks for carers and cared-for person. We provide regular, year-round, peer support, activities and events that keep carers connected and well.
What Older Carers Befriending and Wellbeing Project did
We successfully delivered our Older Carers Befriending and Wellbeing Project 2020-21 under pandemic conditions which had not been foreseen at time of application. We, therefore, were unable to deliver the project in line with original plans. Our timeline for wellbeing breaks during the pandemic was repositioned into three categories as follows;
October 2020 - July 2021 we operated completely remotely. July 2021 to present we operated a hybrid model, adding outdoor activities/events along with our remote options. August to End September we continued to offer outdoor activities while reintroducing some on-site groups under strict Covid safety protocols. Services comprised: Befriending via garden visits and 1:1 by telephone by volunteers, 1:1 calls by staff to more vulnerable and isolated carers. Replacement care befriending for person being cared for, Paid-for care at home to support carer in the home and provide befriending company.
WhatsApp group conversation/befriending via older male carer group, older parents of adults group and Carers Café group for older carers.
Zoom café for older carers who can access technology including quizzes etc. Health & Wellbeing Zoom activities for older carers including mindfulness, Hearts & Minds sharing sessions, art-making, introduction to Plant-based Cooking for Older Carers. Virtual visits with other centres to make new friendships. Summer special events for carer and cared for include garden BBQ Social and Barge trip on Canal and limited support groups and cafe meetings on-site with high tea.
We successfully increased the range and choice of social opportunities for older carers; in our evaluation none reported having had meaningful breaks from any other organisation during this period.
What Glasgow East End Community Carers has learned
Our main learning has been;
Dealing with unexpected challenges or opportunities; We had not expected to deliver the project during Covid restrictions - this taught us a lot about our resourcefulness, resilience and ability to adapt and learn as a team. We were able to establish a new model for delivering our agreed outcomes with minimal disruption to our links with our carer community. We then had to pass on our learning to as many carers as we could and find alternative ways to support carers who could no connect to us using technology.
We now know that to move forward successfully we need to build on our learning and continue to promote and support carers to access digital platforms. This challenge has become an opportunity for older carers and we have worked hard to de-mystify the process and have produced step-by-step guides with visuals and simple wording and have removed as many barriers as possible.
Developing new short breaks activities; We have found that for many of our older carers, the need to connect and see their peers, has surpassed the fear they have around technology. Many have been willing to persevere time and again until they succeed. This allowed us to trial new online activities we would never have thought possible including cooking, photography and mixed media arts.
Project Planning and Budgeting; This completely changed due to Covid and new budget needed to be produced. The unpredictable nature of the pandemic was a challenge. We sourced more activities free of charge by developing new partnerships with previously unknown-to-us organisations in order to spend more on staff costs to meet need. In addition, our delivery of carer breaks was hindered by a ‘hierarchy of need’ – for example older carers needed an additional layer of support including information about shielding, PPE, accessing food parcels and shopping, grants and benefits. Much of our work was with carers reaching crisis point due to loss of a loved one, their own illness, money worries etc Older carers felt unable to take a break from their role while some of these issues were unresolved and this impacted on planning and budgeting.
Targeting Families most in need of support; as our project targeted older carer, many did not have smartphones and technology and were unable to access digital platforms. We found that an additional barrier, unique to older carers, was around the attitudes of their adult children and younger generations. Some tried to protect their older relatives from stress and failure by discouraging them from using technology, believing it was beyond their capability. We have had family members cancel replacement care/befriending which was in place to allow our carer to join their peers. It has taken further staff resource to overcome the negative messages.
Older carers have received. We have had to work with family members and take the pressure off older carers by assuring them that they should not feel bad if they use our resources and don’t get connected; that we prefer them to ‘have a go’. We targeted as many older carers as possible to get them connected and provided the less technically able with a programme of 1:1 supports, including regular befriending calls.
