I look after my Dad. He’s 87 and calls me his PA! He has limited vision and his hearing isn’t great. Easy to be with, he likes music, laughing and trips to seaside. He’s very independent but can’t do everything without some help and when he’s ill or bored it isn’t easy.About a year ago I was asked to say something about myself. Without thinking “I’m a member of Manchester’s silent army” popped out of my mouth. I think I meant to say “I’m a carer, one of many and we just quietly get on with it”.
Since then I’ve joined the Manchester Carers Forum.
The forum facilitates group meetings, day trips, provides information, runs a dementia support service, training workshops, even has a weekly local radio slot. There are several groups across Manchester. The North group is organised by Miriam and Christine and meets monthly at Cheetham Hill Medical Centre.
“We’re not saying that we can change someone’s circumstances” Miriam tells me “but we can bring carers together so that they can share their experiences with each other. Those that attend hold a wealth of knowledge and lived experience which is so valuable. People leave the group feeling they’ve had a break for a couple of hours. They’ve relaxed, let off some steam or maybe come away with some tips, and are better able to cope with life’s challenges until the next meeting.”
Today we’re helping carer George celebrate his 80th birthday by tucking into a box of wonderful cupcakes. While they’re chomping away I ask the group what they thought about the forum.“Tell me a bit about yourselves and why you come here?”
I thought they might be shy – boy was I wrong! Here’s some of what they said:
“Just love meeting here. I get a sense of relief. Would be quite happy if it was once a week never mind once a month”
“It recharges your batteries and I go home feeling energised”
“Everyone’s in exactly the same position as you and it’s a break from the pressure of looking after someone for a few hours”
“Discussing issues with the group gives me confidence to challenge the authorities rather than just accept something”
“It’s the information that others share and knowing you’re not alone”
“While I’m here, for a brief period someone looks after me – even being served a cup of tea and a cake or biscuit is a welcome feeling”
“It makes me feel good and I’ve made some great friends”
“If something can be changed we have more chance when we come together in a larger group than we would have as individuals”
“I come here because I like cakes! They’re my commission for sharing what I know”Birthday boy George the ‘cup-cake king’
They talked about caring for wives, husbands, partners, children and siblings, about how important it was that their ‘cared for’ had quality of life. They raised issues about local council services, housing, disjointed health care, benefits etc. Told astonishing, even shocking stories. Some had fought fierce battles and not always won.
Thinking back to my statement a year ago made me smile – a small army they might be but they’re far from silent!
They were clear about role played by the Manchester Carers Forum and the invaluable support they receive. If you want to find out more about the work they do in your area visit, their website. You can follow them on Facebook or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.