Bristol residents are being asked how much they care, as part of a fresh drive to identify more families and friends who are carers in Bristol.
Figures show that almost 10% of Bristol’s population, over 40,000 residents, are carers and two in five people will become one at some point in their lifetime. But not all carers identify themselves as such, which means they may not be accessing the support they need to continue living full lives in their own right.
To get people thinking differently and asking for help when they need it, the council and Carers Support Centre are encouraging local people to take a short quiz to mark Carers Week (6- 12 June) answering simple questions such as how they might react to a lunch invitation from a friend, or how they relax in their free time.
Mike Hennessey, Bristol City Council’s service director for adult social care, said: “Carers play a vital role, making a huge contribution to society. It is really important that we support carers properly. We know that many people who care don’t ask for help before they reach crisis point, and this has to change if we want to build truly carer-friendly communities in Bristol.
“If you’re looking after someone else – be that a parent, a disabled child, brother, sister or a friend who needs you, then there may be tailored support available from a range of different places so you can continue in that role, whilst also living your own life and remaining healthy.”
Awareness raising activity will run throughout the week, with many different groups involved; GP surgeries will be on a drive to get people to sign up to their carers registers for extra support; there will be information stalls in local hospitals across the city; carers over 50 will be encouraged to take health and wellbeing courses which include relaxation tips and techniques, and schools will be running non-uniform days to raise funds for young carers.
On 10 June Carers Support Centre will be hosting an open meeting with a focus on health care delivered in the home and the opportunity to have a free health check. The Carer’s Choir will also be performing at the centre.
Keith Sinclair, chief executive of Carers Support Centre, said: “Caring is an issue that touches everyone at some point and becoming a carer can have a huge impact on an individual’s life. In Bristol there are many different organisations working to support carers in their roles, and I’d strongly encourage people to get in touch with our CarersLine service if they’re struggling.”
A host of other activities are taking place to target seldom heard communities and ensure the message of support reaches all corners of the city. A major Chinese holiday, the Dragon Boat Festival, falls during Carers Week so the Bristol & Avon Chinese Women's Group (BACWG) is hosting a cookery lesson for carers on 9 June, teaching people how to make the traditional Chinese snack Zongzi (sticky rice treats wrapped in bamboo leaves). The BACWG also organised the Chinese Lantern Project, supported by the Big Lottery Fund, which is designed to identify isolated and hidden members of the Chinese community in the region, including carers, and empowers them to integrate into the wider community. The project runs a free helpline and signposts to services, supporting people to overcome barriers such as language difficulties.
Cllr Clare Campion Smith, Bristol City Council Cabinet Member for People, said: “Awareness about the role of carers is improving, but there is still work to be done. Anyone can be a carer so by highlighting the support services available in Bristol I hope that more people will think about what this means.”
Last year the Health and Wellbeing Board launched a new plan, the Bristol Carers Strategy, which was written by carers themselves and builds on a successful previous plan. The strategy outlines ambitions to build more carer-friendly communities in the city and underpins Bristol’s approach to respecting and celebrating its carers. Carers themselves reflect a diverse range of communities with the same hopes and dreams, passions and worries as everyone else.
The council is now consulting on its plans to provide services for young carers and the public are encouraged to have their say. The Department of Health is also consulting on how to strengthen guidance for carers across a number of areas including work, health and finance. Responses will be used to help shape how unpaid carers are supported in the future.
My life growing up as a carer: Carina Andrews, 22, lives in Fishponds and has been a carer since she was five years old.
“I’ve been a carer for three quarters of my life, but I didn’t identify with that label for a long time.
“My mum fell ill with mental health issues when I was just five years old, so I began helping out more at home doing things such as cleaning and cooking. My sister was born around this time so I also began to look after her as well, but I thought that was just a normal part of growing up.
“My family is very close as a result of my caring role, but it’s not easy as I’ve needed to be the emotional rock and always keep things together. Mum has up and down days so sometimes she needs more support than others, but my focus has always been on other people in my family. I’ve learnt how strong I can be, but being a carer from such a young age has been difficult. My school attendance suffered, and I didn’t have a strong network of friends so sometimes I felt very isolated and as though I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my problems.
“It was only when I reached 16 that I began to realise my circumstances were different from my friends, and I finally looked outside of the family for extra support. I had reached breaking point so I started looking for help and found the Carers Support Centre based at the Vassall Centre in Bristol. Through them I joined their young carers support group which helped me to meet other people in my situation. I’ve met some of my best friends through this group, which has provided an essential escape for me. I only wish I had asked for help earlier.
“Now, at 22, I also care for my dad who has Parkinson’s disease. I help him with things like taking medications, getting dressed and walking and I’m glad that I can be there to support him. I’ve recently given up my job to care for both parents now, as it was difficult to juggle both. I’ve continued to access support, which has made things a bit easier and I finally feel like I have a life outside of my carer role.
“I hope that by talking about my own experiences I might encourage others to come forward – there’s a whole support network out there so don’t let things get to crisis point.”
Case study: Viv, (70) lives in Horfield and cares for her husband.
“My husband Scott* and I have been married for 24 years. He has rare autoimmune disease that means that the walls of his blood vessels become inflamed, and this causes a range of different health issues.
“Scott is a former marine and has lived with this condition for many years, but his health has been gradually deteriorating. A year ago I began to care for him more intensively, as he became less able to do things for himself.
“I care for my husband out of love, and don’t think twice about the things that I do. Anyone in my position would do the same, but it has affected the way I live my life. I won’t go out for more than two and a half hours at a time as I worry that he may need me, and I’m always on call ready to react to his needs.
“When I started caring for Scott more intensively, I was able to access the Carers Allowance, which is a weekly payment that allows me the flexibility to maintain my own independence. I’ve used this to join the gym and take reflexology courses, which has made a big difference to my overall health and wellbeing. Having a couple of hours out of the house for myself helps me to rest and refresh.
“Having the right support is so important if you’re a carer, so I’d strongly encourage others in my position to look into what might be available. Sometimes the little things can make a big difference. “
*Names have been changed in this case study