Stepping Out Remote Rural Breaks for Carers, Nature, Music, Stars
A story by care for carers
The project involved taking groups of carers to remote rural parts of Scotland to take part in a supported, residential short break. Activities included Foraging, Astronomy, Art Workshops, Paddle-boarding, Shepherding, Singing and music, Island tours and exploring the area.
What Stepping Out Remote Rural Breaks for Carers, Nature, Music, Stars did
Creative Breaks funding supported us to provide places for 24 carers on 3 remote rural breaks. One break to the Isle of Coll in May 2022 and 2 breaks to the Isle of Lismore in September 2022. It supported a range of activities from rural walks, island exploration and local events, music and art sessions to Astronomy activities. There was lots of social time, always the opportunity for free time as well as cooking and eating together.
Caring situations included caring for a person with Mental Health illness, Learning Disability, Autism, Stroke, Dementia, Physical Disability and Neurological Conditions. We prioritised carers who had been at crisis point over the past year and who needed statutory and or family to provide replacement care in order to get away on the break. 30% of the carers had never been on a residential break with us before and 70% stated that this would be the only break they had for themselves over the year.
Remote rural breaks have a much higher number of male carers taking part. This year, 30% of the carers taking part were male. The feedback from carers evidence that we have met priority aims by reducing social isolation and improving their mental health and wellbeing. Carers have told us that they were on the edge and as a direct result of getting the break they were able to sustain their caring role, which was in doubt before they came away with us.
We could not have made these breaks happen without the strong partnerships we have built on the island from previous trips. It was a huge logistical exercise to undertake remote rural breaks this year with Covid19 mitigations still in place for our service provision and transport and travel complications having to be navigated.
What care for carers has learned
We have learnt that these remote rural breaks consistently improve carers mental health and wellbeing at a time when we continue to see a significant rise in carer anxiety and exhaustion. Ensuring carers can just rest and recover has been vital this year. It is a completely different experience, carers who come may never have been in such a remote setting and it has an impact on each individual.
This year this area of our Short Break provision attracted more male carers with typically 30% of the group belonging to this demographic. This is a higher rate than on any of our other break offers. During Covid19 we have had more contact with some of these male carers who may not have considered coming on a residential if they had not got to know us prior to the event. 15% of cares came from minority ethnic backgrounds this year. Male carers are attracted to the range of activities and events being offered as well as the location.
We see improvement scores across all of our outcome indicators for this service from carers evaluation returns. All of the breaks were for 4-night breaks, and this does make a positive impact on how supported and less isolated and lonely people feel. Building on the positive outcomes from last year we took the decision to rent 4 houses on the island, as we learnt that bringing carers together in smaller household numbers had significant impacts on group bonding and we wanted to test out whether this would be repeated. The longer length of stay is a factor, but it seems the small group household is really important.
As with last year, although it was a different group of carers, it made a difference for the group to be able to connect and take their own ‘household’ decisions and choices more easily because there has not been a staff member to ‘defer’ to. They owned the break in a different way from breaks where we have group leaders in the residential venue at all times. We were there, cooking, driving, setting up activities, chatting and available to anybody who needed us but at the same time we were not a constant presence. It was lovely to see friendships developing, people making breakfasts for each other and sharing a lot of laughter, wine and song of an evening!
This service does attract new carers as well as returning carers, this year we had a high number of new carers joining us with 28% of the carers taking part in these breaks being new to the service. The groups were much more mixed in terms of social-economic backgrounds with a third from the most deprived areas, a third from middle measured areas and a third from the least deprived areas. The groups came from very mixed social backgrounds however the united experience and understanding of each other's caring responsibilities overcame this and group bonding and friendships flourished.
We are constantly learning in relation to the remote rural work, logistics, travel, partnerships, friends on the islands, engagement with the local community are developed with every trip. Having plan B in place becomes crucial, it doesn't matter what time of year it is, that ferry might not run so you need to be prepared to change plans. This year with ferry breakdowns, travel strike impacts etc the planning has been essential to ensure the breaks happen.
