A story by VOCAL
A range of short breaks activities were run for 140 carers in Edinburgh and Midlothian over the festive period 2019/2020. These included ‘Surviving Christmas’ workshops, complementary therapy, self-directed break vouchers, group trips, a SMART group meeting and events at the Edinburgh Carers’ Hub.
What Surviving Christmas did
This project was run between mid-December 2019 and mid-January 2020 to alleviate pressures and isolation amongst unpaid carers associated with the festive season. A range of options were offered to carers, and a 'winter programme' brochure and social media messaging were developed to promote the break opportunities.
The project was popular amongst carers with high take up, meaning targets were exceeded. In total 140 carers and 96 people they cared for benefited from the project. Carers particularly valued the ability to 'dip in and out' of the programme, accessing the elements that best worked for them and the person they cared for.
Break opportunities included trips to several pantomimes such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the Kings Theatre, vouchers for the cinema or to have cake and coffee at Starbucks or a community cafe , trips to the Zoo Lanterns exhibition and the Big Wheel as part of Edinburgh Christmas Festival. Alternative therapies were delivered from the two carer centres and two 'Surviving Christmas' workshops were planned, however, one planned for delivery in an Edinburgh locality was cancelled due to lack of take up. In addition, the Edinburgh Carers' Centre was opened for two days between Christmas and New Year for carers to 'drop in', allowing one to one support to be delivered as well as a range of activities including board games, guided meditation and a SMART recovery meeting.
What VOCAL has learned
We have learned carers valued a flexible short break around Christmas and New, notably offering carers a choice of when they could take the break, and what the break consisted of, meant the project was extremely popular with no issues at all regarding take up! Further, we found that offering a varied choice of activities and breaks had a positive impact on carer wellbeing and family functioning, which in turn sustained the caring role.
Finally, we learnt offering break experiences carers would otherwise not be able to afford, enhanced social inclusion and a sense of societal belonging amongst carers experiencing financial challenges.
How VOCAL has benefitted from the funding
This project allowed VOCAL to offer a programme of Christmas and non-Christmas themed activities that would not have been possible without this funding. Until recently VOCAL was closed over the Christmas period and did not have a separate programme for this period. However, thanks to the funding we have received from Creative Breaks, we have quickly built up a solid reputation amongst carers across Edinburgh, for delivering a popular programme of short break and support experiences at this often challenging time. Although for 2020/21 VOCAL Edinburgh applied to the SCS Creative Breaks funding scheme for a different project, we are pleased to announce funding has been secured from NHS Lothian Winter Pressures programme to continue a Christmas themed breaks programme, following its proven successful delivery through SCS Creative Breaks funding.
130 carers participate in the surviving Christmas programme 80% of carers participating report improved health and wellbeing
140 carers participated in the programme with benefits ranging from receipt of emotional support, learning new tips for coping with Christmas and taking part in enjoyable activities with the person they cared for or a companion. Peer support was particularly valued by those who took part in the workshop and SMART support group. Some specifically commented they felt their own wellbeing had improved as a result of seeing their relatives happy. Overall, 85% of carers reported improved health and wellbeing, with many reporting they had experienced improved mood as a result of taking part in the programme. The flexibility of breaks was valued and carers reported this allowed them a stress free break, because it could be taken when it suited them.
Marta* (54) a female Polish carer lives with her husband and daughters (27 and 24), providing care for both. Following a referral from her GP she contacted VOCAL for support during the Christmas open days. She reported feeling exhausted and weepy and the support worker encouraged her to visit the carers’ hub for a short break. When she arrived, she was provided with support and invited to take part in a guided meditation which she did. She was provided with VUE cinema tickets and took her daughter to an autism friendly showing at a local cinema, allowing them to spend quality time together: ‘The cinema visit was really brilliant as both my girls are on the autistic spectrum. The cinema people held a viewing specifically for people with autism where there was plenty of space and no distracting noises and they really enjoyed their visit and I was really happy to see them being so engaged.’ *name changed
130 carers will have participated in group or one to one breaks 80% will report improved social wellbeing.
140 carers participated in group or one to one breaks through taking part in social and recreational activities, many of which took place in the community. This allowed carers to experience a sense of being amongst others enhancing their sense of social connectedness and this outcome was the highest achieved, with 90% of carers reporting improved social wellbeing. One carer stated: ‘I was able to go out socially which does not so often’. Carers reported enjoying spending time in a relaxed, fun environment away from their daily caring environment. Many of the break opportunities were designed to allow them to take a person of their choice as a companion. 96 chose to take the person they cared for.
Anthony* (68) stopped working 10 years ago to care for his wife Jean* following a decline in her mental and physical health. They have a limited household income and are rarely able to afford to attend paid activities, usually just staying in the local area. Anthony has previously accessed support from VOCAL. Having seen a trip to the Big Wheel was part of VOCAL’s festive programme, John contacted VOCAL to request tickets. This contact enabled support workers to check-in with John to ensure he did not need other support. Everything seemed to be fine, with the exception he had not had been anywhere for ‘as long as he could remember’ and was feeling somewhat fed up about it. He had particularly wanted to go to the Big Wheel: ‘We went to the Big Wheel and the views were really nice. Louise was anxious to go but she said she enjoyed it a bit. It was a massively positive experience for Louise because she was asking about the Big Wheel for the past two years so you made her dream come true, thank you!' *names changed
130 carers participate in the surviving Christmas programme 80% of carers participating report improved health and wellbeing 75% of carers participating report improved confidence caring
140 carers participated in the Surviving Christmas programme with 85% reporting improved health and wellbeing. Carers experienced improved wellbeing through taking part in enjoyable activities whilst having a break from their daily caring routines. These benefits were particularly marked amongst carers experiencing financial issues: ‘Found the tickets and vouchers to be most helpful as could not go out otherwise’. Only 70% of carers reported improved confidence in caring, with this outcome adversely affected by the poor take up of the ‘Surviving Christmas’ workshops. This particular project was more focused on achieving other outcomes, notably improved wellbeing, to maintain carer resilience at this challenging time of year.
Rashida* (48) had been receiving casework support at VOCAL after she started caring for her aunt (53) following a stroke three months previously. Her aunt had no other family nearby and Rashida also worked full time to support her husband who was out of work and two children. She felt guilty for not spending more time with her aunt. Aware of the Christmas programme opportunities, the VOCAL support worker discussed with Rashida what break would suit her best. She was provided with tickets to a pantomime ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ which enabled her to experience a break with her family. Following the support she received, she reported a big improvement in her wellbeing. She particularly enjoyed the experience of seeing her aunt satisfied: ‘It was really great especially for my aunt who is disabled and she really felt like aside from the theatre venue itself she was really doing something as a family and that made such a difference to me’. *name changed