Time for Me - Adult Carers across Oban, Lorn and The Isles
A story by North Argyll Carers Centre
Unpaid carers and those they care for across the rural and remote Oban, Lorn and Isles area accessed a blended offer of online and face to face activities and therapies, aimed at reducing isolation and loneliness, increasing social interaction and supporting physical and mental wellbeing.
What Time for Me - Adult Carers across Oban, Lorn and The Isles did
We delivered our “Happy Post” project which consists of monthly online activities via Zoom delivering enjoyable, creative activities and a shared positive experiences for carers and the people they care for. This was aimed at carers in the most demanding caring roles, who due to this and the very remote and rural locations they live in, cannot access activities in person.
We took our Time for Me Groups out into the community, delivering sessions for carers and those they care for in Tobermory and in Kilmelford. The design of the programmes was informed by the interests and ideas of the participants. We also provided online Time For Me activities for carers across the Oban, Lorn and Isles area, via Zoom. Carers and those they care for were able to join in. We held in-person sessions provided at community venues in Oban. These were primarily attended by carers living local to Oban, though we did see island carers taking part when visiting Oban on the day of the activities.
Activities included quizzes, crafts, mindfulness sessions, talks by guest speakers, film showings, reminiscence sessions and a Burns Supper. Groups always include time together to chat and provide the chance for carers to access further support as well as creating a distinct time for themselves away from the challenges of their caring role.
We provided 20 Wellbeing Activity sessions including 9 photography sessions with a photography tutor and 8 gardening sessions at a local community garden. We also provided 3 art and craft sessions including a workshop with a local art tutor at the Rockfield Centre community hub, in Oban.
We provided a carers’ spa day for 12 carers, at a spa hotel in Oban, and 185 therapy sessions for carers and those they care for, delivered by professional Manual Therapists whose expertise includes oncology massage, Manual Lymph Drainage, kinesiology taping and acupuncture, as well as gentle massage for relaxation.
The Landmark Trust provided us with a free 3 night stay at Saddell House in Kintyre as part of their 50forFree scheme. We were able to take 4 carers on a relaxing residential retreat with additional costs supported by Creative Breaks funding
What North Argyll Carers Centre has learned
With the Happy Post strand of our project we had ambitions of reaching carers who experience significant barriers to taking part. We were successful, but did not achieve the level of participation we had hoped for. In spite of this, the rewards of providing the sessions were great, as we saw how important it was for those who could participate. We have learnt from carers about what the difficulties are, even when access is available via Zoom.
We know they loved their monthly surprise, when the Happy Post materials arrived. We know too how fragile the freedom to take part can be, when the cared-for person’s condition deteriorates and when care packages change or are reduced due to lack of availability. We see a huge value in this project but have set a more realistic target for this year. It is definitely a case of quality over quantity.
‘Loving the ‘Happy post’. ‘This has been a lovely change from my usual day. Thank you’.
‘My family were really impressed by what I made last month, and I felt a great sense of achievement as I didn’t think I was any good at making things’.
‘The new mindfulness session is helping me focus more’. ‘Knowing others have similar struggles makes me feel less isolated’.
‘I really appreciate the Happy Post sessions, and I am trying to be mindful’.
Returning to lockdown at the end of December 2021 was a real setback and many carers feared finding themselves isolated from friends, family and support networks again. As soon as we were able to resume in-person activities, we wanted to find things that felt safe to carers and offered them the chance to meet up with friends, socialise and get away from home and take a break from their caring responsibilities.
We were acutely aware of the negative effect on carers’ mental health of feeling ‘robbed’ of family time at Christmas. The needed something to help regain some sense of balance and control. Our Activity Coordinator has undertaken training in breath work, stress management and mindfulness techniques. She had read about the concept of Miksang Contemplative Photography and saw this as a great way to combine outdoor, gentle physical exercise with an interest that quite a number of carers shared. Carers could come on a quiet, contemplative walk and if they wished, could combine mindful observation in their surroundings with photography. There was such a demand that we have run the walking group weekly in addition to the monthly Oban Time for Me activities and photography project, and it has regular attendees who get together come rain or shine.
Covid prompted many people to re-evaluate their lives. We have seen this first hand with providers we were working with. We have had to be flexible and look for workable alternatives when those providers made life changes which impacted on their availability to support delivery our projects. It has reinforced for us that we have the flexibility and creativity within our team to find good solutions to the problems we face and strong relationships with our community with providers who are keen to help us and the carers we support.
Our Manual Therapist needed to reduce her hours and we knew demand for therapies was high. This gave us an opportunity to reconnect with another therapist we had worked with occasionally in the past. As a former carer herself, she has empathy for carers and a clear understanding of the issues they face. She has remained with us and as a result we are able to deliver sessions for carers at weekends and in the evening, to suit their availability.
