The members of the Doncaster Carers Reach Out BAME group meet every Friday morning to discuss the issues they face as carers. And while it’s their shared experiences that first brought the group together, it’s their differences that keep them coming back.
The group has over 100 members drawn from the Indian, Pakistani, African-Caribbean, Roma, eastern European and travelling communities, among many others. It’s so diverse, it’s taken on a life of its own and evolved into a place to learn about other cultures, improve language skills and share cooking tips.
The 12 volunteers who help to run the group speak eight languages between them and they travel from all over Doncaster to give their time and experience every week. Their dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed – they were recently named Unpaid Carers of the Year at the Yorkshire and Humberside Great British Care Awards.
Amanda Tomlinson manages the Doncaster Carers Reach Out service for Making Space, the national adult care and social charity. “The volunteers do the most amazing job supporting BAME carers in the community,” she says. “The judges recognised that, as well as the demands placed on carers and the additional barriers facing people from BAME communities.”
Rosemary Stephen, a carer support worker with Making Space, set up the group in June 2019. “When I first started my role working with the BAME carer community, we were running many groups across Doncaster for individual communities,” she says. “That didn’t really work for various reasons, not least because it was difficult for people to get across town to get to their particular group. The journey could involve two buses and take a long time, and when you’re a carer with limited time to yourself, that’s a big issue. So we decided to merge all of the small groups into one weekly group in the town centre, which people could reach more easily.”
The result was a Friday morning meet-up, with a merged membership of over 100 people. Every week, Rosemary and her volunteers stage different activities such as health talks, carer training, pamper sessions and bingo.
“Our aim is to give carers some respite, reduce isolation and offer information, advice and training in practical issues,” she explains. “What we’ve seen since we merged the groups is how much people have gone on to develop that and turn it into a much wider support network. A lot of our volunteers and members speak English as a second language, so they help each other to develop their language skills. And if there’s a festival or a holiday, the people who are celebrating will bring in treats and snacks to share and talk about the origins and traditions.
“Real friendships have been formed and there are lots of other groups that people have set up informally so they can support each other in their own neighborhoods and help to reduce isolation – they all look out for each other.”
The weekly sessions attract around 30 people: not all members can visit every week because of their caring commitments, but they say that knowing the network is there helps on a daily basis.
Kelly Russo is a carer who attends the group. “The Friday sessions include lots of training, but we don’t have to wait for every Friday to come around if we need support,” she says. “We’ve all made such good friends that we all know we’re there for each other all the time.
“We get so many benefits – we come for some time out, to socialise and to learn from each other. Some of us have autistic children, so we can support each other and ask questions. The benefit of the mixed cultural aspect is we can all learn so many different things without being judged and see things from different points of view.”
The group has been so successful, volunteers are currently planning to expand one session a month into a BAME dementia café for people with dementia and their carers.
Rosemary concludes: “The key element to the group’s success is understanding and respecting each other. Not just as carers, but as human beings.”
To contact the Doncaster Carers Reach Out BAME group, call T: 01302 986900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written before the coronavirus crisis