Rural challenges for carers
Lesley McCranor (Executive Manager for Healthy Valleys Initiative).
Through our work at Healthy Valleys, we hear a lot of chat about the benefits associated with living in rural areas – and there are plenty – lovely countryside and fresh air and of course a good community spirit. These are the kind of things that contribute to citizens’ quality of life – one that rural citizens appreciate on a daily basis.
However, there are some negative consequences of a rural life, and these can present challenges both to people seeking support services and the carers themselves.
For people who require support, lack of transport is a major concern, chiefly because – for all the beauty of the landscape – the added sense of isolation can amplify the consequences of deprivation.
This impacts citizens who already feel marginalised or are in need of extra support, and therefore their ability to engage in their rural communities, and take up local services and opportunities.
And the carers themselves?
At Healthy Valleys’ our work involves working with people of all ages and backgrounds – so, a couple of years ago, we decided to commission the University of Strathclyde to carry out a research study on how we and partner agencies could better understand the needs of Carers living in the [Rural] Clydesdale area.
The results were startling – and indicated that carers themselves suffered also, laterally, along many of the same lines.
While the research (Coburn and Wallace) verified a range of problems associated with living in a rural area, it aslo indicated that these problems were exacerbated for hidden carers and felt acutely by young carers.
Making new friends or sustaining friendships is a normal part of growing up. But for Young carers, the research indicated this could simply not be taken for granted. In fact, their personal and social development could be curtailed by their caring role.
It’s hard to get to every hospital appointment for my mum because she needs to drive – because her wheelchair only fits in her car – and it’s a long time to travel in a car for her as she becomes fatigued and sore quickly. Also, someone needs to accompany her to the hospital when she has appointments, to help her, and that means that me and Adam have missed many days of school and days out with friends and things.
Young Carer, August 2015
Further barriers for carers
In common with all carers, independent carers are an important caring resource – with a committed focus on the cared for person.
However, further barriers to their participation in civic life remain, and I would summarise these as three-fold:
- A lack of flexible respite
- A lack of sufficient public transport
- Psychological barriers
In fact, our research indicated two gaps in current provision in relation to ‘respite care’ and ‘respite opportunities’. Fundamentally, we believe there is a need for more flexible respite capacity – especially during evenings and weekends.
The psychological findings were troubling. Our research indicated that being engulfed in caring activities can lead to:
- A loss of identity
- A lack of social and community connection
- Feelings of isolation
These challenges require different – but interlocking – solutions.
So how do we do this?
– We need to find out more about respite care; who is providing it, how is it being provided – in order to identify where local people can help change how respite services are delivered. The solution cannot always be found within health and social care resources.
The creation of small local businesses and social enterprises in caring can help to fill this gap, but this should not be expected to meet the anticipated increase in demand for such services.
Local people can assist greatly, as part of a wider community development approach to volunteering. Indeed, this could offer a significant – and often untapped – resource.
– There are also a lack of respite opportunities. The lack of available and accessible social and cultural activities – at times when carers are able to attend. This was highlighted by carers who tend to spend a spare hour or two shopping or doing chores.
Carers welcome the chance to escape their caring role, to socialise with people who do not know they are carers. Indeed, any activity where caring is not the primary focus of activity. Thus, respite opportunities could also target a wider population.
– Another gap in services was in the area of social support. We found that independent carers might benefit from having someone to talk to, or to share concerns. And this was not in the sense of formal counselling, rather, it appeared to be more inclined towards befriending/buddying support. Especially if the support was from someone who understood their caring role, and could listen or otherwise encourage confidence and social inclusion.
– We also noticed that, while many respondents talked about the sense of community spirit, this seemed to be largely untapped in social welfare and medical models of care.
– We found that building community capacity is important but there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Rather than developing a single model for increasing caring capacity – such as social enterprise or small business development – it is important to also develop a creative response.
In fact, in a fairer Scotland, sustaining community creativity might help us respond to as yet unknown care needs.
Website, Healthy Valleys
At Healthy Valleys, we believe that communities are not the problem, but the solution. Health is about more than the physical and mental state of a person, it includes wider determinants including housing, environment, social networks and culture.
Lesley McCranor has been the Executive Manager at Healthy Valleys since 2003, after working in local government for some 20 years. From Strathclyde Regional Council, Lesley shifted her focus to Community Education, as a community worker in Easterhouse, Cambuslang and Hamilton.
Since then she has developed a range of successful community regeneration and health initiatives; promoting physical and emotional wellbeing opportunities for people living in disadvantaged communities.