Fresh plea to help unsung carers

A fund helping an army of unsung, unpaid carers is launching a new push towards its second million pounds. Richard Batson talked to its founder and some of the people it helps.

One in 10 of us does it every day - caring for someone we love. Without question, and without payment.

Some are pensioners tending to their ailing spouses as the 'in sickness and in health' part of their partnership gets harder as bodies get frailer while love endures.

Others are children, some as young as nine, combining the normal anxieties of school and growing up with looking after a poorly parent.

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There are more than 80,000 such unpaid carers across Norfolk, and if they sent in a bill for their services it would top �300m a year.

But they do it for nothing, because they care about the people they care for - every year, month, week, year and waking hour.

It is hard work, and carers do need help themselves - with 11pc of them suffering poor health because of their role.

Sometimes a bit of respite through a short break away can help, or just a piece of equipment, such as a power pack for a wheelchair, that will make their task a bit easier.

And it was to provide that vital crutch for the area's unsung, unpaid army of carers that We Care was founded as the EDP's millennium project - hence its official title of the EDP We Care 2000 Appeal.

It took 10 years to reach its initial �1m target - providing a pot of cash in an endowment fund which generates �35,000 a year to buy treats and everyday essentials for carers in need.

Now the charity is launching another push - towards its second �1m - aware that the county has one of the nation's fastest rising elderly populations, and because the impending spending cuts might well prune existing 'official' services.

Since We Care began giving grants in 2000 it has helped 1439 carers and 46 carers' groups. This year alone 187 people have been given a boost by the cause.

Its chairman since the start Paddy Seligman said: 'There are some who predicted we would never even reach the halfway point of our �1m target. Now we are �22,600 towards our next million, and I am told that the first million is the hardest.

'We need to raise more money because the demands from carers are increasing all the time, and because the number of carers is increasing all the time.

'We need more capital to generate more income, especially with cutbacks ahead which could have a huge impact.'

Care was 'delivered simply through love,' and because carers wanted to keep people at home rather than go into residential care if possible.

Since the charity was formed awareness of We Care had spread and more and more people were being referred for help as a spin-off from carers' assessments or referrals through GPs

Grants are usually up to �300. They can be 'white goods' to help ease the burden of housework. More than 40 wheelchair power packs are paid for each year.

And contributions can be made to social or leisure activities - even short breaks and holidays - which provide relief for carers.

They even help with transport - having bought bicycles for carers including schoolchildren.

Mrs Seligman said there were 2000 young carers in Norfolk, whose feedback to the charity revealed their existence was 'like being trapped in an adult world'.

We Care's funds have been amassed through a variety of sources - from other big charitable trusts to individual donations of a �1, and a 91-year-old asking people to give money to the cause instead of sending her birthday presents.

Big supporters over the years have been events such as the EDP Festival of Carols, which last year brought in �2,000, Norfolk Guides who raised �13,000 and the former Press Gang touring show of Norfolk song and squit which contributed �16,000.

A concert of sea shanties set against a backdrop of projected pictures of sailing boats in a packed Salle church last year raised �8,500, and organisers are planning an even bigger event for next spring.

Mrs Seligman, who hosts the charity office in her home at Wolterton in North Norfolk, said she took on the task of leading the charity despite having little knowledge of the care world, having come from a law and order background with 30 years as a magistrate and voluntary work at prisons and bail hostels.

She was approached after research by care services and academics in 1998 discovered the scale of unpaid caring taking place in Norfolk - and a huge need to help those providing it.

'It has been harder work than I thought - almost a part time job - but also very fulfilling to help and it opened my eyes to the number of people providing this care,

'It has also been immensely humbling to meet people who demand so little and are totally appreciative of just a small amount of help.'

CASE STUDIES

A getaway holiday break on a farm was a real tonic for carers Marianne and Leslie Rose.

The couple, who are 82 and 90 and been married 63 years, have spent the past decade helping to look after son Peter as his health slowly and inexorably deteriorates with progressive Multiple Sclerosis.

The former Hotel Nelson chef for 25 years, who was super fit, a squash champion and ran marathons, is now wheelchair-bound, unable to talk and has to be fed through a tube.

Although 54-year-old Peter from Postwick has a full-time live-in carers, his elderly parents still constantly visit, and help where they can.

'It is heartbreaking. He was so fit, never drank or smoked. He tries to tell us things through a giant alphabet but we have to guess what he is saying,'.

said Mrs Rose from Thorpe St Andrew.

'We cannot do as much physically as we used too. I am almost blind, but we chat and help with the paperwork such as signing the carers' timesheets,' said Mrs Rose.

We Care provided the couple with a week-long break on a farm in Buckinghamshire after they asked for a bit of respite from 'all the sadness' of caring for her son.

'We had a lovely time, with visits to Woburn Abbey and shopping in Milton Keynes. 'Getting away from it all helped us recharge our batteries.

It was lovely having time to ourselves without the worry - but I still rang Peter every night to tell him what we had been doing,' she added.

Schoolboys Bradley and Tyler Dowe help care for and support their father Ivan as he continues to battle his way back from a history of drug and alcohol abuse problems.

When the boys, aged 13 and 12, were faced with problems getting to school, because the family could not get bus passes or a taxi, We Care bought the boys new bikes.

Mr Dowe, 40, from West Earlham, Norwich, said: 'I have been clean for four years, but it is a battle sorting out myself and the kids as well.

'I limit what I do and stay in the house a lot. The boys keep me above board. If it wasn't for them I would be in a lot of trouble and going down the slippery hill. They are emotional back up and help me around the house.'

The lads had old bikes that were falling apart, and the new ones meant they could get to their schools, go on rides with their friends and their dad when he is well enough, and Bradley also cycles to see his mum.

We Care staff were touched when the boys wrote a thank you letter saying the bikes had 'made things a lot easier'.

How to support the appeal

?Go to the EDP Festival of Carols at St Andrews Hall Norwich on Wednesday December 8 for an evening of festive music involving the Broadland Youth Choir and Festival Choir, Cawston Band and organist Alan Morris, hosted by regular BBC religious broadcaster Canon Roger Royle. Doors open at 6.45pm for a 7.30pm start. Tickets are �8.75 at the EDP's front office at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, by calling 01603 772175 or visit www.edp24.co.uk

?Contact the charity about making donations, legacies, or to discuss staging a fund-raising event. Telephone 01263 768339 or visit www.wecareappeal.co.uk

How to apply

? Carers who need services which cannot be provided by statutory organisations can apply for a grant - to improve the carer's quality of life.

It can help with a washing machine, tumble drier, dishwasher, computer, wheelchair power pack - and contributions to social or learning activities. For groups it can help with donations towards innovative projects.

It cannot help with medical services, rent or fuel arrears, daily living equipment such as bath aids, ramps and fire guards, or mobile phones.

Applications must be endorsed by someone who understands your caring role such as a health or social care worker, teaching, priest, solicitor or doctor.

More information on the website www.wecareappeal.co.uk