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Carers Time Bank

Breaking isolation through sharing skills

For lonely carers, a dearth of time is one of the biggest reasons for losing touch with friends and family or struggling to maintain hobbies and interests. Nearly half of carers polled for this year’s State of Caring survey said that they felt isolated as they were short on time or couldn’t get out of the house much.

That’s why the principles of flexibility and choice, underpinning the UK’s first Carers Time Bank, funded by the Big Lottery and run in London’s Westminster, are so important. Currently, over 114 carers volunteer as part of the scheme for as few or as many hours as they want, at a time that suits their needs. For every hour ‘donated’, carers can earn a time credit that can be used to claim back a session from another member, encompassing everything from languages, sewing, and painting, to practical help with tasks such as form filling.

“Group learning, tailored to so many interests, allows carers to feel more empowered by choice and less alone by connecting with other carers. The main goal of the project is to end isolation in carers”, explains Viola Etienne, the project’s Coordinator.

Whilst flexibility and varied opportunities are a great way to meet other carers, just as important is the role that the Time Bank plays in instilling the confidence needed to start socialising again. “It’s easy to forget the kinds of jobs you had before caring. You’d be surprised by how quickly we lose our confidence and sense of self when we no longer work”, Viola explains. Many people who volunteer their skills do so now because they have a wealth of knowledge and skills that have not been utilised since giving up work.

Often, having relevant opportunities encourages people to leave the house even if they feel low. “One Friday, a new person came to our special coffee morning and he bonded with the group so quickly that he ended up admitting that he only got dressed today to come Time Bank and volunteer – if it wasn’t for the project, he said, he’d have gone a week without seeing anyone but his mum.”

Alongside the Time Bank, Carers Network tries to run programmes that encourage socialising alongside other needs. For example, its Buddy Walking Scheme allows carers who want to keep fit to get to know others whilst doing exercise. Given that half of carers reduce the amount of exercise they do since caring, there is a strong demand for the programme. “Many carers will only have one hour free a month, so making the most of this time is really important”, Viola said.

The project is also the only time bank of its kind which allows participants to donate their time in exchange for business discounts or passes to socialise. “Carers told us they wanted a cinema club, and now we work with a local cinema to get discounted tickets once a month. If a carer says they want to get fit, we’ll try and get them into the gym even if it’s only an hour a month. The businesses are good about it, and it means we can respond to loneliness in a way that carers want.”

If you want to volunteer for Carers Network's Carers Time Bank, you can find out more here. To find similar services in your local area, visit Carers UK’s local directory.

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