Carers centres across the UK are a key part of the support network for carers. When lockdown began on Tuesday 24th March, they all had to shut their doors, cancel face to face groups and begin a new way of working. I caught up with Ciare and Kemi from Camden Carers Centre to find out how their team responded to this challenge and to understand how the carers they were supporting had been impacted by coronavirus.
The key message is “We are open and we are here for you!”
The lockdown challenge
Dealing with lockdown was hard enough for all of us. Add the extra complication of having moved offices the day before lockdown started, the team at Camden Carers Centre faced an unprecedented challenge. They had to set themselves up for working from home, coping with new IT, video calls and settling into a new routine. As a team that are highly skilled at working with carers face to face and on the phone they had to quickly adapt.
"It’s really rewarding to see what we have achieved in a short time, the team were anxious at first but quickly embraced the change and we’ve had lots of positive feedback from both staff and the carers we support."
As a team, they had to take time to focus on their own wellbeing and mental health. A weekly staff bulletin, team yoga, good working patterns and the “Time to Change” programme gave everyone a safe space to talk through anxieties and cope with the changes. They had been doing the very things that they would recommend to carers.
The original focus was on older carers. Working in partnership with other organisations they saw that this need had a good level of focus so they were then able to broaden out to focus on other carer groups.
Support and wellbeing checks began with their most current list of carers and an email was sent out to ensure all carers, including those who had not been in touch for a while, knew that they were open and that support was available.
The support and wellbeing checks helped them to identify the needs of carers, checking that everyone had access to food and medication, asking how caring is going and what help is needed. The team noticed that people often weren’t getting in touch to ask for help as they thought they’d be too busy and there might be people who were a higher priority.
These calls had a really positive response. Carers were so pleased to know that somebody cared and even if they had no immediate practical need it was really good to talk. For the team it gave them a boost to know that these simple calls made a difference.
"It’s nice to know someone cares"
Young Adult Carers were sent a mini consultation survey by email and text which had a strong response rate, so this was widened out to more carers. This helped the team understand if people were keen to see their usual programme of activities move online and has helped to shape what the service now looks like.
How has coronavirus impacted carers in Camden?
For many carers there was a fear about letting people into the home and about leaving the home too. The risks seemed high. Some carers chose to cancel their care packages as a way of reducing risk, so carers were more physically impacted with lifting, handling and cleaning. This also contributed to an overall increase in the number of hours spent caring each week.
Carers had to make difficult decisions. If they, the person they are caring for, or someone else in their household, was shielding they had to change their caring role to be able to care remotely, often spending more time offering emotional support.
Communication issues have a further impact. Access to the internet, fake news and language barriers all add together to create confusion.
Carers had concerns about finance too. Food bills went up whilst income went down. Where a day centre may have provided breakfast or lunch this is now added to the household shop.
Add to all this the sense of isolation and the risk of carer burnout was high.
The key question for carers is “What happens if I get ill?”
Camden Carers Centre are continued to listen to what carers were telling them about their current situation.
60% of carers responding to their survey of Young Adult Carers said that their mental and physical health had been impacted. The survey is now being shared with other groups of carers too.
What were Camden Carers able to offer during coronavirus?
The key message is “We are here, get in touch”.
A comprehensive service was in place which included:
Telephone support line
New referrals being registered with more complex situations referred to a key worker
Carers ID letter
Emergency fund drawing on local support - Sainsbury’s vouchers and vouchers accepted at multiple shops for buying essentials
Grants of up to £100 to help with respite care and other things that will have a positive impact on the carer. It’s a simple scheme with no hoops to jump through.
A counselling programme to support people with anxiety
Mental Health Carers support group in Zoom
Yoga for Young Adult Carers
Working for carers (a project focused on getting carers back into work, training and/or education)
Online art group
The Future from Camden Carers Centre
“We had big plans for 2020! Covid-19 has made us rethink these. We are keeping carers at the heart of what we do, building on our learning. Our circumstances will be a catalyst for new services. We can now reach carers in lots of different ways, this is an opportunity to be more accessible and flexible but of course we look forward to being able to get back to supporting people face to face too.”
“We are also looking forward to putting on a very exciting Carers Week (8th -14th June). Events including an online art exhibition, sending art packs to those carers who are digitally excluded, carers sing-a-long and an extra special radio play which has been put together in partnership with carers and the Central School of Speech and Drama with all episodes accessible on the Camden Carers Centre website. A series of fact-sheets will also be launched during carers week with a focus on job searching, carers’ rights at work and balancing working and caring. We also hope to see examples of carer stories during the Covid-19 pandemic in the Camden New Journal and other media platforms.”
Carers Centres across the country had experienced similar challenges and worked hard to re-establish a comprehensive service. Just like Camden Carers Centre the key message is “We are open - do get in touch!”