"It’s great to see other people’s faces during lockdown"

Caring can be a rewarding role, but it can also be isolating, frustrating, and have a negative impact on the relationships, finances and health of the carer.

Many carers are feeling particularly isolated right now as they have lost a lot of the community activities that they used to access as support. At the same time, carers who are looking after ‘shielding’ family members are additionally concerned about their health - often creating even more stress in their caring roles.

To mark National Carers Week in June, The London Community Foundation caught up with Tracy from Carers Support Merton to understand more about how funding from LCF and the Wimbledon Foundation has been helping.

“Family carers are finding themselves under a lot more stress and feeling more isolated than ever. Most are doing far more caring which is taking its toll on their physical and mental health," said Tracy, Chief Executive at Carers Support Merton.

With some restrictions loosening, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for some people, but Tracy reinforces the long way that carers have to go until a sense of normality can be achieved. “Many carers who we support are looking after vulnerable or shielded loved ones. So even though lockdown is easing for many of us, they still need to isolate with the person or people they care for."

During lockdown, the organisation received £1,744 through the London Community Response portal from funds from the Wimbledon Foundation in order to continue to support carers by moving many of its support services online. The new video conferencing licenses and mobile phones have enabled the organisation to keep in touch with the 3,500 carers on their books.

“Staff working with carers have been able to maintain regular contact via video on Zoom, rather than seeing them face to face," said Tracy. “We have been able to keep our weekly coffee and conversation group running, as well as running activities such as an online first aid class, yoga and a very popular art class. And this month we will also be adding our popular benefits workshop and new to caring workshops to our online suite of activities."

One adult carer who uses the new services said, “Merton Carers Support Group helps the 'hidden' carers, those who look after family. It is a place where you can get support if needed as well as being able to share feelings with other people in the same position. I am enjoying our coffee and conversation support group that we are having every week over Zoom. It’s great to see other people’s faces during lockdown."

But Carers Support Merton hopes that they can continue to put their digital skills to use even after lockdown has ended and face-to-face support is normal once again.

“These new digital skills mean that when we resume our normal activities we will also be able to continue to provide more online activities and opportunities - reaching many carers who have previously been unable to access our activities because of their intense caring responsibilities or working hours," said Tracy.

The funding has meant that staff have been able to continue their work online during the crisis."