Appeal to secure future of carers’ Chill 4 Us site

Carers website produces fundraising calender, and woman who runs site wins digital hero award. Helle

Carers website produces fundraising calender, and woman who runs site wins digital hero award. Hellesdon woman Wendy Maxwell, who runs carers website Chill4Us, has won the East region TalkTalk Digital Hero Award and the £5,000 that goes with it.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

Can you help to bring the outside world into the lives of those unable to leave their home because they are caring for a loved one? An online community for carers is appealing for help to keep its vital service open to those in genuine need. STACIA BRIGGS spoke to Chill 4 Us founder Wendy Maxwell about the importance of keeping the lines of communication open.

Maureen Oakes at home at Hethersett, with Chill 4 Us carers website on her laptop, her lifeline as s

Maureen Oakes at home at Hethersett, with Chill 4 Us carers website on her laptop, her lifeline as she cared for her mother, and then her daughter, Louize for 11 years. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

It's a lifeline for the lonely, a vital online family for carers, run by carers.

But the Norfolk-based organisation, Chill 4 Us Carers - a social network community for carers and helps those who are looking after others find help – needs your help to survive: starved of funding and the laptops that are a lifeline for those who need them most, the organisation is desperate for help.

A peer support group, the non-profit organisation offers resources for carers and is an 'online family' for carers, offering practical advice, chat with other carers, information or a bit of fun after a day spent at home in an unpaid job which is often thankless, difficult and physically draining.

Set up in 2002, the site is run for carers by carers, all of whom work on a voluntary basis. With hundreds of members across the country, founder Wendy Maxwell, 71, is passionate about bringing the outside world to those stuck inside four walls and has campaigned tirelessly to give computers to those who can't afford them.

The site has a 24-hour forum and chat room where members can post messages or reach out when they feel under pressure, there is an archive with games for members to play at all times of the day or night and issues can be discussed privately, without details being available to view online.

Wendy's son Ross helped her set up the organisation and sister sites Computers 4 Carers and The Carer's Newspaper which offers a free daily news and health service for carers across the UK.

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In 2010, Wendy won the Daily Mirror's East Anglia's Digital Hero award for her endeavours, securing a £5,000 prize which has kept the website running – but the organisation desperately needs new funds and laptops for carers.

'It's the support and encouragement from each other that keeps us all going,' said Wendy, who was a carer for ten years for her mother, who had pancreatic cancer.

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'You can become a carer in an instant and when it happens to you, you can suddenly find yourself in a very difficult situation. You've got someone to look after who is ill, you need to find help and yet you're stuck in your house. That's when the internet can make all the difference.

'When you are a carer, it can be frightening and you can feel very alone – we are the only peer support group for carers in the UK and it's vital that people have somewhere they can go to talk to other people: they may not have the chance to speak to anyone else at all, otherwise.'

The EDP has donated five laptops to Chill 4 Us to give to carers but the organisation needs more – Wendy is asking anyone who has a working laptop which they no longer need to donate it to the organisation so they can give it to someone to whom it will be a lifeline.

She is also hoping to raise the necessary £5,000 to turn Chill 4 Us into a registered charity which would make future fundraising and grant applications far simpler and is also looking towards a time when she could hand the reins to another member to run the sites.

Charity status would mean the organisation could look to a future where a paid member of staff could run the site for a few hours every day, from home.

'I recently was unable to offer a carer the level of support I usually do because of a few of my own issues and I asked another member if they thought it was time I gave up because I couldn't be there for people like I used to be,' Wendy said.

'She sent me such a lovely email that said: 'You have provided a safe, secure and happy place for us all to help each other. Never, ever feel guilty. Without you, hundreds of carers wouldn't have the support and help and the world would be a very sad place.' I want to keep Chill 4 Us going. So many carers are so very lonely.'

If you would like to make a donation, contact Wendy through the Chill 4 Us website or on Twitter or Facebook. Laptops can be taken to the Dixons Shopping Centre on Reepham Road, call 01603 340193 for details.

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