How Glasgow East End Community Carers has benefitted from the funding
Build Skills and Knowledge; Creative Breaks funding allowed us to continue to support one of the most isolated carer groups throughout lockdown. We were allowed the flexibility to reposition our project to meet restrictions and changing need; for example, our project became more labour-intensive and this allowed us the opportunity to develop our technical skills and knowledge and to pass this on to our older carers. We spend much of our time supporting them to attend breaks using remote platforms. We also learned that although older carers are more challenged due to their age and lack of technical know, their resilience and determination to learn and keep connected was inspiring. We have found that for many of our older carers, the need to connect and see their peers, has surpassed the fear they have around technology. Many have been willing to persevere time and again until they succeed. Many have become successful users of technology and are able to overcome their fears. This new-found skill-set will really benefit them in their engagement with a range of opportunities going forward, for example, being able to connect with remote activities offered by organisations such as Create Arts, and having their voice heard at consultation events offered by ScotGov etc. The following quote demonstrates how our skills and knowledge can be used to further develop services in the community; ‘The Carers Hub kept regular contacts going with professional services and continued to adapt ways of supporting individuals and families. Many never having used technology before were able to be supported by the staff from the Hub; going forward this may be another option for patients and their families who may not be able to manage face to face contacts for many reasons.’ NHS Mental Health Resource Centre Secure Other Funding; the outcomes we achieve via Creative breaks are used to secure our multi-year core funding – recently we were successful in gaining a further 3-years award from our largest core funder. Strengthen our Reputation; Creative Breaks funding allowed us to continue to provide creative supports throughout lockdown. During this time we continues to maintain our partnership relationships and team connections with local statutory and voluntary organisations. Our continued presence offering creative responses was noted and valued in the community NHS Parkview Resource Centre says the following; ‘The recent challenge of Covid-19 has re-enforced my belief that Glasgow East End Community Carers is a vital part of this community and this displays how well community Networking can share and support in a very particular unique way which I hope we can continue as we recover this year. The impact of Covid-19 Pandemic greatly affected many people and halted many services, but during this time the Carers Hub was able to quickly adapt to the situation. In line with Government guidance it has kept its service running throughout in a very professional and compassionate way. It altered its way of providing help to the community by adapting services online or by phone, this was an amazing support to our service also as we were able to continue to make referrals and seek advice and support.’
50 older carers and the cared-for person will have benefitted from time away from their day-to-day caring relationship, participating in activities of their choosing with the support of a volunteer or paid-for befriender.
The pandemic made it virtually impossible for carers to get time away from their caring relationship, with many taking on more challenging roles and facing a number of uncertainties and issues as described in our case studies. Whilst it was important for us to meet their immediate needs , never-the-less we were able to offer as full a range as possible of groups taking account of those who were unable to manage digital engagement and those who were able to learn. We offered phone services and when Covid restrictions allowed we were able to support carers with paid-for befrienders. A programme of activities on Zoom and WhatsApp was available and we continued with outdoor meeting and activities, ending the year with a limited number of on-site meetings. This allowed us to exceed our target and reach as many isolated carers as we could.
Names have been changed to protect anonymity; Myra cares for her daughter, Sally, who is 32 and has a learning disability and autism. Myra has significant health issues of her own including severe anxiety and circulation problems. During lockdown Myra had her left leg amputated and was in hospital for several weeks. She has found adjusting to her new situation extremely difficult emotionally and physically. This was made more difficult due to complications, meaning the fitting of a suitable prosthesis is impossible at present. Before the pandemic Myra was independent; she was able to drive, worked part-time and cared for Sally. Now her independence has gone and she is largely housebound. During the pandemic, Myra and Sally were advised to shield so they suspended Sally’s care package, which was used to fund support workers who take Sal to clubs, shopping trips and monthly respite weekend. Without this in place, Myra and husband Rob had to support Sal on their own. Sal is lively and sociable so found lockdown extremely difficult. She didn’t understand why her freedom was limited and why she couldn’t see her friends. Sal’s behaviour became demanding and obsessive. She was verbally abusive to Myra, who was struggling to cope with her own disability following hospital discharge. Throughout this time Myra benefited from our ‘Parents of Adults’ WhatsApp peer group and our telephone befriending service where she had the opportunity to share her feelings and worries. Our Zoom Café allowed Myra and Sally to share time together away from their caring relationship to have fun chatting, quizzing etc. Myra reports that this helped her heal her relationship with Sal and get them back on track as a family. As Myra’s health improved she attended our virtual mixed media arts course where she was able to learn new techniques, meet her peers and others from another centre in Edinburgh. This improved her mental health ‘I feel my world has been opened again and now I know there is life after my operation’. As we opened up services outdoors, Myra and Sal attended our Garden Barbeque and ladies barge trip with the support of a trained volunteer. Myra was initially referred because she was stressed and isolated. Despite the pandemic, Myra says she is now much more confident due to having a new community of friends like herself and access to further supports including our help to submit her first financial returns form as legal Guardian of her daughter.
50 carers will have recharged their batteries via meaningful breaks from their caring role and will have benefitted from additional support offered by the Carers Hub; information & advice, opportunities to their voice heard, access to clinics, councelling, surgeries and training.
In addition to current carers we experienced high numbers of returning and new carers, as carers needs escalated throughout the pandemic. Where pre-Covid, many carers were introduced to our service for peer support and connectivity and subsequently went on to receive a fuller service. During the pandemic this trend reversed with carers coming primarily for practical supports then going on to attend activity breaks once their problems had eased somewhat. The attached cases study demonstrates the holistic nature of the services we offer. We were able to provide more carers than anticipated with carer breaks in this way.
