Time for Me - Adult Carers across Oban, Lorn and the Isles
A story by North Argyll Carers Centre
We provided carers from across the Oban Lorn and Isles area with a range of short break opportunities delivered both in person and virtually. Groups, day trips, therapies and residentials gave carers and those they care for the chance to relax, recharge and enjoy some much needed time out.
What Time for Me - Adult Carers across Oban, Lorn and the Isles did
We provided 2 residential retreats for carers; one in the February 2023 to Pitlochry Youth Hostel; one in March 2023 to Gargunnock House, Stirling. We had exclusive use of both properties. These were not the venues we originally planned but were excellent alternatives. There was an unexpected cost for the March residential and we were supported by our HSCP with this to ensure it could still go ahead. Places were prioritised for carers who had not participated before and those in the most challenging caring roles.
We held 2 day trips for carers and those they care for. One to Benmore Gardens in the spring of 2023, and the other to the Burrell Collection in Glasgow in the summer. We ran monthly ‘Time for Me groups Tobermory, Kilmelford and Seil for carers and those they care for with different activities every month and 4 ‘Time for Me’ sessions on Tiree and 2 on Coll, along the same lines as the monthly mainland groups.
We had the carers’ Christmas meal at the Royal Hotel in Oban which saw 85 people attending. We planned to deliver a monthly photography group for carers, running through the autumn and winter, to be replaced by a monthly gardening group at a local community garden during the spring and summer of 2023. Unfortunately, the photography tutor was not bale to provide the sessions, so after consultation with carers we ran craft sessions instead.
“The Happy Post” online mindfulness and crafts group ran monthly across the year providing per support and time out for carers who cannot access in-person groups. The name comes from the fact that materials arrive through the post giving something to look forward to. We provided 200 therapy session for carers to address physical impacts of caring and give relaxation, and for cared-for people to help with chronic pain from their conditions.
We addressed all fund principles: Mutual benefit for carers and cared-for through joint participation and also the positive impact on carer wellbeing. Targeted and personalised activities reflect needs identified through consultation and are not available elsewhere. We continue to learn from delivering the project and to raise awareness of carers through its promotion.
What North Argyll Carers Centre has learned
A lot can happen between the point where an application is submitted and the confirmation that the project will be funded. Unforeseen changes with the availability of the accommodation for our residentials brought positive outcomes, despite at first seeming quite negative. It made us think differently and try an area and property we had not considered before, which turned out to have advantages over the one we expected to visit, because of its proximity to tourist attractions.
It still offered relative remoteness and beautiful, secluded surroundings that suited the retreat element of the visit, but meant we could also enjoy a trip out from the property. That gave an added bonus for carers who have few opportunities to enjoy days out, and the cost was not significantly different from the original property.
This was not true for the other property we had originally planned to take carers to however, which had closed down for refurbishment in the meantime. The cost difference was prohibitive. We were determined to deliver the short break though so we looked for alternatives to fund the shortfall. As part of this we approached our HSCP’s Carers Act Officer and discussed with her what the loss of this opportunity would mean. In order to ensure the residential could take place she identified funding to cover the additional cost.
We were asked to provide a report on the residential afterwards and we provided the HSCP with carers’ individual feedback about its value for them and photographs of the stay. This really brought to life the impact of our other work outside what we do under contract to the HSCP. They now have a greater appreciation of the significant benefit to carers we deliver through our non-statutory, grant funded projects, which bring added value to the contract we have with them. We hope too, that it has done something to illustrate the reality of the challenges carers face in accessing short breaks, which can be hard to appreciate fully without direct contact with them.
Though the HSCP do not want to match-fund this project on a regular basis, it was a valuable learning experience for us in terms of awareness raising opportunities with them.
We decided to take a different approach to promoting our residentials and day trips this year. With limited paces, we wanted to ensure that carers who could benefit most had the chance to respond. We knew that a ‘first come first served’ approach disadvantaged carers who would need time to decide whether taking part was feasible, or who might not see emails or Social Media posts as soon as others in less demanding roles.
We therefore asked our Carer Support Workers to make nominations and to approach specific individuals before we opened up availability more widely. This let us work with the individuals to consider what needed to be in place to let them feel OK to take part. It was a trial approach which worked well and meant carers who would not normally put themselves forward participated, so it is something we have now adopted into regular practice.
How North Argyll Carers Centre has benefitted from the funding
The Short Breaks funding has benefitted us this year in terms of bringing into high relief, to our partners in the HSCP, the work we do outside of that which we undertake as part of our contract with them, and improving their understanding of its value for carers. We benefit reputationally from the endorsement of our work by a respected National Carer Organisation and this helps to reinforce our position as the one stop shop for carer support in our area. The fact that we are in a position to offer such a wide and varied programme of activities encourages carers to register with us, as they can see so many ways that we can help them sustain caring roles. Word of mouth is powerful in this and the majority of our referrals in the last year have been self-referrals. The basic listening ear and practical supports we provide are vital for carers but we can supplement these with an offer of time out to relax, socialise and have some fun, and we can offer sufficient range to meet a broad range of needs and interests. Without the funding this would not be possible and it would leave carers all the poorer mentally and physically as a result. From the perspective of staff morale, it can be hard to maintain motivation when the situation in social care is so challenging and statutory home care and respite provision are so limited. To have something so positive and evidently beneficial to offer carers helps us to feel we are still able to make a meaningful difference for them. Through the monitoring, evaluation and reporting element of the project, we are obliged to reflect on what we have been doing. Far from being a dry, number-crunching, statistical process, it makes us go back over the feedback we have had across the year and look again at the photographs and quotes we have collected. It is a really valuable thing to do as it really reignites our enthusiasm. We attended the Short Breaks Fund Round-up for grant holders this year and it was a really good experience for us. Having the opportunity to meet in person with other grant holders gave us food for thought and has also opened up connections with other organisations who we plan to work with in the future.
