Older Carers Befriending & Wellbeing Project
A story by Glasgow East End Community Carers
Our Older Carers Befriending Service provides support via volunteer befrienders and paid-for replacement care to carers aged 65+ in Glasgow. Carers are supported to engage in meaningful social and community opportunities and have the chance to reconnect with past interests alongside their care role.
What Older Carers Befriending & Wellbeing Project did
We provided multiple peer support opportunities including more than 1000 carer activity spaces pre-lockdown across categories including; Health & Wellbeing, Outdoor & Active, Expressive & Creative, Social & Events, Peer Support and Befriending.
We consulted with carers via informal group discussions, planning meetings and surveys and continued to monitor and evaluate each aspect. Our new groups and activities we developed from this process and piloted before committing further resources. Our new Healthy for Longer group focusing on women’s physical wellbeing, together with our ‘parents of adults with disabilities’ and Male Carers Tai Chi groups proved successful and helped us continue to target support to specific carer groups.
At point of referral, our older carers, generally face a number of challenges including loss of social contacts & confidence, exhaustion & lack of motivation and their own health conditions. Many have demanding caring roles and little time for their own health and emotional wellbeing. Our programmes made use of our community space, allotment, local parks and surrounding countryside, offering flexibility around where, when and how carers engaged. This gave carers the year-round breaks they need, helping them to sustain their role for longer. Our Volunteer Befriending Service successfully matched trained volunteers with vulnerable carers age 65+ who had become isolated and disconnected: their dedication provided a supportive route back into community life for carers who needed extra help.
The Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacted the lives of older carers. They lost access to the groups and friendships that sustained them at a time when their role became more demanding and they desperately needed a break. We reviewed our project and launched our Covid-response plan; staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to provide support remotely via 1:1 telephone befriending, WhatsApp groups, peer and activity groups via online video platforms and garden visits.
What Glasgow East End Community Carers has learned
The Carers Hub operates a community, venue-based service model offering a wide choice of activities and groups, year-round. Entering lockdown in March impacted on our project plans for the second 6 months. We had to plan and shape our Covid-response overnight, without prior experience of remote delivery. What we did;
Made priority lists of our more at-risk older carers & cared-for people to establish a programme of 1:1 befriending and check-in calls by staff and volunteer befrienders
Set up WhatsApp chat groups for those who were able to participate – these included male Carers and Older Carers of grown-up children with disabilities.
Contacted local partner organisations including community Connectors and NHS Parkview Resource Centre to let them know our service was continuing to take referrals and support older carers.
Launched a new website with Covid-19 specific page, available in 80 languages, started Zoom groups including Carers Café, Mindfulness and Hearts and Minds, additional supports including grant applications, getting carers connected to the latest Covid information including accessing PPE, food, shopping and medication, benefits applications and legal support.
It comes as no surprise that older carers have faced greater challenges to enable them to stay connected during lockdown. Our service balance shifted from 80% group-based breaks and 20% 1:1 befriending work to 20% group-based remote services and 80% 1:1 phone support. This had tremendous impact on staff resources as we attempted to keep all our carers and cared-for persons involved.
Our main learning has been that older carers need better access to electronic appliances. They are less likely to have access to laptops or tablets and, while many have mobile phones, often they don’t have the smartphone technology required. We have spent a significant amount of time applying for grants for older carers, some of which have been for technology.
For those who have access to technology, we have worked hard to de-mystify the process of using remote platforms. We have produced step-by-step guides with visuals and simple wording and have removed as many barriers as possible when setting up remote links (e.g. no passwords required etc) and talking though the process in real time, for example, by talking through what is happening on a tablet or mobile screen while on the carer’s landline. This is a challenge when we are helping a number of older carers and each worker can only help one at a time. This has extended the time spent on each group as we needed to open the meeting well in advance, in order to let those who have joined chat, while we turn our attention to the next.
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 encourage their fears.
We found that an additional barrier, unique to older carers, was around the attitudes of their adult children and younger generations. We found it difficult to engage family members who should have been able to help. They lacked confidence in their older relative’s ability and actively discouraged their participation by telling them that 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 have found that when supported, they are more than willing to persevere.
We have networked with a range of other organisations including Community Connectors, NHS Parkview Resource Centre and around 10 Scottish Carers Centres to ensure that we are doing all we can to engage our older carers and cared-for persons in social activity. This period of lockdown has highlighted an area that needs further resources post-lockdown to ensure older people are better prepared and connected in the future.
Following lockdown, we continued to work with all peer and activity participants. In addition, due to the pressure of lockdown, we worked with 65 returning and new carers.