All the work in ensuring that we know people on the island, inviting them into some activity provision where possible and build strong relationships continues to be important. It keeps opening doors for us, so this year a local farmer was chatting to the group and staff arranged with him for the group to go up the hill the next day so he could do some shepherd work for them so they could see what the dogs can do and have a go themselves.
The carers loved it! The islanders really want to see the carers getting a good break and want them to come back. This was always the case but there is an awareness on the islands of how challenging the pandemic has been for the carers we work with and there is an understanding and a shared willingness to support them.
How care for carers has benefitted from the funding
Our organisation has definitely benefited from Creative Breaks funding. It has supported us to try and test a variety of breaks, expand our offer, try something new and untested and take a risk. Creative Breaks is an established short break funder and is recognised and respected. Other funders like to see us having this funding, they know it is monitored and evaluated rigorously, they are happy to support the cost of additional places or contribute to an additional break based on the outcomes from Creative Breaks. It has underpinned a lot of our service development. I think our learning and knowledge has been supported by Creative Breaks funding and it has supported us to understand and develop good evaluation methods.
75% of carers who take part in the service will report having improved wellbeing as a result of coming on the break.
Over 85% of carers taking part in the service reported having improved wellbeing as a result of coming on the break. The level of carer exhaustion prior to the breaks was high. For 70% of carers, this was the only break they had for themselves over the year. For the majority of the group, it was the first time they had been in a mixed group of people in a shared residential social setting since summer 2021. We asked carers to fill in snapshot cards with just 3 words that expressed how they were feeling, one side was for feelings on setting off for the break and the other side was for 3 words for how they were feeling on leaving the island to return home. They illustrate how exhausted some of the carers were. Each break involved a huge number of staff support and input from the preparation and planning right through to service delivery and follow up support. ‘I feel rested and calmer after the break, and also fully intend to concentrate more on my own health and wellbeing’
Carer ‘F’ looks after his father who has MS and is in a wheelchair. F’s father lives in supported accommodation but he still visits on a daily basis and carries out a lot of the manual caring, helping with personal care, medications and household tasks. He is also providing a lot of emotional support. F has a brother who sometimes helps but the bulk of the caring responsibilities fall to F. During the pandemic F went through a very stressful period with his father having several falls and being in and out of hospital where unfortunately he caught covid. This was a lot to deal with at a time when there was less support for F, and this has contributed to his own stress and has negatively impacted his health and wellbeing. F has his own health problems; he suffers from chronic fatigue, and this can often be exacerbated by his caring role. F had been on one previous Stepping Out™ trip with Care for Carers and had felt that it had given him great benefit, so he felt encouraged to apply for a break again this year. F was particularly interested in the remote rural Island breaks as he had not been to these places before, and he felt it would be just what he needed to help him ‘reset’. Before the break, F was feeling extremely burnt out and as though he had been juggling too many things which was causing him to feel quite unwell both physically and mentally. Staff on the break could see that F seemed very stressed when he arrived, it had been difficult for him to get away that morning and he was quiet on the first part of the journey up to Oban. However, as soon as we got on to the ferry and out into the fresh sea air, F immediately began to brighten and was soon engaging with staff and the other carers on the break, telling stories of other places he had visited on holiday and looking out for dolphins. Once we arrived on the Island and settled into the accommodation, we could visibly see F relax. During mealtimes especially, F was enjoying speaking to other carers and it was encouraging for staff to see that he was opening up about his caring situation, gaining valuable perspective and advice. F had brought his binoculars with him to the break, he told staff that he loved to sit in the garden at home and watch the local wildlife, but he hardly ever got the chance to do this. It was lovely to see him in the mornings after breakfast, sitting outside with his binoculars and a coffee, enjoying the time to himself and being able to explore the nature of the island at his leisure. One of the activities that had been organised for this trip was paddle-boarding, something that F had never tried before, he was initially feeling a little apprehensive about it but with the encouragement of staff and other carers in the group he decided to give it a go. F really enjoyed the experience and he said that he felt positive in challenging himself and overcoming his fear of deeper water. We spotted a couple of seals whilst out on the paddleboards which F was thrilled about. By the end of the break, it was clear to see the difference in F’s mental health and wellbeing. F fed back that he felt his mental health and wellbeing had significantly improved and said that he felt re-energised. It also had helped him sustain his caring role and said he had new energy to encourage outings with his father. ‘I feel rested and calmer after the break, and also fully intend to concentrate more on my own health and wellbeing’ ‘This has given me time to think about how to cope with caring and grounded me so when I start caring again, I am recharged and more resilient’ ‘I feel much better within myself since coming on the trip, being less stressed alleviates barriers to coping well in a carers role’ ‘my husband feels less motivated to do some activities now but I feel more motivated to push him to do so again, I see the benefits’
75% of the carers taking part will report having had a positive break for themselves away from their caring situation with their peer group.
