Carers’ chief is proud of Leeds’ community spirit in the face of the coronavirus outbreak

The boss of Carers Leeds says she is hugely proud of the way communities have come together during the COVID-19 crisis.

By Charlie Bullough
Tuesday, 31st March 2020, 5:20 pm
The team from Carers Leeds is reaching out to people more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team from Carers Leeds is reaching out to people more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Val Hewison, who leads the independent charity that supports unpaid family carers, also praised the way voluntary groups in the city have responded during these testing times.

The chief executive said: “What has been the heartwarming thing right across our city has been the communities coming together, the kindness and volunteering.”

“Leeds is incredibly strong as a third sector (what used to be called the voluntary and community sector). I think with the coming together of the third sector with statutory organisations, we really are in this together. I have never before felt so really proud of a city coming together to support people. It has been phenomenal and I think it will continue. Everybody is in it to get the best for the people they are supporting in the city.

Val Hewison, chief executive of Carers Leeds.

“I really am hugely proud to be part of that and we will continue to be that voice for the carers. So that we are there to support them and help them in these uncertain times in any way we can.”

Normally Carers Leeds does that via drop in sessions at its base on The Headrow, or through a raft of classes or respite trips which give carers a break from their duties.

But amid the health emergency, the charity has had to stop its face-to-face activities. It shut its headquarters more than a week ago. However, its 50-strong staff have responded magnificently to the challenge. They are all working from home to make sure no one “falls through the gaps”.

Val, who is juggling her own caring responsibilities with her executive role, said her team has been busy making a series of ‘keeping in touch calls’.

Carers Leeds supports a range of unpaid carers who look after people like parents, siblings and friends.

She also described Carers Leeds’ advice line (0113 380 4300) as a ‘lifeline’. Val said her mantra had become ‘you’re not alone. Now matter how things are going, we will be here to speak to you.”

Val said many carers had risen to the challenge, adding: “Let’s face it, Carers are a pretty resilient bunch. They have had to be in their caring roles. They are used to thinking on the hop and thinking out of the box.”

But she said there were some who found it more of a struggle because they were going to be living with the person they cared for 24/7 for a minimum of three months. She said there were also a number of organisation in the city who could help people with mental health and well being issues, like Leeds Mind and Mind Well Leeds. Carers Leeds can signpost people to such services.

Her direct advice to isolated people who are fining it tough is strong and clear. Val said: “I would say to anybody, ‘reach out and speak’. Connect with people. Don’t think you are alone. None of us are alone. So pick up the phone.”

Last year Carers Leeds ran a respite break to the coast for young carers.

She also urged people to reach out to carers who live in their community and ask, ‘Is there anything I can do?’.

The carers chief believes the community can come together to support each other and ease what can be a difficult burden to bear. She added: “Carers will now be faced with balancing all of their caring responsibilities with the fear and worry about themselves and the person they care for. It is understandable that will be pretty great at the moment. I think we should recognise and acknowledge that worry that carers will be going through. That’s why we are trying to do all we can to help.”

For more information see www.carersleeds.org.uk.

HELPLINE:

Carers Leeds’ advice line service has been extended following the coronavirus lockdown.

Its 0113 380 4300 service will now operate from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Its dedicated calls team is your first port of call for help. They can also steer people to other specialists in the Carers Leeds’ team and signpost you to different agencies.

Chief executive Val Hewison said there had been a steady stream of calls but she expects the volume to pick up in the days ahead.

She added that they had been busy with “emotional support” and giving guidance. Many people were still trying to get their heads around the new way of living.

Callers have been asking things like, ‘how are they going to get their shopping and medication’ and what ‘shielding’ actually means.

Val said: “I think what was nice was to hear people saying, ‘It’s so nice to hear a voice’.

“There is a lifeline there to let people know they are not alone.”

Val said there were a number of useful websites that people could also look at.

She said there was a massive volunteering initiative across the city by Leeds City Council and Voluntary Action Leeds. People can find all the details via doinggoodleeds.org.uk.

She said guidance for carers could also be found on the national website: www.carersuk.org.

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