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Unpaid carer Cecilia hails 'incredible' LGBTQ+ group for providing much-needed support

A group for LGBTQ+ unpaid carers which aims to provide much-needed support for people who don’t often seek help from carer organisations has been described as “incredible” by one of its users.

Wandsworth Carers’ Centre runs the service, bringing together a group of unpaid carers from around London and giving them the chance to swap experiences and gain information and tips. It was set up via funding from the Making Carers Count project, a programme led by charity Carers Trust with its network partners aiming to identify and support carers who are under-represented among the community groups they currently reach.

It is estimated one in 10 people who identify as LGBTQ+ are an unpaid carer. However, these numbers are not reflected in the data showing who accesses support services for carers. LGBTQ+ people also often face a range of different barriers when trying to access support for their caring roles.

Cecilia, 54, who moved in with her mother Maria five years ago to become her full-time carer, is one of the people who attends Wandsworth’s group. Maria, now 87, has dementia and Cecilia said she had no choice but to act when she and her sister realised “things were going south”.

She explained: “Me and my sister knew she wasn't safe to be alone, doing things like leaving things on the hob when it was switched on, forgetting keys and then sitting crying in corridors. It was quite the surprise when I moved in, to realise how bad things were. She was also getting lots of rogue phone calls trying to get her bank details. So we realised bit by bit how vulnerable she was as well as being weakened by the disease.”

Cecilia had to give up her job as a furniture maker, closing down her workshop in Hampshire, selling her home and putting most of her belongings in storage. Cecilia said: “A lot of money has gone down the toilet. But it's what needs to happen. I can't leave her. That's my choice. I need to know that she feels safe.”

Now she looks after her mother full-time, from doing the shopping to getting her to appointments, all while trying to ensure she retains as much autonomy as possible. Her professional background also means Cecilia is a problem-solving expert, with the ability to think up novel solutions to everyday issues her mother faces, from elasticated laces on her shoes to tagging her mum’s clothes in case she gets lost.

“I really cannot tell you how much this place means to me. Each of the people I've spoken to has shocked me by going above and beyond. That's why I call them angels. I don't quite know how they do it.”

It took around two years for Cecilia to discover Wandsworth Carers' Centre, which she now describes as being her “angels”. She attends two groups run by Wandsworth Carers, one which focuses on dementia for both carers and the people they look after, and another just focusing on LGBTQ+ carers. The first gives her more practical help while the LGBTQ+ group allows her a safe space to discuss the impact of caring on herself. Cecilia likened the group to the instinctive understanding you get from a lifelong best friend.

She said: “The group has been fantastic because we tell each other our stories. We've all got very similar if not the same experiences. There’s an understanding there about what it's like the being that little bit different, and in many cases, having to protect yourself specifically because of that.

“I can’t tell you the difference it’s made to me, I can’t qualify it or quantify it. I’m sure I appear quite happy because I am compared to the way I was before I joined that group. If I vent about what is annoying me, generally speaking, other people have experienced similar things if not worse.

“The benefits can also be a silly thing like a hug. There was one chap guy who just seemed really down and I said ‘you sound like you’re at the edge, can I hug you?’. He took off his jacket and his rucksack and he hugged me for ages. We need that, partly because we're getting more and more isolated because of age. All your friends are married and with families and whatnot. Everybody's busy. Getting to see people is a rare event. So the fact that we each understand so much about each other's lives without having to say it is amazing.”

Asked what she would tell other people in her situation to do, Cecilia urged them to seek help from organisations like Wandsworth Carers’ Centre for help with the practicalities of their caring role.

She said: “I probably wouldn't have gone through with getting Carer’s Allowance because the questions are so odd, but these angels have called me and they've gone through the form and filled it out for me. They've sent it to me at home with an envelope to send it and a stamp with the address on - the only thing they haven't done is lick the envelope. I honestly still can't believe that they do that.

“I really cannot tell you how much this place means to me. Each of the people I've spoken to has shocked me by going above and beyond. That's why I call them angels. I don't quite know how they do it.”

Alongside running the group, Wandsworth Carers' Centre also provides LGBTQ+ awareness training to other carer organisations in London. One of the challenges they identified was that many carer services do not include questions on sexual orientation, gender identity and trans status on their monitoring forms.

A spokesperson for Wandsworth Carers' Centre said: “We felt that this peer support group was important for people who wanted to speak to other carers in a setting where they could feel safe to discuss any part of their LGBTQ+ identity, including how this impacts on their caring role. We have been so grateful to the carers who have accessed the group and other forms of support which we have offered, such as one-to-one telephone support. We have all learnt a lot from each other and it has been a privilege to work with carers whose voices have previously gone unheard.

“Sometimes, assumptions are made about who a carer is or who they are caring for. Often, the significance of relationships with chosen family members is also misunderstood. Some LGBTQ+ carers feel comfortable to join general support groups whereas others appreciate having an LGBTQ+ specific space. Being able to offer both options to carers has been very important to us. 

“We hope to continue to have a positive impact on LGBTQ+ carers in London by reaching more carers who can benefit from our support.”

To find out more about the group, email info@wandsworthcarers.org.uk or call 020 8877 1200.


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