When you love someone you don't see yourself as a carer
Blackpool Carers Centre helps 4000 unpaid carers. Charity staff know there are thousands more who don't know they are carers - looking after loved ones out of love, duty, responsibility or because if they didn't do it nobody would.
Steven, who has requested we don’t use his surname, is one. He lost his partner to cancer. He admits: “I didn’t see myself as a carer, you don’t when you love someone, but I’d been doing everything for John-Paul.”
The one-to-one support he got from Karen Cooke, the charity’s hospital support worker, made life worth living.
He was referred to the carers’ charity by Lorraine Tymon, driving force behind the award-winning End of Life team at Victoria Hospital. “Lorraine saw me crying at John-Paul’s bedside,” says Steve. “She told me about the carers charity. I’d no family to help out and was falling apart.”
Karen helped him through the end stage of his partner’s life and beyond. She got him mental health assistance, a gym pass to sustain his recovery, and he enjoyed some time out at the carers’ holiday home in Lakeland.
“Now I’m gardening again, pottering around, and hope to help the charity. Nobody knows the good Blackpool Carers Centre do until they’re helped. I was a mess, I didn’t know what was normal because I never felt normal. Now I love it. They were a lifesaver.”
Karen explains: “End of life care has become increasingly important and Steven really needed help to guide him through. He felt so alone and isolated.”
The charity works with the support of ward staff. Hannah Fletcher, carers’ lead for the hospital project, says: “We’ve lost count of the times we’ve been told we needed to be cloned.”
Almost five years since the project was set up for three months it’s going from strength to strength.
Hannah adds: “In the first year we had 127 referrals, last year 464 referrals. The project is recognised on most wards and one doctor rates us number one of her top three needs for a strategic five year plan for end of life care in Blackpool and the Fylde. It’s been hard getting a social aspect into a medical aspect but we’re seeing great results. Lorraine is marvellous, the team have used their influence around the wards to promote the service to carers in hospitals, and to other medical teams.”
Lorraine explains: “Many carers of patients admitted into hospital have no one to turn to for support, advice and information. Meeting the carers’ hospital project team enables us to enhance the care given to both patients and carers. For patients knowing their carer is also being looked after can speed up their recovery. The carer is as important to us as the patient. Involving Blackpool Carers Centre enables the carer to have a life of their own alongside their caring role and make choices about their own lives.
“Involving the hospital team around end of life patients has proved invaluable to carers too, supporting them with registering the death, organising funeral directors, benefits and other issues that may arise. Sudden deaths in A&E are especially traumatic and daunting for carers. The carers’ team have been invaluable to not just carers but the staff in A&E too.
“It means staff can continue with emergency cases coming through the doors, knowing the carer is supported by the hospital project team.”
Last year the end of life team joined up with the care home support team to raise funds for the charity by way of thanks. “We held a raffle, organised a glam rock night, parachute jump, a sponsored slim and sold homemade cakes on weekly and raised £1,213.60!”
The charity has recently started a ‘starting over’ group for bereaved carers. Hannah adds: “They often feel cut adrift because their way of life and structure to each day and often night has gone with the death of their loved one.”
What people think of the charity
Life can change for the better if you access carers services in Blackpool, says Chris Lear, adult carers support worker at Blackpool Carers Centre. “There can be multiple individuals with differing needs in the same household who require the help and support of just one carer.”
In her early 30s Rhianna,who has asked for her surname to be withheld, found herself caring for her young son who was diagnosed with autism at two, her husband experiencing mental health issues and unable to work, as well as their two other children,
Rhianna realised she was a carer when her son went to school and she spoke to a learning mentor who suggested the charity. Rhianna adds: “Caring means enabling a person to live as independently and fully as possible. For my son it means changing nappies and helping him shower. Even though physically he is nine, mentally he’s a toddler and needs almost constant care.
“Our support worker assisted my husband in claiming benefits for the very first time in his life and secured a back payment which went a long way to getting things back on an even keel. Sometimes you feel you are the only parent in the world dealing with this. But you’re not alone, and there is help out there. The carers centre gave us light at the end of the tunnel.
“Now, thanks to BBC DIY SOS and the new building, this well deserving charity is getting the support it needs to grow and help even more. I’m delighted.”
Carer Dawn volunteered to help the charity after her daughter went to high school and she had more time on her hands - but found herself on the receiving end.
“I referred myself to the charity and while chatting to Colette Gartside (project leader of the Hand in Hand Parent Carers project) realised just how hard my caring role had been but how rewarding too.
“For the first time I had someone I could talk to and not be judged, not emotionally attached and able to offer an objective opinion. It got me back where I wanted and needed to be.”
Rob Frowen has always regarded the care of his son as a privilege. “I’m a glass half full type of guy,” he explains. “Perhaps that’s a coping strategy.”
His son has hebophrenic (or chaotic) schizophrenia, characterised by disjointed thinking, child-like outbursts, extreme apathy and social withdrawal.
He was labelled with other conditions until the formal diagnosis two years ago. He is 27 and now living independently, with daily help from his family and support from Next Stage, a specialist agency, after 18 months in hospital.
Both he and wife Sue are registered carers with Blackpool Carers Centre - as Sue also cares for her elderly mum. Both go outings with the charity. “We enjoy the time together and respite.”
Rob was surprised, on a carer progamme at The Harbour last year, to be asked if he would like a referral to the carers’ charity.
“Why would I need referring after going solo and managing - sort of - since my son was eight? It turned out to be very misguided. Talking to others with similar issues was truly cathartic. It freed my mind from the heavy emotional burden I’d been evidently, but unwittingly, carrying around so long.”
He’s a regular at the charity’s HUGS support group meetings and in April did a sponsored 180 mile bike ride for the charity. He’s about to run a series of sports auctions, primarily sports memorabilia, for the three month Cash Quest for Carers appeal.
“My son is enjoying life more and so are we. The charity deserve every penny they can get.”