We exceeded our target with over 80% of carers taking part reporting that having had fun, made new friends and taken part in activities with the group giving them a sense of themselves and hopes for the future which they could build on. A number of carers told us how important it was that they finally got a break away from their caring role. For the majority they have not had another break for themselves this year and continue to shield the person they care for. The pressures of feeling their lives had been put on hold while struggling to single handed replace packages of care and other care services at home has increased. Carers with complex and/or challenging caring roles have had to be creative and opportunistic to ensure they maintain a life outside of their caring role. ‘I have been motivated into looking at taking up a hobby or volunteering’ ‘This has given me a new perspective on life at home. Spending time with myself and remembering myself – what I need and enjoy'
Of a group of eight carers who came away on a remote rural Short Break to one of the islands, 50 percent of the carers had not been on a break with Care for Carers before. The group was a mix of carers from different socio-economic backgrounds and varying caring roles and none of them knew each other beforehand. One carer (A) was a new carer who’s cared for person was recently diagnosed with dementia. A was referred to us through a local organisation and was initially feeling quite nervous about coming away without her husband. Another carer (B) was also unsure of what to expect before the break. Relatively younger than others in the group, B had not spoken much about her caring role with others or accessed support despite going through a particularly difficult period. Carer (C) had also gone through a hard time recently. His wife’s condition had deteriorated recently and she had gone into a care home, leaving C with feelings of guilt and distress. Overall, the whole group were in great need of a break, with some carers not having had the chance for a break since before the start of the pandemic. We asked carers to tell us some words that described how they felt before setting off, some of these included… “Weary”, “Scared”, “Worried”, “Anxious”, “Restless”, “Nervous” Staff worked with each carer beforehand, either through telephone support and encouragement or, in some cases, through more intensive 1-1 support with Carer Support Team colleagues to ensure that they felt as comfortable as possible about the break. The break was organised carefully to provide lots of time for the carers to relax and get to know one another as well as opportunities to take part in organised activities. Mealtimes were always focussed on group socialisation. During the journey to Oban we started to see the group begin to open up to one another and sharing stories and experiences during the evening meal. Throughout the break, the relationships between carers developed and deepened, we could tell that the group was getting on very well together though the laughter and ‘banter’ during mealtimes. An island Ceilidh was taking place and it was a wonderful opportunity for the carers to enjoy their final evening with music and dancing. The difference between the first meeting and the final night was huge, the staff could clearly see that carers who had been feeling anxious or nervous were much more relaxed, laughing and joking with others. Carer B told us that she had spoken to staff and carers about things she’d not spoken to anyone else before in regard to her caring situation. She said it had been so good to talk things through with others and had helped given her more perspective as well as ideas and strategies to help with her dad’s care. Carer A told us that the break had been ‘life changing’. Through discussing support with staff, she was also able to sign up to the Respitality programme, allowing her to go on an additional break with her husband. Carer C made several friends within the group, including one who he found out he lived close too. They were making plans to meet up for a coffee following the break. Carer C told us that he now felt much more confident in joining different activities with Care 4 Carers and this would help him navigate the next stage of his wife’s care journey. At the end of the break, we asked carers to check in again and tell us some words for how they were feeling at that point. In obvious contrast to the start, the responses included… “Rested”, “Happy I met lovely people”, “Resolved”, “Confident” “Euphoric” The peer support that the group had developed for each other has continued since the break. On the last day, at the request of the group, staff set up a Whatsapp group for the carers which they were using to share photos with each other. When following up with some of the carers, they informed us that the group had organised a meal together. We were able to fund this meal out as follow-up support for the group. This led to long-lasting and genuine friendships between the carers, they have since met up several more times and are in regular contact with each other via Whatsapp, providing emotional support to one another. Without this break, the carers may not have had an opportunity to expand their support networks and make new friends, which helps towards sustaining their caring roles and has a positive impact on their health and wellbeing. ‘I have been motivated into looking at taking up a hobby or volunteering’ ‘This has given me a new perspective on life at home. Spending time with myself and remembering myself – what I need and enjoy when my head is not filled with 24 hour caring responsibilities’
