Carers’ charity chief is glad she called Saul

Carers trustee Steve Cassidy and charity chief Michelle Smith outside the former Blenheim House on Newton Drive
Carers trustee Steve Cassidy and charity chief Michelle Smith outside the former Blenheim House on Newton Drive
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Better call Saul?

Carers Trust Fylde Coast Carers Centre chief executive Michelle Smith is glad she did.

Prof Saul Becker

Prof Saul Becker

Professor Saul Becker is acknowledged to be the world’s foremost authority on young carers.

He’s advised the UK Government and others across the world – putting young carers on the social policy agenda internationally.

More than 500 research papers, books, conferences reports, policy and guidelines and other publications bear his name. Thousands more acknowledge his influence.

This month Professor Becker joins the team of Carers Trust Fylde Coast as president of the 10-year-old charity.

Young carer: Aya looks after mum Devra, who had cancer

Young carer: Aya looks after mum Devra, who had cancer

It’s another coup for a charity about to campaign to transform a former landmark NHS property into new headquarters to grow the service.

Saul has worked tirelessly for young carers’ rights since he left the resort.

Blackpool shaped the man he became. He was a young carer himself.

Saul’s parents ran a seafront hotel at North Shore. His mother not only ran the hotel but looked after the family – including her mother who had Parkinson’s Disease.

The former Blenheim House on Newton Drive will become the new HQ for Carers Trust Fylde Coast

The former Blenheim House on Newton Drive will become the new HQ for Carers Trust Fylde Coast

The same disease would later claim his mother’s life.

Saul lived in Blackpool from 1960 to 1978. He met Michelle Smith, now chief officer of the carers’ charity, while both attended Rossall in the late ’70s.

Michelle admits: “When I joined Blackpool Carers Saul’s name cropped up and I didn’t think it could be the same person as surely he wasn’t clever enough to be a professor?”

She’s radically revised her opinions. “We’re thrilled and delighted to have Saul on board. He not only knows everything there is to know about young carers but he’s a great guy too. He was the key speaker at our young carers conference at the Hilton – 100 organisations attended.

“We did some research with 1,665 pupils from 25 local schools for the conference. It showed that eight per cent – same as the national average – were carrying out practical caring tasks.

“Twenty six per cent – above the national average – were carrying out emotional caring roles.”

For many young carers locally the unspoken duty of care goes hand in glove with social deprivation and health and welfare issues.

Others may help with a little or older brother or sister disabled from birth, a parent or grandparent struck down by serious illness, accident or infirmity.

Few see themselves as carers.

The high-profile appointment comes as the charity prepares to involve more schools in identifying and supporting young carers. They already have hundreds on their books – and want to reach thousands more.

Prof Becker’s presidency will be ratified at the charity’s AGM and Cash Quest 4 Carers awards ceremony at the De Vere Hotel on October 16. Saul admits: “I’m incredibly impressed by the Blackpool carers’ centre. I can see the changes and challenges, social and economic, just walking round town. Their work around young carers is inspirational. The centre does an amazing job and much of that is down to Michelle’s passion.

“We need to reclaim the personal in this and understand that everything we do for carers comes down to lives, individual human beings, relationships, opportunities, hopes, aspirations and futures – as well as policies.

“The reality is it could happen to any one of us at any time. It just requires you to wake next to a partner who’s had a stroke to go from one life to another. Or to be a child whose mum has cancer.”

Saul attended primary school at Bispham before joining Rossall School, where a six-day academic week finished at 6pm weekdays, 3pm Saturdays.

“Much of my life was home-based when not at school. I helped with gran. It got to the point where it was too much for my mum. I’d gone to uni by then and would drive over to my gran’s nursing home in Liverpool and take her out.

“We wanted to bring her closer to home. We sold the hotel but there was no money there. In those days there were no services for carers, not like now.”

His mother, a member of Exit, the voluntary euthanasia society, later developed Parkinson’s Disease herself and died two years ago.

Her son put support systems in place to enable her to live independently for as long as possible but admits it proved “woefully inadequate – a form of house arrest”.

Visits were made by agency workers, on the clock, underpaid, under pressure.

“Three times a day they went in, for no more than 15 minutes a time, to get her up, make her lunch, put her to bed – at a time to suit the agency and not the grown woman in her care. There was no flexibility.”

Finally Saul and his brother suggested her moving into a nursing home on a respite basis.

“To our surprise she agreed. She got 24-hours-a-day care, her own furniture in a nice room with a lovely view; she could see people coming and going. She had security, peace of mind, companionship, people popping in, and proper social contact.

“In her own home she had been a prisoner of suburbia, isolated but for her family and incredibly stretched agency workers.

“The move transformed my mum’s quality of life until the disease really took hold. It changed my view about residential care quite considerably. It made me realise that the delivery of a service without humanity does not equal quality of life. We need really good quality services delivered with compassion, care and humanity.”

Paul left Blackpool to read social policy at the University of Nottingham in 1978. He’s since held professorships at Loughborough, Nottingham and Birmingham. Now Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of College (Social Sciences) at the University of Birmingham he sits on the executive group, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the UK’s Academy of Social Sciences.

He is also a qualified and registered social worker. He has been involved in countless broadcasts and debates across the world. He is one of the most familiar faces in international carer forums. Many TV documentaries have featured his work with young carers.

Saul concedes: “This issue is as much personal, political and academic to me, having gone through it with my gran, with my mum, experienced those issues personally and also in terms of services.

“Over the last 25 years I’ve come to be regarded as the world expert on anything to do with young carers and young adult carers aged 18 to 24. Research is cited time and again in development of services.

“The development of policy is moving quickly but services to young carers, young adult carers, all carers, have never been more vulnerable.

“If such services are cut, or withdrawn, there will be massive impact on carers and families. There will be pain, turmoil, and suffering, reduction in opportunities, friendships, and constant anxiety from carrying the physical and emotional – and often financial – responsibility.

“At one level carers are seen as an easy target for cuts. There are millions of them but millions of us don’t notice them - yet one of these days you could be a carer yourself.

“Supporting carers is a moral imperative.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of becoming old and frail, or ill or disabled, but we are – because the prospect of poor services or deficient support frightens us.

“And that’s a terrible indictment of society - particularly an industrialised, advanced society as rich as ours.”

Saul’s presidency will kick-start the charity’s campaign to transform a large detached property on Newton Drive into a centre of excellence for carers of all ages.

The former Blenheim House child development support service has since relocated to Whitegate Drive.

The landmark building has been donated to the charity by Beaverbrooks Charitable Trust. The charity is about to launch a capital campaign to make good the mess left by metal thieves who moved in after the NHS moved out – and to transform the building into a headquarters from which to grow the service for the next 20 years.

Saul adds: “This incredibly generous act by Beaverbrooks has granted an amazing opportunity to make a very real difference to carers and citizens of Blackpool and some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“The new HQ will be a resource to serve all, a beacon of what is good, and civil, and charitable about Blackpool.

“The potential for this to be a real game changer for the people of Blackpool is immense.

“I’d appeal to all residents and citizens to get behind it because you never know what’s around the corner; every one of us potentially may have use of that centre.

“You may not be a carer now or require care yourself. The very fact you don’t need it now should make you put something towards it – because you may need it tomorrow.”

Charity chief Michelle concludes: “Saul is the world’s leading authority on young carers but he’s not a typical academic. There’s still the Blackpool lad in him who sees the world as it is – and how he wants it to be.”

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