Names have been changed to protect anonymity; Murdo cares for his wife Jill who has a life limiting, genetic condition causing multiple strokes, heart failure and dementia. His own health has deteriorated and two of his sons have inherited his wife’s condition and he is now caring for them. Until recently he was also caring for his elderly mother. During the height of the pandemic Murdo suspended Jill’s SDS care at home due the risk of bringing in Covid. As a result, Murdo’s care role increased putting him under huge physical and emotional strain. Jill unfortunately suffered another major stroke, which exacerbated her dementia, and left her unable to speak or to eat. While in hospital, Jill contracted Covid 19. Until that point, family had been unable to visit, but were allowed in because it was considered to be end of life care. Miraculously, Jill recovered from Covid, but was unable to return home, and is now in permanent residential care. Murdo visits twice/day, doing whatever is possible to improve her quality of life. With his multiple care roles, Murdo has always found it hard to get time for himself. He usually used his respite time from Jill to care for another family member. During the pandemic, despite his best efforts, mum Irene passed away due to Covid. The past 18 months have been absolutely devastating and Murdo is still working through the impact of multiple loss on his life. Throughout this period, our service has been providing regular telephone befriending. However, Murdo needed help with various issues before he could fully devote time to himself. We helped him sort out his, and his son’s, benefits and completed a grant for an ipad, allowing Murdo to ‘meet’ his peers on our Weekly Zoom Café and keep in touch with Jill and his extended family and attend counselling sessions with our carer-experienced practitioner. Murdo reports that this has had a huge impact on his mental health as he feels much more connected and less isolated. Using his new found IT skills, he took part in our older carers consultation as he has a wealth of experience and a huge amount to contribute. As restrictions eased, Murdo began visiting our allotment space and gardens, bringing Jill, whenever possible. The couple were able to attend our Garden BBQ with the help of a paid befriender. Since we migrated a few limited services back on-site Murdo regularly attends our weekly Café and monthly walking Group and male carers barge trip with lunch on board and says ‘I couldn’t have got through this period without knowing that the Carers Hub had my back and stepped up when I needed it most.’
50 carers and the people they care for will feel less isolated and lonely, better connected within the community and will feel more positive about their lives.
We tackled isolation and loneliness at the start of the pandemic as a priority, knowing how much carers depend on their community year-round. We identified and targeted the most at risk of isolation and deterioration of heath and wellbeing with telephone check-ins while we established several WhatsApp groups for older carers including Carers Café Chat, Parents of Adults with Disabilities and Men@The Hub. This kept the connections going between carers, allowed staff to monitor mood and wellbeing and pick up on any issues arising. It also became a valuable means for us to share the latest information on Vaccine, PPE and our services etc. Older carers reported feeling part of a bigger family that was there when they needed it. Many kept friendships going and made new friends that they enjoyed meeting in person when our outdoor activities and events were able to go ahead.
Names have been changed to protect anonymity; Hilda self-referred to us during lockdown as she heard we were part of the ScotGov programme publicising the carers Covid vaccine. She has recently retired and planned to work part-time. Unfortunately both her elderly parents, who live separately, deteriorated and she became a full time carer. Her new husband has also been diagnosed with a long-term condition which requires careful management. She is stretched to care for three people in different homes and has had to split her time, living between them. Hilda was concerned about dad, peter, who has Epilepsy and is unsteady on his feet, and is prone to falling. Hilda takes him to all his hospital appointments and we were able to help her getting a Blue Badge. Neither of Hilda’s parents were in receipt of their rightful benefits despite their age and conditions so we completed the applications by phone and Zoom. Hilda found this completing the form this way was more relaxing for her and saved precious time and both parents claims were successful. In addition, Hilda now receives Carers Allowance which helps finance the travel costs incurred due to caring. Hilda went on to receive emotional support as she worked through the changes in her life and tried to achieve a better balance. She made the decision to live with her mum temporarily as mum’s care needs were higher, but this left her unable to spend time with her new husband as he underwent hospital tests. Hilda found that taking time out with other carers doing enjoyable activities helped her forget her worries for a bit and helped her get her life in perspective. Hilda attended several events on Zoom including the Carers Café, the Older Carers Consultation, and a 6-week arts course. This helped her awaken her interest in crafting and Hilda now has plans to facilitate her own group at the Carers Hub where she will teach Quilling to her fellow carers. As lockdown eased, Hilda attended several events including our Garden Barbeque and weekly allotment. Mum Edith was able to join Hilda, bringing a lighter dimension to their relationship. They met found that two of their neighbours are also carers registered at the Carers Hub. This has helped them feel less unusual and strengthened their bond with their community. In September we organized a barge trip down the Forth and Clyde canal which Hilda attended on her own; She says ‘It was wonderful to spend time with other carers in such a beautiful setting. I truly felt I’d escaped for the day and it was just for me.’