75% of carers will report that taking part in the break has helped them to cope with and continue with their caring role
Over 85% of carers told us they felt supported, safe and cared for while away with us. Some of the carers were in very difficult family situations, bereavement, family breakdowns, complexity of caring having increased to name a few issues emerging over the break. Some of these carers were at tipping point when they came away with us. The levels of carer exhaustion, low mood and anxiety were noticeably higher at the start of these breaks than pre pandemic. Staff observed the cumulative impact of the pandemic and cost of living crisis impacting on carers mental and physical health and wellbeing. The carers reported significant improvements by the end of the break and through carer feedback you can see that the input of the staff team is credited for supporting them as needed throughout. There was an appreciation that they were going to be supported after the break as well. They had made new bonds and friendships, felt rested and recharged and able to stand back a bit from the frontline.
Mary lives with her husband who has MS, she describes his condition as having good days and bad days. Some days she can't get him out of bed and other days she motivates him, and they go out walking with their dogs. However, she described one time whilst out for a walk he had walked too far, and he had to sit down in a field, and it started to rain. She had to call for help. She stated that she became upset and blamed herself for pushing him too far. She was so saddened by this it had made her withdraw and not want to attempt to motivate her husband to do things again. Her husband told her that he must continue to do things like this to keep life going. Mary was offered a break with us, she didn't want to leave her husband, however, we managed to encourage her to come along by telling her it would be beneficial for both of them to have a break. She arranged for her family to look after her husband. Mary had shared that she felt uncomfortable, anxious and lacked confidence and didn't know what to expect to begin with but after taking part in some of the events and activities she felt different. Particularly because of the other carers, the music and singing. Mary said she felt so invigorated and wanted to call her husband to tell him about it all. She also told him about an idea she had involving one of the songs she had heard but she couldn't remember the name of this song because of her dyslexia. She said to her husband I do remember the word Texas was in this Proclaimers song. Her husband surprised her by saying he knew the song she was talking about; it's called Better Days. The carer said that felt fitting! She went on to tell her husband her big idea. The performance of Better Days was performed by a man on a guitar accompanied by a woman playing a violin. She told her husband “This might sound stupid, but I used to play the violin in primary school, and I would love for us to learn to play this song together.” Her husband used to be a guitarist and played in a band. He is a little reluctant to pick up the guitar these days because of his condition, however his reply came quick - he told her he'd be delighted. She called her husband the following day and he had learned a few of the cords of the song. Mary was so excited about the prospect of doing something together with her husband and learning to play the violin again. She said her sister has kept a violin for years which is not being used. Coming to terms with the changes that the diagnosis has brought has been difficult, but Mary felt the break helped her to see a way that they could walk the path together, just doing things differently. Mary also stated that she wants to look at the positive side of caring for someone she loves. Mary stated that she would keep us posted on their progress and she has agreed to send us in a photo. ‘’I came away with ideas and strategies to help enhance my mum’s care’ ‘It’s made me realise that by taking time out I am more energised to encourage outings with the person I care for’ ‘It's nice to feel someone's got my back’ ‘This has made me appreciate how wonderful a person my dad is by being away and having time by myself to appreciate him’ ‘‘Thank you so much for the wonderful trip to Lismore. I thoroughly enjoyed it and feel so rested and relaxed afterwards. I hadn’t realised how much I needed a break until I got it and what a break! The love and care you all put into it is remarkable and so very much appreciated. I am not sure if the official feedback form can really convey what a fabulous job you do and what a positive impact it has on people's lives, well certainly on mine! Grateful thanks to you all and everyone else at Care for Carers as I realise you are a close team, and everybody helps this to happen’.