Making Carers Count Birmingham event - May 2023
Making Carers Count (MCC) is a multi-partner programme aiming to identify and support carers who are under-represented amongst the community groups we currently reach and who have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A couple of weeks ago, we brought together practitioners from 26 partners of the Making Carers Count programme for a two-day event in Birmingham. We wanted to give them the opportunity to take themselves away from everyday delivery and have the time and space to reflect, connect and learn from each other.
The objectives of the event were simple:
- Reflect: to reflect on progress to date and plans for the remaining time ahead.
- Connect: to build stronger relationships and connections between those working on the programme.
- Learn: to increase our understanding of the barriers facing unpaid carers from under-represented groups and our capacity to address them.
Having already worked on the programme with most of the attendees for over 18 months, we knew there would be a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the room. But we had no idea how powerful this would be and what really happened at the event was something truly magical!
“The content for both days was thought-provoking and led to many inspiring discussions. Simply the best event I have been to in many years.”
Yes, we provided a great mix of sessions, including panel discussions from unpaid carers and practitioners, sessions on carer involvement and inclusion of under-represented groups, as well as plenty of opportunities to network and have some fun.
There was something about the openness, passion and determination of everyone who attended that brought a real buzz to the event. Everyone left with a head full of ideas and inspiration for their work, having made new connections, and a renewed sense of momentum and purpose.
“The atmosphere in the room… everyone attending was so lovely and passionate.”
In a world where statutory services are stretched like never before and local carer organisations are having to pick up the pieces from increasing numbers of unpaid carers (even though they themselves are operating on ever tighter commissioning budgets in a highly competitive funding environment for the charity sector), opportunities to come together like this are far too scarce.
“It was great to meet others working on MCC projects. It was good to share what has worked well and what we are looking to improve on with people who can understand these things well. It was useful to share advice and support.”
It was apparent throughout the event that “one size fits all” approaches do not work, particularly when designing support for the many thousands of unpaid carers who are often under-represented across services. These include people from minority ethnic communities, LGBTQ+ carers, male carers, working carers, parent carers, young and young adult carers, and carers supporting someone who misuses substances. Of course, intersectionality also comes into play, for the unpaid carer and the person, or people, they care for. So, these characteristics should never be considered in isolation.
In one of the sessions, we reflected on the dynamics of power and privilege, and how our experience of the world is shaped by our different identities. The more aspects of our identity that are marginalised by this dynamic, the more barriers there are to access power and meaningful inclusion.
The message that came across loud and clear was that services cannot be impactful and inclusive without the meaningful involvement of unpaid carers. And this takes time, patience and perseverance – after all, to use a phrase coined by Stephen Covey, Cormac Russell and many others, “change happens at the speed of trust”. And there are some incredibly powerful examples of this from local carer organisations across the Making Carers Count programme. They have really valued having the resource and time to build impactful services for under-represented carers, often starting from scratch.
“I think I will recognise that some projects, (like ours!), take time to grow and the most important thing is to keep going with these. I will take back what I have learnt about carer involvement and also about intersectionality. I will talk to my team about these issues.”
Local carer organisations are playing an essential role in trying to join up services for unpaid carers, who are having to navigate a bewildering, fragmented landscape of services that do not seem to be designed with their specific needs in mind. Support can range from advocating on their behalf to health and social care services or education providers, supporting benefits claims and translation, carers assessments, counselling, respite, peer support opportunities and social activities, to simply being a listening ear.
Our network of local carer organisations are amazing, and I never fail to be inspired by their skills, knowledge, creativity, passion and commitment to improving the lives of unpaid carers across the UK. Working alongside them as partners in the Making Carers Count programme and getting to see the difference they are making to thousands of unpaid, under-represented carers across the UK is an absolute privilege.
The Making Carers Count programme ends in March 2024, but the work isn’t going to stop there and I’m hopeful this is just the beginning. Our focus is now very much on programme legacy and how we can ensure that inclusive services continue to evolve and grow with the needs of under-represented carers. We’re keen to build on this momentum by capturing and sharing best practice, building the capacity of our programme partners and the wider network of local carer organisations, and utilising the data we have collected to advocate for change.
Watch this space!