The time spend per carer increased significantly during lockdown with carers needing an additional range of support including information about shielding, PPE, accessing food parcels and shopping, grants and benefits. We experienced increased demand for our information and advice services, where much of our work was with carers reaching crisis point due to loss of a loved one, their own illness.
How Glasgow East End Community Carers has benefitted from the funding
Creative Breaks funding has allowed us to broaden the range of services we offer to include year-round accessible breaks for local carers. This helps us achieve our commitment to offer a holistic package of support meaning that older carers are less likely to be passed around several organisations for help. The benefit to us is that our closer relationships with carers, allow us to monitor their needs and our response on an ongoing basis. This allows us to spend time and resources in a relevant way at all times. Our relationships with local referral agencies have been strengthened because of the knowledge we are able to share and the confidence they have in us to deliver outcomes in a way that older carers say they want and need. By increasing our profile around our work with older carers we are more likely to be targeted for partnership opportunities by other organisations. For example, SP Energy Networks have just donated 100 hat/scarf/gloves/socks/blanket sets to our older carers. This was as a result of talking to them about the support we provide to older carers through Creative Breaks. In fact, they have asked to profile us in their next Newsletter, promoting our work and raising awareness of the experiences of older carers. Pre-lockdown, we were invited to speak at DWP Scotland’s carers meeting, again outlining the work we do, including our Creative Breaks project. In the first half of the year, we delivered more than 1000 carer activity spaces, giving older carers a break and evidencing wellbeing outcomes that contribute towards tackling local health inequalities. This maintains our reputation and relevance in our local area; experiences and outcomes achieved contribute towards our larger core funding applications also.
40 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.
In the first 6 months, 100% older carer respondents reported an improvement in wellbeing. 82% a reduction in stress and 92% less isolated and better connected. During this period, older carers have utilised 1200 spaces across groups, activities and befriending service. During lockdown, carers lives changed beyond expectation. Many support networks disappeared or became inaccessible. The hours spend caring, increased and worries around health, safety, money and access to support heightened. Many were unable to visit loved ones in hospital or lost someone to Covid-related illness. Their time was prioritised seeking practical and emotional support, before they could consider more social time for themselves. The number of hours we spent 1:1 increased as we ensured each person remained in contact with regular chats with staff and volunteers.
Ruby, 78, cares for her husband, Walter who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Ruby linked to our service though our work on the Carer’s Education Project at NHS Parkview Resource Centre. Her Link Nurse referred her onto our Dementia Support Group and from there, our full range of ongoing supports. Ruby initially attended with the help of a family member who looked after Walter in her absence. This arrangement was a temporary measure and we arranged for professional replacement care to spend quality time with Walter while Ruby came along to the group. Ruby quickly became a part of the group, making solid friendships with her peers whom she had much in common with, and eagerly participated in opportunities to increase her understanding of her husband’s condition and improve their relationship. These included our Life Story workshop which she attended, designing a book that she could use with Jim when he became anxious or depressed, and also visiting the specialist dementia unit at Stirling University where she discovered aids and techniques that would help in her caring role. Walter is a sociable and chatty man who enjoys company, and quickly established a relationship with the care worker who was chosen for their experience of working with people with dementia and also shared interests. They were able to chat about local history, his working life as a foreman joiner and especially football which is his great passion. This offered Walter the stimulation of different conversation and encouraged him to actively use his memory, thus helping to slow his cognitive decline. The fact that Walter was enjoying time spent with the befriender gave Ruby the confidence to become involved in further activities provided by the Hub. She became an active member of our new ‘Healthy for Longer’ group, for women over 65 years. The idea behind it was to encourage older carers to look after their physical health, as our research had shown that this was an area which they tended to neglect. She embraced it wholeheartedly participating in Yogacise, Tai Chi and using her free pass to visit Glasgow Club (Glasgow’s Sport and Leisure Centres). Ruby also enjoyed a Health Spa outing with her peers at Crutherland House Hotel Spa, which was the culmination of our 12-week pilot course. As a couple, Ruby and Walter love music and company, and became regulars at our monthly social events where they made lots of friends, and enjoyed the food, the entertainment and the fun. It provided them with the opportunity to socialise as a couple which is not always easy when one member has dementia, but Ruby said that they felt safe and welcome in an environment where everyone understands Walter’s condition. These things have unfortunately stopped for the moment, however we have maintained regular contact with Ruby by telephone. Both she and Walter were shielding and found the isolation very stressful. Ruby feels that Walter’s condition has deteriorated due to a loss of routine and lack of stimulation. Like many older carers Ruby lacked confidence in using technology, however with support from Hub staff and Ruby’s own healthy dose of determination, she was able to participate in our ‘Hearts and Minds’ fun workshops on Zoom. There she had the chance to see many of her friends and forget about her caring role for a couple of hours. We have continued to work with her to increase her confidence so that she can participate in our weekly Carers Zoom Café which offers her the chance to chat to friends and discuss the positive things they’ll do post-lockdown. Ruby says ‘Thanks to the support I got, I was able to see my friends and have a proper chat. I couldn’t believe I managed it and my family were on the phone as soon as the session finished! It makes me feel a whole lot better knowing I can still see familiar faces every week.’
