Hidden army of carers helped

2 April 2019 | West and South West England

Fiona Carr and David Trumper from Bath and North East Somerset Carers' Centre

Charity supports 4,500 carers a year.

Bath and North East Somerset Carers Centre supports carers of all ages in Bath and North East Somerset. The charity provides a range of advice and support directly to more than 4,500 carers a year, all of whom are caring for a seriously ill or disabled family member.

The service - which was charity of the year for the Midsomer Norton branch of TSB Bank - provides one-to-one counselling service as well as workshops and various courses. There are also activities available such as yoga, reflexology and even pampering days. All their services are free and designed to improve the physical health and mental and emotional wellbeing of carers so they are better able to manage the impact of caring.

Fiona Carr is just one of thousands in the local community the charity has helped. Her husband John suffered a devastating stroke five years ago. John, only 54, could no longer walk, talk or even swallow. And for Fiona, too, suddenly becoming a carer hit hard. She had to leave a job she loved in the probation service to look after her husband, a former engineer, full time and was unprepared for the physical and mental challenges of her new life.

“My life was then taken up with a constant round of visits from therapists – speech therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, health care assistants – visiting six times a day. The whole focus was on John’s rehabilitation. This left no time for me.”

Fiona, 59, realised that if she was going to offer the best care she could to her husband that she also had to take care of herself both physically and mentally.

“My brother sat me down and said something that stuck. He reminded me that during the security briefing you have during take off on a plane they always tell you to fix your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else with theirs. The point being, that if I didn’t help myself, I was going to be of no use to John.”

It was at that point that she was put in touch with the carer charity. Fiona says: “They became my oxygen, and have been there for me like you could not imagine these past few years. They helped me cope but also it has allowed me to be myself too. For most of my life I am just John’s carer, but at the centre I am Fiona again.”

Fiona went on a six-week course called “Coping with Caring” which looked at the emotional impact of caring and strategies for coping. She has also done several workshops including creative writing and woodwork.

But for her just being surrounded by like-minded people, is a much-needed comfort.

“The day before John had his stroke we were having dinner, enjoying a glass of wine and making plans for our retirement. That was all taken away from us. John’s speech is still affected and his right arm paralysed, but he is doing a lot better.

“But there is no point looking back. It’s great to be able to mix with other carers at the centre who understand all the demands placed on you. You are not judged and if you have a rough day, you can just be yourself there, unwind, have a cup of tea and relax.”

David Trumper is chief executive of Bath and North East Somerset Carers Centre, which has been promoting the cause of carers for over 21 years. The charity was recently awarded funding for their latest Connecting Carers project from TSB as part of their Local Community Fund programme.

“Funding from TSB has been a lifeline for a small charity like us. We can only continue to thrive with this kind of support."

He added: “Unpaid carers are a hidden army. There are approximately six to eight million carers in this country providing care that would otherwise have to be provided by the state. They deserve to have their voices heard.”

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