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Planting a smile on carers' faces

Carers Trust and the National Garden Scheme celebrate 25 years of support for the UK’s unpaid carers.

Carers Trust’s Executive Director of Fundraising, Svetlana Kirov, looks back over a 25 year partnership and explains what makes the relationship with the National Garden Scheme so special.

Three women on a garden bench

What makes for a successful fundraising partnership? And how does a charity really know whether the partnership has worked for the people who really count – in our case, unpaid carers?

These are just two of the questions I’ve been thinking over as Carers Trust and the National Garden Scheme celebrate 25 years of working together to help thousands of unpaid carers live better, healthier and less stressful lives.

On the face of it, the answer to the first question may seem simple enough: lots of money raised to pay for services and support for the people who need these things most.

But I think a partnership can be - and should be - about much more than something as transactional as a charity accepting funding in return for some positive PR for the funder.

So, what are the vital ingredients of a successful partnership?

First, a charity partnership is more likely to work well the longer it lasts – and in my fundraising career I’ve known few to last as long as 25 years. You simply cannot plan and develop effective services for unpaid carers if you have no idea whether the funding will still be there in three years’ time.

One of the reasons our partnership with the National Garden Scheme has worked so well for carers is that it has endured. Security of National Garden Scheme funding over a long period has not only given us the time to develop support services that really make a difference for unpaid carers. It also means you can try things to see what works. And just as importantly, what doesn’t.

Take our peer support groups for example. Long-term National Garden Scheme funding means we have been able to develop and roll out a project that brings together unpaid carers for companionship and peer support. Because of the long hours spent at home caring for a family member, unpaid carers are vulnerable to becoming isolated. These peer support groups are a lifeline, providing family carers with like-minded company and a few precious hours away from the demands of their caring role.

They also leave carers with treasured memories of wonderful group activities, like sing-alongs, art classes and visits to the seaside. Without these funded group activities, many carers simply couldn’t go on caring for their loved ones.

Two women in a garden

The other thing that makes for a successful partnership is synergy.

What do I mean by that exactly? Well, as far as Carers Trust is concerned, the National Garden Scheme doesn’t just donate to us the money it raises from visits to its gardens. It also throws open its beautiful gardens to unpaid carers for free group visits.

It may not sound much at first. But even before lockdown drove so many of us out into our gardens, National Garden Scheme research was already pointing to a clear link between time spent in gardens and physical and mental health. And if it works for all of us, it’s especially true for unpaid carers, many of whom are worn out by the need to provide round-the-clock care to their loved ones.

When the National Garden Scheme throws open its doors to group visits for carers, it’s  not just helping them step away from their responsibilities for a few precious hours. It is also inviting them into spaces full of natural beauty, human warmth and laughter. It’s an incredible gift to carers - something intangible and precious, and in its own way just as important as the grants we make to carers through National Garden Scheme funding.

So, on behalf of all the carers we have worked with over the years, I’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the team at National Garden Scheme, the gardeners and the garden owners who all help make this partnership so special.

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