40 carers will have improved wellbeing through meaningful breaks from their caring role & have accessed additional support offered by the Carers Hub e.g. information & advice, help with statutory and third sector pathways, have their voice heard, access to clinics, counselling, & training.
In the first 6 months of our project approximately 58 older carers participated in one or more of over 20 activities and peer groups on offer. Our Healthy for Longer group, focusing on peer support and a programme of speakers and workshops, was regularly attended by twenty-two 65+ women carers. One of our older carers was involved in facilitating a session by leading a local health walk. Attendees had previously ‘voted’ for their preferred topics/sessions from a range of options using a traffic light system to grade responses. The sessions were then designed around carer preferences, hence the high and consistent attendance. All participants reported a decrease in stress levels and feelings of wellbeing. They also noted an improvement in their relationship to the cared-for person. All reported they had a better understanding of the importance of self-care and were know more informed about ways to achieve this.
Maria is a carer for her adult daughter, Anna, who has autism and a mild learning disability. When she initially approached us for help, Anna who is 32 had not been involved in any form of education, employment or social activity since she had left school, and went everywhere with her mum. Maria was also caring for her elderly mum who had cancer, and had just sold her house and moved in with her and this change had impacted badly on Anna, who had become very withdrawn and was comfort eating to control her anxiety. Maria was looking for emotional and practical support for herself and her daughter so we referred her to out autism support group which provides a combination of information and peer support. She also joined our 12 week ‘Personal Development’ course which introduced her to other carers with whom she became very close. This had a really positive effect on her confidence and self-esteem, and she became much more chatty, more relaxed and willing to join in other activities. Anna responded much better than she anticipated to the befriender, a young woman who took her out for coffee and a chat, to the cinema, for a walk and Maria began to consider the possibility of a life outside her caring role. In order to continue the progress that had been made, we made a referral to Equal Futures for Circles of Support. The idea behind this was to create a network of people who could support Anna, helping her pursue her interests, increase her confidence and lessen her dependence on her mum. This would mean that Maria would have more time to herself to pursue activities organised by the Hub. We also arranged for them to meet with Govan Law Centre with whom we work closely, to start proceedings for Guardianship, as this would give Maria the legal authority to deal with Anna’s financial affairs and her welfare. This would also make it possible for her to apply for Self-directed Support for Anna and the budget would enable her to put appropriate support in place to improve Anna’s quality of life and help her build relationships outwith her family. While this was ongoing, we continued to use our Replacement Care budget to provide befriending for Anna and enable Maria to participate in numerous support groups and activities through the Hub. She has an established circle of friends now and regularly attends our Carers Café, our monthly social groups, and also came along to our annual trip away and our Christmas lunch. She has benefitted from peer support, information about her rights and other services our Parents of Adults with Disabilities group and has also attended our Autism training events. She suffers from anxiety and depression and has received one to one counselling and regularly comes along to Mindfulness and Tai Chi which help her to relax and cope better with her caring role. In terms of physical activity, she regularly comes along to our monthly walking group, has been sailing and also participated in our ‘Healthy for Longer’ course which focused on ways of maintaining your physical health as well as your emotional well-being. Maria has now been awarded Guardianship for her daughter and we have continued to support her through this, including help with her financial reports, and Anna has also been awarded an SDS budget which means that she is able to pursue hobbies, work on things like healthy eating and is hoping to go to college again to learn life skills. This means that Maria has much more time to herself to continue to attend the peer support groups, social events and training that she enjoys.
40 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.
58 older carers and the people they care for reported positive outcomes in the first six months of the project through their attendance at activities and peer support of their choice. During lockdown this group continued to benefit from targeted befriending calls with a smaller number (20) managing to access breaks via our online video sessions including weekly mindfulness, peer support café and Hearts and Minds interactive, feel-good, fun sessions. The carers Hub participated in a pilot project with Hearts and Minds in the first six months of our project. The Hearts & Minds ethos resonated with our older carers who enjoyed the use of props, games and humour to let their hair down and have fun while sharing feelings in a safe environment. During lockdown, we supported 14 older carers to access Zoom platform to work with H&M again over a number of sessions over two months. Hearts and Minds will also use recordings taken from our sessions to create a beautiful short film.
