As I sit in the beautiful garden of Beaverbrooks House and reflect on my ten-year journey at the helm of Blackpool Carers, my thoughts immediately turn to the key milestones that have defined the most challenging and yet rewarding years of my life.
Those milestones include the development of whole family working; national recognition for our work with young carers; a Royal Visit; the shops; the hospital project; the purchase of Blenheim House by The Beaverbrooks Charitable Trust; developing the parent carer project; welcoming the DIYSOS team and the resulting renovations of Beaverbrooks House. I cannot remember a day when I haven’t looked forward to coming into work (well maybe one or two) but the chaos and ‘bonkersness’ that we share is contagious. Even on the darkest of days, the team work together, keeping everyone on track and focused on making a better life for carers. We regularly check that our team are all ‘on the bus’. They know that it’s going to be a lively ride. We do ‘Change’ well and we do it regularly.
Another focus, as I sit amongst the colourful plants, blossoming fruit and wise owls, is on the challenges that we have faced during that time. Because the people who have provided the biggest challenges have driven the change that has moved us forward towards success and improving lives for local families.
So…who or what is a ‘carer’? I have tried and failed to offer a clear answer to this question. Not just because the word is ambiguous but because every caring role is different. We are indebted to the thousands of carers who allow us into their lives each year. It is impossible to truly understand the challenges faced by people who care for others, particularly our young people. Surely we all care for others, we all have a caring role in our lives? What we do know is that excessive unpaid caring roles are often more demanding than paid work, and are often undertaken in addition to another job or indeed school or college… for many people their remarkable daily acts of kindness are “just what I do as a parent/partner/child/friend”. Most carers are humble, selfless, proud and exhausted. They certainly never classify themselves as carers, which can provide its own challenges when we try to provide much needed support.
The families we work with are a daily reminder of how strong and resilient individuals are and just how important community (in its widest sense) can be. So often, society focuses on negativity. I wish we could capture the extraordinary, innate strengths that our carers bring and help them to recognise these qualities as valuable personal assets. Further than that I wish we could measure these assets because I’m sure that would build a more useful league table to feed our hunger for metrics.
Over the years, the team has made huge inroads to raising awareness of the role that unpaid carers play in Blackpool’s community. If everyone in Blackpool stopped providing care, the cost to the local economy would be over £300m per annum but more than the financial aspect is the human value of caring. We are all richer for their contribution- Blackpool is so much closer now to being a truly carer friendly community than it was a decade ago.
And of course the reality is that most of us will become carers at some point in our lives.
A surprising number of our carers spend their respite time, which is often their most valuable commodity, helping others as volunteers. Apart from carers we are fortunate to have an army of volunteers from all walks of life who generously share their time, skills and experience to help others. The most wonderful demonstration of the value of volunteering was in 2016 when hundreds of DIYSOS volunteers gave up their annual leave and free time to transform a derelict building into the fabulous vibrant community building that exists today.
The role of CEO sounds very grand. In reality it is the title of the person that everyone turns to when the going gets tough and when things go wrong. It is also a privileged position that has allowed me to direct the future for Blackpool Carers and to take up new opportunities. In my role at Blackpool Carers I have taken on a multitude of tasks, including dancing on the stage of Funny Girls, painting, running a marathon, meeting fascinating people, attending illustrious events, appearing on BBC Breakfast and my favourite job, sorting out the Little Garden Library. My most embarrassing event was the day I set up a meeting for a choir to discover that I was the only person attending.
Of course the most important work is done by our sensational staff team, every one of whom understands the role they play in making a better life for carers. We all play an equal part in the Blackpool Carers machine. #notjustajob is a great way of reinforcing our values to prospective employees. Passion, quality, respect: the three values that drive our people and our organisation. A handful of us have been on this journey since the halcyon days of Norman House when we only had to lock one door on the way out at night. No matter who called, whether it was a request for the finance department, the human resource department, the fundraiser, the administrator, the marketing department or IT, one phrase could be heard from Kay : “oh, that will be me then!”. Blackpool Carers was different back then. Plenty of tea and sympathy. But as the statutory cuts came, so the social sector found itself taking on a different level of casework and the tea and sympathy dissolved and evolved into hard hitting safeguarding cases, working with the most complex families and closely alongside the relevant statutory authorities. Our aim now is to keep families together by getting alongside them and working to their strengths, supporting both the carer and the ‘cared for’ to manage their own health and wellbeing. Our help results in families reducing their visits to GPs, hospitals and other services. Our new model of service delivery aims to reduce dependency on services whilst providing essential back up when necessary.
I feel honoured to have worked with hundreds of inspirational people and also to have developed enduring relationships with a variety of businesses, groups, media contacts, corporates, foundations, health and social care professionals and social sector partners. They all provide the funding, resources, time, gifts, training and shared good practice that allow us to carry out our work. There are those who wish to remain anonymous, those who do not, professionals sharing their skills, knitting nanna’s, bakers, gardeners, grant makers, Freemasons, Rotarians, corporate teams, Soroptimists, MPs, community groups, Ladies Sick Poor, schools, individuals, faith groups and many more.
Whilst I am taking a step back from the CEO role, I plan to remain involved in a supporting role …even if it is only for one day a week working with our finance team.
My thanks go to every member of the team (past and present) at Blackpool Carers for teaching me so much. I have certainly discovered that the most effective route to success is to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you! Thank you for being generous in your support, particularly over the last 6 months. Please continue to: challenge the status quo and be curious, be committed to making a better life for carers and keep supporting each other through your own personal life changes. I will miss the listening ears, the fun and the laughter. I will really miss spending time with my work family every day and watching as we ‘grown our own’.
I am grateful to our trustees, past and present for placing their faith in me. All of our trustees give hours of their time in acting as Ambassadors, setting the strategy and generally taking on the guardianship of Blackpool Carers. They are all passionate about making a better life for carers.
Finally, my sincere thanks go to Nigel who has been the most reliable, astute and patient deputy I could have wished for. With a clear focus on people, he will take Blackpool Carers Centre and Beaverbrooks House into the next stage of its development. Nigel has been at Blackpool Carers since the early days when he joined as a young carers’ support worker. I know he will continue to develop the work and lead with integrity, authenticity and a grounded passion that will ensure he and the team continue to make a better life for carers for many years to come.