How North Argyll Carers Centre has benefitted from the funding
The Creative Breaks funding has allowed us to develop a number of new initiatives for carers, to address specific circumstances that prevented participation. The Miksang Photography Group provided a way to combine this mindful practice with getting together outdoors. Because the focus is on observing and photographing ones surroundings the pace is gentle and it suits carers of varying levels of fitness and physical capability. Carers were keen to take part and then by extension, the weekly Mindful Walking Group was born. The funding has also allowed us to make more of intergenerational working. Bringing adult carers and young carers continues to have a positive impact for both groups, with learning in both directions and a greater understanding across the generations. We have found that although many carers are keen to get back together in person, there are those who are feeling their own isolation even more acutely than before lockdown, as the return to normality has not restored freedom for them because they live in such remote locations with such intense caring roles and such limited public transport links. The Happy Post was our answer to this. Carers and those they care for receive a parcel every month with materials for an activity. They then join in with the rest of the group via Zoom. We have found that creative activities with a mindful element are popular but, of course, it is the break from caring, peer support and social contact that are of real value. Carers have enjoyed rediscovering their creative side too and have talked about now much they look forward to the next Happy Post arriving. The need for an outdoor venue that could be used even in the colder months led us to develop a great new partnership with Dunollie Castle and Museum. Their terrace café with its covered, heated seating area has been invaluable. Having exclusive use for our groups made carers comfortable about joining. It is also satisfying that as two small, local charities we are able to benefit one another. We have developed the partnership, running further events there, including a summer Mad Hatters’ Tea Party for carers and their families. One of our newly registered carers participated in our carers’ spa day. She was so appreciative of the opportunity and the support she received from us that she nominated us as the local Inner Wheel’s charity of the year. She spoke about her experience with us at an Inner Wheel meeting. The nomination was accepted and their fundraising for this year will be in aid of North Argyll Carers Centre. Not only will more carers now benefit as a result of the Creative Breaks funding, but also awareness of unpaid carers and of North Argyll Carers Centre has increased and our reputation enhanced.
At least 75 carers and 40 cared-for people will report improved wellbeing through access to manual therapies 50 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 partially achieved this outcome. We were ambitious about the number of cared-for people who would access therapies and in fact numbers were much lower than we had expected. We have looked to understand why and have ascertained that there were a number of factors at play. It was not well understood that the service was available to both carers and those they care for. Sessions are in very high demand and filled up very quickly. We had to limit how far in advance we could make bookings in order to ensure newly registered carers got access. We got a sense from the cared-for that they were uncertain about taking up the offer, quoting travel difficulties, concerns about being sore afterwards and not being comfortable with needing to remove clothing. Clearly there is some work to do in improving communication about the whole offer. Carers and cared-for who did access the service advised of the significant benefit derived. Our other targets were achieved successfully.
This case study was written for us by a participant on the residential retreat to Saddell House. The carers who took part had been bereaved a little before, or during covid and had not had the usual support to come to terms with their loss: "I was one of 4 bereaved carers, each of us at a different stage of grieving. When I was asked if I’d like to join the trip to Saddell House, I was unsure what to expect. I had an image of ‘group therapy’ being on the agenda where folk would sit in a circle, each taking her turn to say her ‘piece’. But it was nothing like that – nothing at all ‘formal’. The whole weekend was extremely relaxed, and I felt completely at ease within the group. I drove to Saddell with a group member I’d met a few times before at coffee mornings. She had lost her husband two years ago, and her son a few months ago. She spoke in great detail about her feelings, how she felt shattered at times and how she loved sitting in complete silence for long periods. It was extremely sad, but interesting to hear her story. I tried to empathize with her and felt I could where her husband was concerned – but I didn’t know where to start when I learnt of her son’s death. This lady spoke freely of him, of his problems and of different aspects of his life. She explained how he had died – and I found listening to her made me feel as though I was helping her. Her strength in dealing with her grief was amazing and I found myself encouraging her to continue on this path. The carer who had lost her husband before lockdown was a prime example of how life can be enjoyed after losing a loved one. She happily spoke of adventures she and her late husband had and I found her presence this weekend an encouragement to look to the future – and I am sure the carer who had recently lost her husband felt this too. I could identify with Carer C, who had recently lost her husband. I felt she was very brave to go away for a weekend so soon after his death and I told her that I wouldn’t have been able to do so. There were times when she was extremely sad and I feel that I, together with the other members, were able to comfort her. Where both Carers B and C were concerned I felt I was able to give something back to the group. I was able to listen and understand – not just make the ‘right noises’, but fully understand. To be able to share my own experiences and talk about my late husband to other bereaved carers was extremely beneficial to me. Group members understood the need I have to speak of him and having the opportunity to share and exchange our stories during a weekend, away from home and in such a beautiful location, was extremely therapeutic. I came away feeling ‘uplifted’. I hadn’t been depressed before, but had experienced some ‘low moods’ – for example, losing interest in my house and home. As soon as I arrived home after the trip, I had a snack and some tea – then I went out for a walk over the hills (in the rain of course!). When I returned home, after tea and cake, I started some house cleaning."