At least 30% of all adult carers we support will have accessed at least one short break opportunity through our project and will report that they have benefitted as a result.
We achieved our objective. In total 178 carers had some benefit from the project which represents over 30% of adult carers registered with us now, despite seeing a 28% increase on the numbers of carers supported between when we applied and the end of the project year. Many engaged with multiple elements of the project on multiple occasions, and all gave us very positive feedback about the benefits they found from doing so: “I have friendships now which will last a lifetime, and I can't think of anything more precious than that.” ‘For us to be able to get together … is really important. Time away from caring provides such a valuable break and makes us feel like normal people again’ ‘It’s not so much about what me make, but who we make it with’ ‘We have a chance to share stories and have a laugh together’ ‘I had a lovely day and didn’t have to think about anything. Is that selfish of me? Thank you. I met some new carers, and had a laugh about silly things’
‘F’ cares for her husband who has advanced dementia. They live in a remote location and it is very difficult for her to get time away from her caring responsibilities due to lack of transport. The past year has been very traumatic for F and has included the deaths of two of her sisters in under 6 months. F’s own health is poor and she finds her caring role very exhausting, as a result of which, she has little time to look after herself. Family members were able to step in to allow her to join the residential. ‘Coming away to such a lovely and different place really does give you a proper break, time to relax and be pampered. I’ve laughed quite a bit – it feels like it’s been a while. It has been lovely to get to know the other carers and has been such a valuable opportunity to have time, space, and the environment to share with people who really understand. Thank you. It was a welcome break from a caring role. The small community that formed over the time was supportive, and confidence building. It’s not a small thing to have a residential stay with people who are new to you but the shared role as carers gave us a bond of understanding. I will go home feeling refreshed for what is next.’
80% of carers who engage with our project will report they were able to access a meaningful break from caring which allowed them to receive support from their peers and the North Argyll Carers Centre staff team and this left them feeling well supported and better able to cope with their caring role.
We feel we exceeded our target. Feedback about all elements of our project has been overwhelmingly positive. We received suggestions for the future but no negative feedback about the activities. Carers emphasised the fact that having access to the project made their challenges easier to face: “I can’t thank you enough for all the laughs and support during hard times . It really made such a big difference being able to connect with others going through similar situations.” ‘It’s great for us to get together like this and a really good opportunity for us to chat about all sorts together’ The member of staff who delivers the majority of the project activities observed “The Time for Me groups [held at community venues in villages across the locality] provide a great space for locals to meet together and have helped new carers feel part of their small community”
The “Happy Post” online group, though only attended by a small number of carers, has shown itself to be a vital lifeline for the carers who do take part. Because of the nature of their caring roles and the very remote locations they live in, these carers cannot access regular face to face groups and even with support would find it too much of a challenge to go on a retreat or, in most cases, even a day trip. The group has a strong focus on mindfulness because this is what they have found most helpful. Their comments demonstrate the value they find in this: ‘Learning new ways to practice mindfulness really helps me cope daily’. ‘Learning how we can’t feel and think about something at the same time has really helped me. Using touch as a way to calm the mind is also very helpful to make my caring role more manageable’ ‘This was a very relaxing activity, and a great one for us as carers to practice in our own time to relieve the stresses of our caring roles.’ ‘Being able to meet with other lonely and isolated carers like this helps me know that I am not alone’.
At least 80 carers and 5 cared for will report improved wellbeing through access to manual therapies At least 100 carers and 20 cared-for people will access a programme of social activities offering respite and wellbeing support and 80% will report improved wellbeing as a result.
We met our objectives. 114 carers and 6 cared-for accessed manual therapies and told us they enjoyed the relaxation and found their stress reduced but also appreciated the help with chronic pain and injury from lifting and handling. 'Massage was just PURE bliss! I must have really needed it. Thank you!' We felt we got the balance right between activities which could be attended by carer along with the person being cared for, and activities solely for carers. Carers and those they care for said they appreciated having time away from daily routines to relax together and socialise with peers. Carers told us they also enjoyed having time just for themselves, in particular through the residentials but also on day trips, at groups and even during therapies. ‘What an amazing day out. It … made us relax from the first moment onwards’ ‘A great day out for carers. It’s so good to feel supported and well looked after’ ‘It’s so good to be part of this friendly, gentle, understanding community'
‘A’ cares for an elderly relative who is housebound. She also cares for a family member with mental health issues. ‘A’ has moved to the area to be the primary carer for her relative, leaving her friends and family behind. She still has a house to maintain away from the area and worries about the upkeep of this along with the house where she lives with her relative. She was encouraged to take part in one of the residential retreats, and describes below the impact on her wellbeing of taking part. ‘What this trip meant for me - I was not sure how the trip to Pitlochry would be, and some juggling of duties to actually get away, although was looking forward to it, and so very glad I went. I thought there would be others more deserving than me, as I was managing , but as [support worker] wisely pointed out we can be thriving rather than just managing! So refreshing, rejuvenating, and restoring to have time completely away physically, mentally, and socially from the multiple caring roles. Time to reflect on habits of always caring for others, and finding it a challenge to make time for self-care. Wonderful to get together with a beautiful group of interesting women, in a gorgeous setting, with time for walking, chatting, delicious food, games, and gentle yoga. Appreciated the mutual support and understanding, without the need to chat about our caring roles, appreciated we all laid our cares aside and there was laughter and love, and rest. I have returned home more aware of the importance of self-care, and more able to cope with the daily challenges, having had this much needed break away. A huge thank you'