Time for Me – Adult Carers across Oban, Lorn and Isles
A story by North Argyll Carers Centre
Our project has provided unpaid adult carers living in the rural and remote Oban, Lorn and Isles area, and their cared-for, with a programme of activities aimed at bringing people together to reduce isolation, provide peer support, give a short break from caring and routines and improve wellbeing.
What Time for Me – Adult Carers across Oban, Lorn and Isles did
It increased opportunities for carers to access a life outside caring, and improve their health, wellbeing and resilience, helping them sustain their caring role. Time out together with the people they care for strengthened relationships between carers and cared-for.
We delivered 39 face to face and 150 online Time for Me sessions to unpaid adult carers and their cared-for across the Oban, Lorn and Isles area over the funding year. Face to face groups were held within local communities in Kilmelford, Tobermory, Craignure and on Tiree. Online sessions were via Zoom. We provided a wellbeing residential retreat to Tiree for 4 carers bereaved during lockdown. 20 walking group sessions combined peer support, physical exercise, mindfulness and companionship. 31 online wellbeing sessions included mindfulness, weight management and gentle exercise.
Carers and cared-for attended 89 online and 13 face to face social activity and peer support groups with games, quizzes and time to meet with friends. Carers from the mainland then enjoyed meeting up with friends they got to know in these online peer support groups through day trips to Mull and Tiree.
Participation in our Time for Me activities is open to all carers and their cared-for and is publicised via our website, social media, email, newsletters and by word of mouth from carer to carer and via regular staff review calls with carers. We invited specific bereaved carers to participate in the retreat on Tiree as we were very aware that they had lost loved ones after very intense caring roles, at a time when they were isolated from family and in-person supports. We felt that they would benefit most from time out in this intimate, peer-supported group space, with freedom to express their grief together in the private, calming and beautiful surroundings.
Holding groups online overcame geographical barriers. We have continued to alternate some groups between online and in-person to maintain these connections. Outdoor sessions have delivered a host of wellbeing benefits we had not previously considered. We had to cancel 1 residential so we increased the range and frequency of online activities.
What North Argyll Carers Centre has learned
When we moved to remote delivery of groups and found how successful this was, we anticipated that we would retain it when restrictions lifted. One of the things we identified was that carers on the islands and more remote mainland areas would lose the opportunity to engage if we withdrew online groups.
We investigated options to run groups with both face to face and VC connections and we felt this would be a desirable way to go. We have not pursued this however, instead either keeping groups as online only, or alternating between online and face to face, because we have become aware that there is strong evidence that feelings of isolation are significantly increased for people who connect in remotely to face to face activities. A blended approach for us means offering both means of connecting in but not at the same time.
At the start of the first lockdown we observed many carers felt the restrictions were a bit of a leveler. For them the imposition of restrictions on travel, social activities and access to employment, along with anxiety for the health and wellbeing of loved ones presented little significant change from the norm. This was particularly true for those who have very intense and demanding caring roles coupled with living in the most remote and isolated areas.
As time went on we saw this change however as care packages became more and more difficult to fulfil, and problematic access to medical appointments, isolation and lack of stimulation caused many cared-for people's conditions to deteriorate. As the rest of the world regained a degree of freedom, these carers were hit hardest, seeing their caring responsibilities increase and their freedoms further diminish. For this reason we have chosen to target these carers in a strand of our project continuation grant application. This part of our project will be specifically tailored to addressing these carers' needs.
A very positive effect of our project over the last year has been the fact that we have been able to extend connectivity and reach greater numbers through online connection. We have seen average attendance at virtual groups significantly outstrip attendance figures we saw for in-person activities before lockdown. The flexibility offered by remote access means that taking part is much less of an undertaking. Carers do not need to find replacement care for those they care for, it is more inclusive as both care and cared-for can more easily take part.
