Inside the historic Blue Coat School building on Northgate St, you will find the offices of Chester Voluntary Action. CVA were founded over 100 years ago and have been supporting voluntary and community action ever since. Rather than providing a direct service delivery, CVA support other charities to deliver their services in a range of ways from training, funding advice and the recruitment of volunteers. Other charities housed in the refurbished Blue Coat include Vision Support, CATH (Chester Aid to the Homeless), the Citizens Advice Bureau and Chester Sexual Abuse Support services (CSASS) .
I spoke with Development worker Joanne Stanton about a current initiative to highlight the role of carers and offer them support. Joanne told me that “this is unpaid family carers, not paid care workers. These are people who are caring for their mum, dad, or a child. They might even be caring for a friend, they don’t have to live in the same house. They save the state a lot of money and they dont get much reward for it. A lot of them are unable to work because its a full time job.
” Cheshire and Warrington Carers trust (CWCT) is one of the organisations that is there for them. I’ve noticed how many people don’t realise they are carers, because they just do it out of love, duty, or because theres no one else. I want to highlight their amazing work and how selfless they are”
The head office of CWCT is in Northwich , and there are offices across the county in Chester, Crewe, Macclesfield and Warrington . They run many support and social groups for carers. One scheme is the “emergency card” scheme, carried by carers and identifying carer responsibilities so in the event of illness or accident, agencies can step in and provide support. The trust receive funding from CWAC and other councils and provide carers breaks, often just a day away, but providing a well deserved rest. “The most important thing is they get to meet other carers and realise they’re not alone” says Joanne. There is a helpline for carers open Monday to Friday on 0800 085 0307.
Back in May. Chester Vol Action were asked to support CWCT’s new project aimed at supporting Carers in employment. Joanne said that her role was encouraging the use of “Rally round” a secure online network for carers and their neighbours and close friends. After joining, carers post a list of tasks/support they need and others registered on the site can offer to help. The scheme is in its infancy and Joanne explained that ” a lot of carers feel guilty asking for help, its about getting them past that..”
Case studies about the lives of carers from the website http://www.carers.org indicate some of the problems faced by carers. ““There’s not enough recognition of what a carer does. When I fill in forms there’s no category for full time carer; no-one understands what that is” is one example.
From Joanne’s own experience she says that : “My mum has cared for family relatives over the years, its exhausting, its non stop..all through the evening and night … Its not just the physical strain its the emotional as well. We see lots of older carers , people in their 70s or 80s still caring for husbands or wives.
“A lot of them don’t ask for help, if they do its not adequate.. The more we can raise the profile of whats out there.. and encourage them to access it. They shouldn’t feel guilty about asking for help”
Alongside supporting other charities, CVA also recruit their own volunteers for “Chester Angels”. Set up three years ago during a bad winter, the angels offered practical help from snow clearing to shopping for elderly residents. “It evolved from that into more of a befriending service… its in the news that there are lots of older people who are lonely and isolated..to find a volunteer willing to visit and sit and chat is just amazing” says Joanne.
You can find out more about the range of volunteer opportunities at the relaunched website http://www.chesterva.org.uk. Cllr Alex Black , the current Sheriff of Chester is a co-opted trustee and has “been a really good supporter for us” says Joanne.
With thanks to Joanne and the team at Chester Voluntary Action