Like most couples, Bosco and Amina Ssendegeya really enjoy Christmas.
As Bosco says, “throughout the year I don’t have a chance to meet with family, I tend to see more family and friends at Christmas. But you know, I hate it when Christmas is over!”
Bosco is one of the many carers who has benefited from the services of the City and Hackney Carers Centre. And he is one of the lucky ones. For many carers, Christmas is a difficult time.
According to Maggie Bromage, Chief Executive of the Centre, “carers can feel isolated and depressed when others are at rest or enjoying themselves.”
This is where the Carers Centre can help. The centre, which has recently moved to new, larger premises in Tyssen Street off Dalston Lane, provides a range of free and confidential services to carers aged 16+, with staff speaking English, Turkish, Bengali, Urdu/Hindi, Punjabi, and Gujarati, Spanish, German and Arabic.
Interpreters are available for carers who speak other languages.
Twelve volunteers provide practical support in the form of advocacy work for carers who have, as Maggie puts it, “hit a brick wall.”
This support includes one-to-one support in hospitals and at meetings with councils and other bodies.
More volunteers help with Disability Living Allowance forms.
In 2007/2008, staff from the Advice Team and volunteers helped carers to receive over £1million in unclaimed benefits, and are on target to raise the same amount for 700 carers this year.
In addition to practical support, the centre also provides emotional support through different therapies.
Human Givens Therapy is popular with carers. This is a brief counselling programmme, lasting usually around six sessions, that is effective in the treatment of depression, anxiety and phobias.
Other support offered includes a Listening Ear Service which provides confidential one-to-one listening sessions, Shiatsu Massage and other therapies.
Carers Support Groups are also run at the centre, and these provide a place for carers to meet others in a similar situation to themselves.
These support groups include ‘Magnolia Groups’ for Turkish speaking carers, a group for carers of adults with dementia, one for carers of people with mental health difficulties, a Men’s Group plus a Sunday afternoon and a Monday evening group.
Plans are also in place to create a ‘community room’ at the new centre, which will offer what Maggie calls ‘an oasis of escape’ for carers, a welcoming place where they can go at any time to relax.
As is now increasingly common in the charity sector, one of the greatest challenges facing the centre is securing an increase in core funding, to enable it to continue to provide the current level of services, and to make the best use of the new premises.
The centre currently employs 17 staff, but has had to reduce their hours by the equivalent of one and a half full time positions due to funding cuts. As well as paid staff, the centre has 25 volunteer staff who work up 10 hours per week in various capacities.
To raise revenue, the centre is looking at letting out sections of the new premises, including an office space on the ground floor, and a large function room on the top floor. Another challenge facing the centre is that of getting to know more carers in the borough.
Of an estimated 18,000 carers in Hackney, 2,700 are currently registered with the centre. Of these registered carers, 65 per cent care for adults and 35 per cent for those under 18.
Though around 350 new carers register with the centre each year, many people in the borough who are looking after their friends, relatives or partners have not yet taken the step of contacting the centre.
Maggie says, “Some people see caring as a duty, are afraid to admit their struggles, don’t come forward because it is against their family’s wishes, or don’t identify themselves as carers.”
She says, “If you are caring in any capacity, come and see us at least once. Whatever your situation, a visit is worthwhile for advice or support.” She is especially keen to hear from carers aged 18-25 who look after their parents. Future projects for the carers centre include a new venture in the City for young carers aged 5-16.
Hackney Young Carers through Action For Children currently provides support for this group in Hackney, but there is not yet an equivalent group for the City.
Maggie is also looking forward to forging closer links with Hackney’s Vietnamese community and working with the Hackney Drug and Alcohol team on issues affecting carers.
There will also be an extension of the current advocacy programme to case work for individual carers, and the addition of crisis work to the centre’s services.
For more information on carers’ services, or on supporting the centre through volunteering or donations, go to www.hackneycarers.org.uk, or call 020 7923 8750.
For carers under 16, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 0207 254 5554.