A guest blog from Val Hewison at Carers Leeds

June 6th to the 12th is Carers Week. A week where we focus on the essential role that families and friends have in providing care and support to others  who have an illness or disability.
I often wonder why we need awareness days and weeks for a particular cause, if we have too many do they lose their impact? Should not every day and every week be about promoting good causes and supporting those in need  in society?
Of course it should but sometimes we need a reminder and we need a focus about what we can all do to improve services and the experiences of those who use them.
At Carers Leeds we deal with the difficult issues that carers face, not just one week in the year but every week.  We know that carers face huge hardships in having to balance other commitments with their caring role, some have to give up work so that they can provide care and support to a friend or family member. We know that carers may face financial hardship as a direct result of their caring role and we know that carers own health can be affected due to them not being able to take a break or worrying about what the future holds. We also know that many carers are not aware about what support is available to them; they are often left to struggle on alone. Carers may become isolated as they may have to give up on the things that were important to them, such as work, hobbies, going out etc. Of course caring can be a really positive experience. It can bring families closer together and we also know that carers ‘just get on with it’ . Many would never see themselves as carers but simply looking after their loved ones as one does. I know that because that’s what I do…and as I manage the lives of the people I care for and my own life, I am trying to balance both and its sometimes a bit precarious and certainly not easy! I do know that carers want to do the very best for the person they are caring for…but sometimes little by little, a little become a lot, and caring becomes tough.
There are nearly 7 million carers in the UK and 72,000 in Leeds and this number is set to rise rapidly as we live longer and face illness and disability. By providing unpaid care, carers have saved this government and previous governments billions of pounds each year in support that would have otherwise been needed to be paid for.
As we face unprecedented pressures on our public services to meet the health and social care needs of our population it is clear that we need to start doing things differently. Carers Leeds believes in building partnerships with organisations with similar values, which see the importance of communities and not just the individuals with them. By coming together organisations can reach much further than we could on our own.
Carers Leeds in its present form came together in partnership with LYPFT, Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society and Touchstone Carer Support Service – this partnership has richly increased the wealth of our skills and resources and I believe it is down to each and every one of us to raise awareness in our communities and our places of employment about what we can do differently (or more of) to support carers.
So for one week in the year we can focus on what we do and where necessary do things differently. But more importantly is that we start building relationships and resilience in our communities for the other 51 weeks and beyond. We need to start reaching out in our communities, to start having conversations with our friends, neighbours, work colleagues and managers. We need to start building communities where carers are not ‘hidden’ and where people feel that they do not have to ‘cope’ alone.  Everyone has a role to play in bringing about a shift in our communities that recognises, respects and understands a carers role.