And they’ve all gone home…

The third and final day of the pilot Give Us a Break project is over and our carers have gone home to Southampton. The blog hasn’t been updated for a few days, as we were busy caring for the carers, making them “feel like royalty” according to one.

The pilot was not without its challenges, mainly the embarrassing inaccessibility of the capital city. Getting around London is not for the faint hearted – and the London Underground is a woefully inaccessible, whether you are disabled, have a pram, suitcase or have just sprained your ankle. I knew that this was a problem – I have spent my life helping strangers get up and down stairs, going as far as asking people give up their seats for another someone who was too polite or embarrassed to do so themselves – but I was still shocked by how bad things really are. It took some planning to get some of the less mobile carers around, but we did it, and they didn’t miss out on activities. It just took a bit more time.

London is daunting, but we now have 23 carers now who have braved the tubes and buses on their own, armed with an oyster card. Having passed the initiation, they definitely want to come back. Some had never been before and weren’t keen on travelling to their B&Bs after dark, even in groups. The B&Bs were a revelation to them all, without exception. These were not the grotty hotels they were used to, but clean, comfortable homes where they were properly looked after. Thanks to the London Bed and Breakfast Agency, and the hosts scattered around north, west and south London, carers who rarely get a full night’s sleep, slept like babies.

I was a little concerned how people would find their accommodation, as the plan was to let them get the tube to zone 2 or 3 and find the B&B themselves or get picked up by the hosts. I needn’t have worried, unfamiliar with London suburbs they may be, but they are used to bigger challenges. And once they had done it, they realised “London isn’t quite so scary after all!”. One pair tottered off to Archway unfazed by the prospect of wandering around North London looking for the red wheelie bin.  What really worried Kim was that it was a no-smoking house, until she found herself enjoying early morning coffee with the host on a rooftop terrace with views over north London.

I think we got the right balance between scheduled activities and flexibility. We had a number of loose tours planned, a few sit down meals, a bus tour, spa treatments, afternoon tea and cake and the theatre, made possible by incredible generosity from various London businesses. There was time in between for resting, eating and getting from A to B, and all the volunteers did a great job not losing anyone, even when our plans changed last minute. This morning, all tours to museums and Royal London went out the window and we ended up on a boat to Greenwich instead of pizza on the Strand.

Our carers ranged from 30-somethings to octogenarians, all of whom spend their daily lives caring for someone else, full time, unpaid and without a break. It was just 3 days of their lives, and a hop and skip around London, but they went home having made new friends – best friends even – having found others who understand them and can give them advice and support, and having had a few days just to relax and be themselves and not a carer. I will really miss them.

Priya, Give Us a Break Volunteer