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Black History Month: The trailblazing work of Rochelle and Northamptonshire Carers

This Black History Month, the theme is 'Saluting Our Sisters', focused on highlighting the crucial role that Black women have played in shaping history, inspiring change and building communities. So, we caught up with Rochelle – an unpaid carer from Northamptonshire – who has been involved in pioneering work at Northamptonshire Carers to better support and engage with Black communities, including those living with sickle cell disease.

Since we last caught up with Rochelle a year ago, she’s continued to care for her dad Ossie, while his dementia has increasingly worsened over time. She said: “He’s such an anomaly, he presents as this young person who can on a physical level operate in a regular way, however his needs are so incredibly high. We’ve seen incontinence issues, bowel issues, behavioural problems with aggression. So he’s a complex case, he won’t just sit in a chair.”

This has meant that the care home currently supporting him can no longer cater to his needs, meaning Rochelle is frequently called upon for help. She said: “It’s exhausting. But this is what we do for our loved ones. And I’m just one of so many doing this every day.”

Rochelle was first put in touch with Northamptonshire Carers back in summer 2022, when she attended one of their dementia help groups, ‘Memory Hub’. As one of Carers Trust’s Making Carers Count partners, Northamptonshire Carers is committed to identifying and supporting under-represented unpaid carers in diverse communities. After experiencing first-hand the brilliant support they offered her and her dad over the subsequent months, when a job opportunity came up within the charity, Rochelle was quick to act.

Living Well with Sickle Cell

At her interview, her now-manager mentioned that the charity was thinking about starting a sickle cell disease support programme. Sickle cell disease can affect anyone, but is particularly common in people from African and Caribbean backgrounds. Rochelle was amazed, as her daughter had been recently diagnosed with the condition herself. After succeeding in the interview, helping to facilitate the Norma Watson Living Well with Sickle Cell project became one of Rochelle’s key responsibilities over the next few months.

She said: “It feels fateful that I’ve come to work on a project that I’m so passionate about that is very personal to me. The fire in my belly comes from me wanting to make changes to the services out there, for my daughter.”

The project, named after the late Norma Watson who was a poet and matriarch in the local community, initially ran over six weeks every Friday evening. The support focused on a different topic each week with a range of speakers, including clinical specialists, wellbeing experts, and “Sickle Cell Warriors” who shared their personal journeys with the condition. The well-attended sessions provided a platform for peer-support and to empower local people with sickle cell disease, their carers, and people who want to learn more with information and resources to better understand their condition. Rochelle said: “We put them in front of specialists, so they can ask the questions they want to ask outside of hospital environments where you’re on a 10-minute appointment.”

Rochelle is now involved in reviewing focus group feedback on the project with a view to roll it out on a regular basis to meet this community’s needs. And one of these key needs is being able to form local relationships. She explained: “They want to create friendships. We’ve got a WhatsApp group now, and people are sharing their experiences, that’s one of the biggest needs, to know somebody else locally and to ask for advice when you’re confronted with a situation. That’s been amazing to see and be a part of.”

Supporting the needs of Black communities

Rochelle has noticed significant health inequalities in the way that sickle cell disease is treated in health settings compared to other conditions. She explained: “The education around sickle cell on the wards is not at all where it needs to be. It’s costing people’s livelihoods and their wellbeing.”

But bringing local Sickle Cell Warriors together through Northamptonshire Carers’ support group is already starting to bring about positive changes in the Black community. One mother shared a ‘hospital passport’ that she created with a clinician for her son, meaning when he is admitted to hospital, he can easily share his medical requirements with healthcare professionals who may not understand the condition well. Rochelle said: “This is now something we can share within our community, that people can have access to, that has proven to be successful on admission. Even if we can just provide a platform for people to learn from each other, there is such a need for that.”

The trailblazing work of Northamptonshire Carers

Since joining the charity back in January, Rochelle has been overwhelmed by the support Northamptonshire Carers has given her and the understanding nature of her manager, Delia Gordon, and colleagues in her team.

She said: “I have never worked for an organisation so incredibly understanding and supportive. I feel constantly surrounded by caring people in my team. Because we’re all carers ourselves, I feel like we’re hardwired to care for each other too.”

Rochelle feels that support for unpaid carers from Black and other minoritised ethnic communities has significantly improved over the past year. Aside from the sickle cell project, Northamptonshire Carers has set up a Carers Ambassadors programme and a monthly carer support group which focuses on making crafts, quiz and games nights and sharing food from a range of cuisines to help carers from these communities relax and unwind.

With the charity’s recent Silver Trailblazer Award from Race Equality Matters, it’s not hard to see why Rochelle feels hopeful for the future of Black unpaid carers.

She said: “It feels like our network is just getting bigger and bigger. We’re creating partnerships which enable us to connect with more and more carers from different communities, and it’s been amazing.”

Rochelle has also recently won an award herself – the Shining Star award in Northamptonshire Carers Awards 2023 – for the pioneering work she has been doing at the charity, while balancing her caring role for both her dad and daughter.

Delia Gordon, Rochelle’s manager, said: “Rochelle has broken new ground for the organisation with the Norma Watson sickle cell provision. She has connected with professionals around the country to help Northamptonshire Carers to address health inequalities within the county. Rochelle works in the evenings on the project when her children have gone to bed and her dedication to her work has ensured that our sickle cell provision is successful.”


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