Carers can leave and re-join easily if they have a care need to attend to during a session. We know there is an appetite for in-person activities and we have seen good uptake since resuming these. We hope that having made connections through remote groups, more carers will feel able and inclined to join face to face groups. We are yet to evaluate if this is the case.
As a result of searching out means to deliver groups face to face which felt safe enough for carers to attend, we have discovered that walking together not only offers great physical health benefits, but provides a great way for people to access peer support. Chatting while walking has enabled people to open up and talk freely in a way that is different from our other groups, either in-person or online.
How North Argyll Carers Centre has benefitted from the funding
The funding has enabled us to continue to deliver our programme of Time for Me activities, residential experiences and events which we know make a significant difference to the lives of carers, giving them a short break from caring with and without the people they care for. "The Zoom group is such a lifeline for me" Through the funding we have been able to expand our links with a number of local partners. We have been able to continue to work with The Walking Theatre Company and as restrictions eased, move from online productions to their normal means of delivery, walking theatre. It was really exciting to be able to offer participation in an interactive production to our intergenerational group who thoroughly enjoyed it. “What a performance! Fantastic piece of storytelling, from start to finish. Loved every minute; can hardly wait to see what else is in store for us. Well done to all… It was definitely the highlight of my day” "The performance was really fun, and we enjoyed being in the lovely walled garden." We have also been able to established a great relationship with a local community venue, Dunollie Museum and Castle, who give us exclusive use of their covered, heated, outdoor terrace space to run our groups. The space is a perfect location to deliver our groups and activities, and has enabled us to resume face to face activities in a way that ensures carers feel safe to take part. Even in the colder months it is a sheltered, warm and ideal spot. There is a mutual benefit too, as Dunollie is a non-profit charitable trust with a strong community engagement focus. Creative Breaks funding has enabled us to adapt, diversify and continue to deliver our programme of activties and events for carers and cared-for without a hiatus throughout the pandemic. Our adaptability and creativity has been recognised through national awards and by other funders. Access to this funding has enabled us to strengthen our reputation and secure additional funding. "I particularly want to congratulate you for the work you have done for carers on Zoom throughout the pandemic. I am so impressed with the way you and your organisation have risen to the challenges over the past 18 months, and have found such good and innovative ways of supporting vulnerable people during this time. I really commend you for setting up this group which has been such a comfort to all involved". Saboohi Gill, Cruse Bereavement. Because we could demonstrate our resilience and flexibility, and the ongoing difference externally funded projects such as our Time for Me project have made for carers and those they care for, which encourage carers to get involved and engage with us for support, we were able to present a strong case to our HSCP for an increase in our contract funding to support us to expand our team to meet increasing demand for support.
Carers will have the opportunity to access a residential respite break and opportunity to take part in creative projects, and feedback they have had more opportunity to enjoy a life outside caring and feel empowered as individuals and value their skills and worth
Though we were only able offer 1 residential experience we still met our outcomes. Reallocating budget let us increase frequency and variety of online and face to face groups providing carers with opportunities to enjoy a life outside caring and to engage in a range of creative projects. Our residential at Saddell House was cancelled because the accommodation had to close. We also had to adapt the residential on Tiree as occupancy restrictions meant that we had to reduce the number of participants. We therefore chose to target a smaller group of bereaved carers who had been particularly affected by the isolation of lockdown for the wellness retreat. We delivered our Writing for Wellness project as planned. Carers' emotional wellbeing benefitted from the creative process and working together on submissions on the theme of Celebration, for Scottish Book Trust's annual publication "I can be more free with writing about things that bubble up inside me in the Writing for Wellbeing Group"
