One of the many lovely things about working at The Kiosk at the park is meeting lots of groups of people having a great time together, and enjoying being outside in the fresh air - even when the air has that ever-so-slightly-arctic feel about it. Recently we had a group from Carers in Bedfordshire arrive at the Kiosk for an essential warm drink interlude. A quick chat with them revealed that this walking group is just a part of the vibrant support network that the charity provides for the ever increasing numbers of people who become carers for aging or ill relatives. We were so impressed by the support that the walking group provided, we went to meet Linda, adult care support worker and one-woman dynamo to find out more about the work that Carers in Bedofrdshire do. Linda is one of those people who is so utterly passionate about her job that her enthusiasm and kindness is infectious.
Carers in Bedfordshire offers support for all kinds of carers - people who are elderly or sick themselves but still looking after a disabled husband or wife; parents who care for disabled or terminally ill children, even the siblings of disabled children, whose own needs can often feel neglected. The charity's strap line is 'working to prevent the carers of today becoming the carers of tomorrow.' Linda explained how many carers, especially those who are elderly themselves see caring for their loved one as a responsibility that they must fulfill whatever the effects on their own health. 'It's like taking on another full-time, new career when they are well in to their own retirement,' she said. 'And often these people are very close to breaking point, because it's such a physical job, with all the lifting and moving it involves, as well as the huge emotional strain. When dementure is involved, it's a kind of grief the carers are dealing with on an every day basis, often for years at a time.'
Founded by Yvonne Clark, herself a carer and nurse, the charity which also receives some local authority funding, provides a lifeline to hundreds of cares in the Bedford area. The walking group that we'd met at the Kiosk is one of their organised activities, and Linda was particularly enthusiastic about the benefits of the group meeting outside, and having a reinvigorating stroll in the fresh air, whilst having a natter and of course a restorative cup of tea. 'Many of the walking group have been going for a long time now, and it's become like a family. We keep carers registered for as long as they feel they need, even after the person they've cared for has passed away. There are even groups for ex-carers,' explains Linda.
All of the groups the charity run are along a similar theme - treating carers as the individuals that they are, giving them a much needed break from the intense work that they do, or just offering a space to share worries and experiences with others in similar situations. 'Carers Cafes' are a service that the charity offer on a regular basis - these are regular drop in sessions across Bedfordshire where carers, and the people they care for can relax in a safe and friendly environment.
Hairdressing, manicures and chiropody appointments are amongst the services available at these cafes, as well as talks by guest speakers, arts and crafts and the benefits of having a good chat over a cup of tea and a slice of cake, and meeting new friends. Talking about the success of the cafes, Linda says 'they work because there are no age or gender boundaries. It's so inclusive, and we get such a variety of people who come. ' Offering services like hairdressing can be vital to full time carers. 'I knew of one lady who almost never got her hair done, because it just involved so much work and was so expensive - she had to arrange for a specialist sitter to come and look after her husband, arrange transport to and from town - and it was just very expensive. She can come to one of our Carers Cafes now, and her husband is looked after while she gets her hair done, just in the next room. And then they can have a cup of tea together afterwards.'
There are also specialist groups for people who care for those with mental health problems, for carers of disabled children, young carers and siblings of cared-for children. The charity offer advice on benefits and other services open to carers and hold regular fundraising events. Linda was instrumental in organizing the most recent - an Elvis night with a disco, bar and a special guest appearance by the man himself! She also organizes shipments of handmade teddies and hand puppets to be sent to children in hospitals and orphanages in places such as Burma. Often these are made by carers, or people who are cared for. 'The feeling that they are helping children who have very little,' says Linda, 'means a lot. They love feeling like they are helping someone else.'
If you, or someone you know is a carer, and would like some support, you can register as a carer on the Carers in Bedfordshire website here. And equally, if you'd like to donate to the charity, you can do that on the same page. We think the carers do a wonderful job, and can't wait to have a cup of tea and a cake or two with the walking group on their next outing!