Supporting carers back into work

Around 6.5 million people in the UK are carers, supporting a loved one who is older, disabled or seriously ill.

Research shows that the majority of carers are below state pension age, with the peak age for caring being 50-64. This means that many carers have to give up work to look after a loved one.

Long-term carers often report feelings of isolation, a loss of confidence and a worry about becoming de-skilled, making it difficult to get back into the workplace.

In 2018, Bolton at Home was chosen as a partner to help deliver the Working Potential programme in Bolton. Funded and run by Ambition for Ageing, Working Potential is a research project which aims to identify how best to support carers aged over 50 into work.

“I miss my independence – going out to work, interacting with people and just being me.”

Our work in Bolton

Eighteen months into the two-year project and we’re currently supporting 35 carers who live in our communities. Bolton at Home’s Tara Branagan and Yvonne Seal are Ambition Project Officers who run the programme. Tara says:

“Working Potential is a great initiative which helps carers access employment, voluntary work, training and social activities in the community. We give one-to-one support to people and can also help with confidence building, money advice and health and wellbeing. Some carers have learned new skills in areas such as IT and have achieved qualifications.”

“We’re collecting data on what works best for our carers aged over 50 here in Bolton. A key element of the Working Potential programme is that we’re giving carers the chance to become co-researchers, ensuring that real voices are heard.”

A number of carers involved in Working Potential have set up their own community groups – to support others and to get some voluntary experience. Vickie Rowley and Kath Dagnall are two Bolton residents who are doing this.

Vickie’s story

Vickie Rowley (52) has been the main carer for her husband for the last 12 years. Through Working Potential she’s set up a sewing group for local residents in Westhoughton. Vickie, who has two grown up children, Alexander and Christian, tells us how the group has helped to improve her mental wellbeing.

“My husband, Martin, was just 38 when he had his first stroke. He needed round-the-clock care so I had to give up my job as a lecturer at Wigan and Leigh College to look after him. Whilst I wanted to be the one to care for him, I knew that my life would never be the same again.

“Over the last few years Martin’s symptoms have got worse and he was recently diagnosed with neurosarcoidosis. This is a condition that affects every nerve in the body. He has no feeling below the waist, no peripheral vision and a reduced sense of taste and smell. Even though we have carers in four times a day, life is difficult.

“I miss my independence – going out to work, interacting with people and just being me. So when I heard about Working Potential through my local carers group at Winifred Kettle, I immediately wanted to get involved.

Local residents had approached staff at the John Holt Community Centre in Westhoughton asking for a sewing group. Tara asked me if I’d be interested in setting one up as she knew I was a former lecturer and that I made my own clothes.

“Bolton at Home gave me the support I needed to get the ‘Make New and Mend’ group up and running. We meet twice a week at the John Holt Centre. It’s a supportive and friendly group – the youngest member is 16 and the oldest is 84. Anyone in the community is welcome to join the group.

“Even though I can only manage four hours a week, running the group has made a huge difference to my life. I’m teaching again and, although it’s informal skills, I’m seeing people learn and I love that. Also I don’t feel like I have to talk about my role as a carer. I can just be me – Vickie, the sewing group leader!”

Kath’s story

Kath Dagnall (67) cares for her son, Christopher, who has autism. With help from the Working Potential team, Kath set up the Johnson F’Oldies group to give support to older people in the community.

“I’ve done voluntary work for a long time, having been involved with Age UK for a number of years. I heard about Working Potential through Tara Branagan. She arranged for me to do a computer training course and we got talking about the lack of support groups for older people on the Johnson Fold estate. I said I’d be happy to start a group at the Johnson Fold UCAN Centre so in September we had our first session.

We’ve only got about eight members at the moment but I’m hoping it will grow. We welcome people of all ages. It’s a chance for us to share our thoughts and give each other support and advice. We also do some practical tasks – for instance, we made some lanterns for the Johnson Fold Christmas lights switch on.

“The group gives me the opportunity to get out and talk to people. Being a carer can sometimes be draining and it’s good to be around other people who might be going through the same thing. Together, we’ve got a wealth of experience, so being part of the Working Potential research project gives us a purpose and a voice.”

The Make New and Mend

Group runs Wednesdays 10am-12pm and Fridays 12.30pm-2.30pm from the John Holt Community Centre, Birch Avenue, Westhoughton, BL5 2NR.

The Johnson F’Oldies

Group runs every fortnight on a Thursday, 11am-1pm at the Johnson Fold UCAN Centre, Johnson Fold Avenue, Bolton, BL1 5SF.

Contact: Kath Dagnall


Did you know

A recent study called ‘Will I Care’, published by Carers UK, looked at data from 2001 to 2018 and found that:

  • two thirds (65%) of adults have cared unpaid for a loved one, including 70% of women and 60% of men;
  • the average person has a 50:50 chance of caring by the time they’re 50 – long before they reach retirement age;
  • on average, women take on caring responsibilities over a decade earlier than men.

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