On day four of our special series on Carers’ Trust Fylde Coast Carers’ Centre, Jacqui Morley meets a mother and daughter who care for each other, a footie-mad dad, and an elderly lady who has the sweetest dreams thanks to the local carers’ charity
EUNICE NICHOLLS, 94
‘I no longer feel lost and alone’
Indomitable Eunice Nicholls, 94, one of Carers’ Trust’s oldest carers, served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army, during the Second World War.
They had it tough, women in a man’s world still, their help reluctantly accepted at first until a grudging realisation dawned that anything men could do, women could do... better?
Well – as well as, at least.
It didn’t stop the Auxiliaries getting 20 per cent smaller rations and 33 per cent less pay than their male counterparts.
It took the arrival of a young subaltern, Princess Elizabeth, to win the recognition they had long craved by joining up in 1944.
The auxiliaries could change wheels, take engines apart and rebuild them, drive heavy vehicles such as ambulances – and so much more.
It left Eunice fiercely independent, very proud and capable, a woman who could turn her hand to anything, having served her country.
But today she faces a battle on the homefront.
Her husband, Tom, now lives in residential care. She was his carer for many years.
In fact, her situation only came to light when she fell ill herself. The Carers Trust Fylde Coast Carers Centre hospital project team picked up her case notes and referred her to Anne Wright, the adult carer support worker who works specifically with carers of loved ones with dementia or Alzheimers, and runs workshop sessions and awareness training for groups of unpaid carers.
Eunice had met Tom in the Army, has been married to him for 67 years and has cared for him at home since he developed dementia.
He’s now in residential care, and the last few years haven’t been easy for Eunice either, who came to the carers’ charity’s attention when she ended up in hospital herself.
Anne says Eunice initially resisted help.
She explains: “The referral was made to ensure Eunice had some contingency plans in place for Tom, should she spend any more time in hospital.”
But once Eunice got to know Anne, she appreciated the support, which extended to practical as well as emotional help.
“There were problems with heating appliances and lots of jobs, from small niggly ones to quite involved ones, which needed doing.”
The charity helped Eunice get the work done by trustworthy, professional tradesmen.
But the strain of caring for Tom as his condition deteriorated took its toll on Eunice physically and emotionally. He moved to residential care – but this left his wife socially isolated.
“Life consisted of visiting Tom and coming home feeling very lost and alone,” she says.
The trust stepped in to help Eunice make new friends and become part of a social group of carers also looking after loved ones with dementia, and who understand the challenges she faces.
Anne herself was a carer for her mum who had a diagnosis of vascular dementia. Following her mum’s death, Anne spent some time volunteering and then applied for a position at the Carers’ Trust to put her valuable experience to work within the charity.
Anne adds: “And Eunice has much to give other carers too. She tells her story to other carers in a similar situation and is able to offer valuable advice and support which gives her a renewed sense of purpose.”
Trips out and regular company have made life brighter – and one particular excursion has sustained Eunice.
Support worker Anne and Peter Mercer, a volunteer with Carers’ Trust who mans a base in Grenfell Avenue, Layton, used for many of the dementia awareness sessions and other training, took Eunice for afternoon tea at a local vintage team room recently.
And Eunice admits she now has a new – and far more recent – happy memory.
“Before I go to sleep at night I re-live the trip, recalling the country lanes and green fields and the lovely tearoom, and it brings a smile to my face before I fall asleep each night.
“I can’t believe that someone would do something so kind.
“Before I felt lost.
“Not having any family I had no one to talk to and only TV for company. Now I’ve found some help and kind people who made me realise I wasn’t alone and there was help.
“I didn’t have to be lost and alone.
“I feel 10/10 now when it comes to how I feel about life and how I’m coping.
“Before it was 2/10.”
SUSAN AND JADE SMITH
‘The trust has been a valuable help’
It didn’t take Chris Lear, adult support worker for Carers Trust Fylde Coast, to realise there were two carers under one roof – mother and daughter Susan and Jade Smith.
Susan, 54, has mobility issues and uses a powered wheelchair. She doesn’t like to feel trapped in her home.
Susan picked up a leaflet about the carers’ charity shortly after moving to Blackpool – thanks to its work with GP surgeries to locate ‘hidden’ carers.
At that point, Susan simply wanted to get out and about more. One big obstacle was the lack of a seatbelt on her wheelchair – a real safety issue.
Chris explains: “I know getting a grant for a wheelchair seatbelt may not seem a big deal, but it is the little things that make a difference. In terms of Susan’s independence, this allowed her to meet new people, attend events and take part in the wider community.
“I do this job to make a positive difference to other people’s lives. I was as a student on placement at Carers Trust Fylde Coast and lucky enough to return once I qualified as a social worker.”
Chris soon realised the pair “did an awful lot to care for each other” – and referred Jade to Young Adult Carer project worker Dee-Marie Talbott.
Jade explains: “It’s helped so much, bringing me out of my shell, getting me involved and making friends. But it’s just the fact you know somebody’s there”.
In the past year she’s taken part in group work, one-to-one support, day trips and an overnight trip to London.
“That was awesome,” she says. “The hotel was lovely. When I first got involved with the carers’ centre, I’d have rated how I felt at 1/10. Now I’m 8/10.
“Everything has helped.”
She’s now looking forward to starting an art course at Blackpool and The Fylde College, and feels more confident talking about her caring role.
“I kept it quiet. Now I’ll speak to my employer/tutor and explain and ask if I can keep my phone on just in case there’s an emergency.”
Mum Susan adds: “Support for carers can seem lacking, certainly financial pressures are not easy due to the low amount of money carers’ allowance gives me each week, but we get on with it as best we can.
“The trust has been a valuable help . It’s very reassuring to know I can pick up the phone if needed.
“I don’t consider myself a carer as such – who would not care for their child if they needed it? Jade does the same for me and we get through life. But it’s nice to know the support is there.”
Dee-Marie has worked for the charity for five years and spent the last 12 months working with 14 to 25-year-olds – including Jade.
She concludes: “Seeing young adults such as Jade transform in front of your eyes is what this job is all about.
“Jade has taken all of these steps by herself, but I’ve had her back and have been with her every step of the way. It’s humbling to work with such an amazing group of people”.
Dad, carer, Preston North End fan
“I gave up my job to look after my wife and our kids.
“We’ve been helped in many ways by the carers’ centre, but by far the most personal help was the Preston North End season pass my support worker Carla Talbott managed to get for me.
“I know it’s a bit cheesy, but with the help of the carers’ trust getting me the season ticket I was able to watch and be part of our promotion this season and I am grateful for the help I have been given. I don’t ask for much as I like to deal with things myself, but I always know the trust are there for me.”
* National Carers’ Week continues locally with a fun party night at Sandcastle Waterpark, free for carers and their families, tomorrow night.
All are invited to the Carers’ Week Party at the Park, outside the Art Deco Café on Saturday from 11am to 3pm, featuring stalls, entertainment, and special guests Jimmy Armfield and Blackpool Mayor and Mayoress Peter and Maxine Callow, who have nominated the carers’ trust as their civic charity of their mayoral year.
For these and other events, to support the charity, the Cash Quest 4 Carers, register as a carer or inquire about help, call the centre on (01253) 393748, visit carerstrustfyldecoast.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @blackpoolcarers or @cashquest4carer on Twitter. The charity is also on Facebook.
Do not hesitate to call for information on carers in the community.