We focused our residential retreat on carers from our Still Caring group who were bereaved during lockdown after very intense caring roles where they had minimal access to time for themselves. Lockdown had deprived them of the chance to get together with friends and family to celebrate the life of their loved ones and access much needed in-person supports at the earliest and rawest stage of the grieving process. All were carers we had supported throughout their caring journeys who had found it difficult to adjust to their loss and the end of providing care. All had told us that they had felt desperately isolated by the experience of being bereaved during lockdown. At a group before the retreat one carer commented that "Because of lockdown and not having seen [cared-for] it still feels very surreal" and another described herself as "hugely struggling" because of the isolation giving "too much thinking time which can be a problem" We saw the change in these carers during the retreat. They finally had access to time out for themselves, to focus on their own needs and wellbeing. In addition they achieved some closure together and established very close bonds. They have established a network of support that will sustain them beyond this activity. They were able to talk about and celebrate their lives with the people they cared for, and acknowledge honestly the sadness and difficulties they had faced, both when their cared-for was alive and after they passed. It was also a time to acknowledge their own value and reaffirm their worth, though the focus in their lives for so long has now gone; a time to find answers to the question "What am I supposed to do now?" Their own comments evidence the positive change that participating has brought about for them: “I found a great sense of companionship with other ladies and such a joy and relief to have others who understand and completely relate to the often stressful life of a carer & the shock & adjustment of life after bereavement.” “It’s very different from just talking to friends, having people in very similar positions was very welcome. Also being in a new environment and free from worries and responsibilities brought a great lightness and happiness. Overall it was a very special and valuable trip in all of [our] journeys of caring , healing and moving on. Can’t thank you enough!” “I was very apprehensive of going to Tiree as the last time I was there was with my husband who has since passed away, but I need not have worried. I felt the trip very uplifting as it has helped me remember all the good and happy times we spent together, and helped me with coping with the pain in my heart of him not being by my side ... It is a time I will never forget. Thank you all involved.” “I want to thank you so much for your invitation to Tiree. It was so good to be in company again as I have been isolated for so long. Been able to have conversations with carers in same situations. The walks along the wonderful beaches were really relaxing. You really made the experience memorable and really lifted my spirits. Thank you once again.”
Through a combination of groups, both online and face to face, and developing peer support networks, carers will feel less isolated, a feeling common in carers in rural and remote areas, will feel increased support through peer support and also increased access carer support and information.
We fully achieved our outcomes, delivering Time For Me groups across the islands and rural mainland. We brought carers from across the whole region together via our online Time For Me sessions. We ran face to face groups in Kilmelford, Oban, Tobermory and on Tiree. Both the online and face to face sessions were open to carers and cared-for. We increased the number and variety of sessions available because we were unable to deliver the second residential. It was wonderful to be able to run 2 day trips, one to Mull and the other to Tiree, in order to bring together carers who had previously only met virtually. Carers we able to access peer support, develop networks and take a break from caring. Lockdown prevented us running the intergenerational project with schools in Bunessan, Kilninver and Taynuilt but we did deliver a highly successful online intergenerational knitting bee which has fully achieved our objectives and won the Generations Working Together Award for Digital Innovation
Care to Walk on Tiree started in June 2021, once lockdown ended, as a way of getting Carers together in person, to socialise away from their caring roles. Many of the island’s normal social gatherings had still not resumed and we were keen to provide some respite for Tiree Carers. Since June we have held 5 walks, mostly on the beaches around Tiree and always ending up with refreshments outside a local café or hotel. Fortunately, the weather has been very kind to us and carers have enjoyed a chat, some fresh air and some exercise, a break from routine and time out for themselves. It has been lovely to bring carers together face to face and the walks have really benefitted all participants both mentally and physically. One carer in particular has really appreciated the break from her caring role and from the social isolation of caring for her husband who has dementia. She very rarely has the chance to socialise in person, though she regularly takes part in online group sessions. She indicated that being out in the fresh air with others has made a significant difference to her. On one care to Walk on Tiree, this carer had a sore leg and could not join the walk. To include her in the afternoon, we took 2 chairs to the beach and the carer and a volunteer sat and had a chat while the rest of us walked. She was very happy just to feel part of the activity and have the company of the volunteer. She found respite and took pleasure in feeling part of something and having some freedom. Care to Walk on Tiree walks are on hold over the winter months but we hope to continue in Spring 2022. A carer has suggested that rather than walking, on one occasion next year we could play the game of Boules which he particularly enjoys but hasn’t been able to play for a while. It is great that carers feel comfortable to share their suggestions and help us to make our service as engaging and fun for them as possible.