55 carers will report they have benefitted from time away from their caring role through a blended offer of online and face to face groups offering respite activities 12 carers (or 6 if restriction levels change) will access a residential respite break at Saddell House
We fully achieved our target of providing respite activities for carers. In fact, 160 carers took part in activities across the year, with many being regular attenders at a variety of groups and activities. Feedback was that attendance reduced isolation and improved carers' sense of wellbeing. The variety of activities on offer appealed to a broad range of ages and interests. The chance for carers and cared-for to socialise together was important to the project's success too. Due to covid restrictions we had to offer the residential to the lower number of carers. We had 6 carers signed up to take part, and all were very enthusiastic about the break away. Unfortunately, one carer could not join due to ferry problems and another had to drop out for personal reasons. We also had a last-minute change of staffing, as the member of the team who organised the visit tested positive for covid two days before the day of departure. The 4 carers who went found the experience profoundly beneficial
Carer X cares for her adult son who has a learning disability and for her husband. She herself has a long-term health condition which increases the challenges she faces in her caring role. She can feel quite isolated and lonely and the intensity of the emotional support for her son can be tough too. She has some added complexity with other family members requiring support and advice from her to manage their caring roles. The Time for Me group sessions offer her the chance to get a break from her caring role. She has involved herself in as many of the activities as she has been able to attend. She is a regular at the photography sessions, gardening sessions, mindful walking, art and craft activities and blether sessions. The gardening group has been a great focus for her. She has spoken about the peace the space offers and the enjoyment she derives from taking time out for herself there. She is very much involved in developing the garden project and has worked with the Activity Coordinator on planning for the future and devising activities for the intergenerational sessions. She speaks regularly of the importance of the Time for Me project in keeping her connected with friends, making her feel well supported and improving her mental and physical wellbeing ‘Having time in this lovely restful space is so good for my wellbeing and I am trying to encourage my husband to come along as it would help him relax and recuperate’
80% of carers taking part will report feeling better able to sustain their caring roles through participation in events and activities and the residential visit
This outcome was fully achieved. Carers fed back to us that participation in the activities on offer enabled them to focus on their own wellbeing, engage in mindful relaxation, meet with others and develop friendships and networks of support. Mindful practice and breathing activities gave them stress management and coping strategies which helped them step back from their challenges, take stock and regain a sense of calmness and control. This left them feeling more able to manage the challenges they face, better supported, more connected and more confident to ask for help when needed. Enduring friendships have grown up from the connections made. They have found new interests and hobbies through taking part and have found that involvement in creative and physical activities such as mindful walking, painting and crochet has improved their mental as well as physical health.
Carer Z cares for her husband who has Parkinson’s. Her caring role has become more intense as her husband’s condition has progressed. His increasing difficulties have meant they have both had to reduce their social activities as well, which has been hard on them both. Carer Z rarely asks for support and had not had a respite break in some considerable time. She was offered a place on a spa day but turned it down due to concerns about leaving her husband alone all day. Sourcing replacement care in our area, even for a one-off event, is very problematic and in this case was not possible. Her husband was keen for her to take part and still encouraged her to go, but she was too apprehensive. The couple’s son lives in another part of Scotland but visits his parents as often as he can. Hearing about the offer his mum had turned down, he arranged to visit and this enabled her to participate. We were able to support her with transport, which overcame another barrier to attendance. Carer Z told us she had never been on a spa day or even had a facial before. She was not sure if it was for her, but when she came out of the therapy room she was glowing and noticeably more relaxed. She said she had absolutely loved it. Her Adult Carer Support Worker who has got to know her well was present and reported that the change in Carer Z was highly evident and a pleasure to see. The direct benefit extended beyond the impact for the carer. Carer Z advised in her feedback that not only had it recharged her batteries and left her feeling amazing, it had been a great time for her husband and son too, as they had some time on their own together which is not something they usually get, and they had really enjoyed it. It is something they want to repeat which can benefit them all again in the future. It was a real success story for all parties involved.