Duncan is 82 years old and has been caring for his wife, Moira for over 20 years. Moira has multiple health problems including severe arthritis, COPD, diabetes, angina and depression. She is a wheelchair-user and Duncan who also has severe COPD, is physically exhausted and emotionally drained with the effort involved in caring for his wife. When they were younger, they were socially active and loved holidays abroad and Duncan, who was a mountaineer, was extremely fit. However, Moira’s ongoing ill-health meant that they had lost contact with many of their friends and become quite isolated. Duncan felt he would benefit from coming to our weekly Carers’ Café, so we arranged for a paid befriender to go in to sit with Moira to enable him to come along. He is an intelligent and interesting man and soon made friends with the other carers who were fascinated by his stories of his time in the RAF, his work as a nurse in the prison service and his tales of mountain climbing. Moira really enjoys the time she spends with her befriender who paints her nails, does her hair and listens to music with her, which is her great love. Things worked out so well that Duncan felt able to join the Men’s group where he has benefitted from emotional support from men like himself, information on how better to manage his caring role and also how to take care of himself. One of the big successes was the Men’s MOT Roadshow which focused on health and wellbeing, checking blood pressure and BMI, as well as getting advice on nutrition, alcohol and exercise. Duncan also attended a pamper day where he got a haircut, pedicure and massage, safe in the knowledge that Moira was being well looked after and that they would both have stories to share. As a former climber, our monthly walking group was a natural choice, and he became a regular member of the group; in fact, the instructor said that he was one of the fittest despite his age and health problems. We also used replacement care to enable Duncan and Moira to come to our monthly social, where the worker would help Moira access the toilet and get her in and out of the car, things Duncan would not have managed alone. They both love the entertainment and the company as well as the rare opportunity to relax and socialise together. Duncan says ‘My life is transformed – I feel like I’ve had ten years taken off me. I never thought I’d feel motivated to go out and grab life again and we’re both so much happier. Coming to the Carers Hub has been a Godsend; everyone is so friendly and kind, the staff are wonderful and he cannot imagine life without it now.’ Duncan also participates in our Weekly Zoom café where he is able to reconnect with a lot of his friends. Through Zoom and Duncan’s volunteer befriender, he reports feeling in better spirits than he thought possible. His carer ‘family’ have also kept in touch by phone and on Facebook and paying him visits to drop off soup and sausage casserole!
Additional project outcome
10 volunteers will have increased confidence, experience and broader skill-set than before.
8 volunteers with lived experience reported an improvement in quality of life through being a Volunteer Befriender. They quoted an increase in confidence, a feeling of being valued and a sense of purpose as contributing factors. Many are known to us as former carers and may even be involved with some of our groups. We saw an opportunity marry-up the knowledge and experience base skills of former carers who needed a focus, with current carers needing extra support. This proved a challenging year as the establishment of two new matches was impacted by lockdown. However, volunteers have been an invaluable resource during lockdown due to the demands on staff time during this period and the time-consuming nature of providing support to older carers at a distance. We were able to continue our matches by telephone, drop-in and garden visits, and remote video sessions however our staff resources have been stretched and we have not been able to conduct formal supervision sessions in the way we generally would. The success of the project this year has been largely due to the solid relationships we had with our befriender base prior to recruitment. Sam says ‘I have been part of the carers community for many years and know how much carers need a friend in times of need. I was supported by the Hub and it’s good to know I’m giving something back.’ Volunteer Befriender Pete, 56, a former carer and postal worker, has been matched with Marty, an elderly carer for his wife Janet, who has Parkinson’s Disease. Despite their age difference, they really enjoy each other’s company and used the time pre-lockdown, to visit a museum, go for a walk or just have a coffee locally together. Pete, himself, was isolated in his caring role while caring for his elderly mother. He knows how important it is to make supportive friendships before slipping into isolation and ill-health, as happened to him. Pete still benefits from the connections he has made as part of our carers community and wanted to share his experience and support with another carer. Pete and Marty have formed a strong bond which has been invaluable in the last few months, as Janet’s health has declined over lockdown. Pete, where, appropriate and possible has been able to share a dram with Marty at his door, and drop in some casserole or soup. Pate has continued to speak to Marty twice per week and has been able to help staff to get Marty connected to our Zoom Café sessions. Pete says ‘my befriending relationship with Walter is great. It really gives me a focus in my week now that Mum is gone – I still feel like I’m connected to that generation and able to share many of the same conversations I would have had with her. I know it’s a win-win situation – I get as much out it as Mart. It makes me feel good. Chatting with Mart, keeps me active – I’m always on the lookout for interesting snippets of news and I can relate to what he’s feeling.’