Carers and those they care for will have enjoyed a residential break together and will feel increased confidence in taking time away together and will have build joint memories and had a break from their usual situation without stress.
We were unable to deliver this residential opportunity. Instead we used the staff hours allocated to this to increase the availability and variety of Time for Me sessions open to carers and their cared-for. We took feedback from them about their interests and created a programme of activities which reflected these. We adapted the programme as time went on to encompass as many themes as possible and thereby maximise engagement. Online opportunities included fun exercise sessions such as Body Boosting Bingo, online interactive theatre performances with The Walking Theatre Company, weekly coffee mornings with lively discussion of current topics, quizzes and games, a meet the author event and talks from experts on topics as diverse as falconry, the work of the archivist and international exploration. Face to face groups include Healthy Villages groups in Kilmelford and Tobermory, regular mindful walks, 'carers' blether' sessions, photography and 2 day trips all open to carers and cared-for
In August 2021 The Really Wicked School of Witchcraft and Wizardry came to the beautiful Greenshoots walled garden and woodland of the Glencruitten Estate near Oban when The Walking Theatre Company delivered a fun and interactive production for carers and cared-for of all ages. This intergenerational event was really well attended and all who took part told us how much they had enjoyed it. As the theatre company’s name suggests, the story unfolded as the cast and audience moved around the garden and through the woods. Everyone became involved and joined in with the fun. Young or old they were caught up in the ‘spell’ of the moment and had a wonderful time. The intergenerational element added an extra dimension which made the session all the more enjoyable: Not only did it allow the young carers to be children first and foremost, it gave the adults an excuse to release their inner child for a while, and remember the joy of playing. There was lots of relaxed fun and laughter and carers and cared for enjoyed a break from the ‘new norm’. It was a literal ‘breath of fresh air’ with just the right amount of interaction and not too much walking, but enough to do everyone good. The outdoors location made carers and the people they care feel safe to socialise together and forget the world outside for a while. They told us that brief escape from the reality of everyday life was really vital and let them enjoy time together without the shadow of covid hanging over them. ‘Brilliant fun’. ‘So great to see all the smiling faces’. ‘Great to be able to get together in such a lovely place, and have some laughs together’. ‘The performance was really fun, and we enjoyed being in the lovely walled garden.’
Additional project outcome
Carers and cared-for on the mainland and islands were brought together via online activities, and friendships and support networks developed. This would not have happened had we not had to adapt our delivery. Island carers in particular report feeling more connected and supported.
As restrictions have lifted carers who met through our online peer support groups have been able to meet face to face. We have provided opportunities for this through day trips but we have also seen carers themselves making arrangements to see each other. In one case we saw two carers who participated in online Time for Me group become firm friends and find support from one another. They now regularly connect in with each other outwith the group, have begun to meet up and enjoy days out together. They have a shared experience of caring for a spouse with dementia and have developed a really strong bond of mutual support and friendship. It is wonderful to see this friendship blossom and the warmth between the two. A lovely example of this was when Carer A, who is from one of the islands, had to travel to the mainland for a medical appointment. This had always been a source of stress and worry for her. It came naturally from the new friendship that her friend, Carer B, on the mainland invited Carer A to stay with her while she was over for he appointment. Carer B was pleased to be able to reduce Carer A's anxiety and help her out and they were able to spend some time together. They both benefit from the chance to have company and friendship and this has reduced the loneliness they each feel in their caring roles. This connection would not have been made without the evolution of the online group, in response to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. It has given both a new lease of life and is a joyous story at a time of such pain, desolation and isolation. "I feel there is such a special bond between everyone in this group ... without question, the compassion and understandingwe have between us is insurmountable"