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Why I do What I do? Volunteer and Engagement Officer in Wales

At the time of writing this, I’ve just finished 70 days of working from home in my role with Carers Wales as Volunteer and Engagement Officer for mid and south Wales – that’s 10 weeks.  There are many things that I miss from before lockdown, but there are many things that I don’t miss at all.

My job in normal circumstances takes me all over south and mid Wales from Fishguard in Pembrokeshire to Llandrindod Wells in Powys to Chepstow in Gwent.  I visit people from all walks of life speaking to groups of carers, cared for, professionals and many more.  When lockdown was announced all those weeks back all that changed and I was really worried how I would be able to do the work that I do, especially reaching out to carer

Outside of work I’m a very active person.  On a Monday I go running with Women’s Running Penarth group and sometimes a salsa dancing class.  On a Tuesday I go to samba drumming class and band practise.  Wednesday is usually a night off to either see friends or just relax.  On a Thursday evening I have scuba diving lessons (I must like hobbies with 5 letters starting in s and ending in a; salsa, samba, scuba).  Friday evening I go to a sewing/craft group.  Saturday morning is always dedicated to parkrun where I either run 5km or volunteer as a marshal for the people running it.  I have previously worked for The Ramblers and am very often out and about walking.

10 weeks ago all that changed too.

Many of my running friends continued to train alone or met with one other person at a physical distance of 2 metres or more.  I have been asked by many of them several times to go out with them as exercising once a day was permitted.  I don’t have any problem with them going, but I did not and have not gone and apart from food shopping 1 or 2 times a week, I have not left my home.

My scuba diving lessons have moved to online theory lectures (I am now happy to say I have passed my elementary diving theory test – yay). Social time with my friends and family has also moved online, which included an Easter bonnet making contest (I didn’t win).  The regular core team of volunteers at parkrun now chat online and my sewing group has moved online.  I have very nearly finished a double bed size quilt (all hand sewn) which 10 weeks ago I was still cutting out the hexagons for.  There is no way under normal circumstances I’d have got this far in the making and it’s been a saviour of my mental health with long nights and weekends living on my own.

All of my work with Carers Wales has moved online – it’s amazing what you can achieve on a small laptop on a small table in a small living room.

We have weekly online care for a cuppa sessions on a Tuesday afternoon for Carers Wales members and other carers across Wales.  We have a packed timetable for the next few months with guest speakers from all kinds of organisations from other carers charities to South Wales Police.  Every week the number of attendees grows as we reach more carers than ever before.  Every Thursday morning we meet up online with volunteers to catch up and offer support.  We also have various guest speakers and training on these too.

There’s so much more that we are doing and the worries I had at the beginning of lockdown about what I would be able to do are a very distant memory as I seem to be busier than ever, which I am very grateful for.  I’m really proud of what the Carers Wales team have achieved. There are only 8 of us, but many people think we are a bigger team because of all the things we do.  Seeing the amazing achievements that each and every one of the team has done makes me work harder and more focused.

So, back to the title question: Why I do what I do?  Lots of my friends ask me why I don’t leave my home as a normally very active person.  I’m not afraid of catching the Corona Virus, but I couldn’t live with myself if I passed it to someone who didn’t survive.  When I get a little depressed or annoyed with how things are at the moment, I remind myself that there are thousands of families across the UK without a loved one.  I also try and imagine what it would have been like if I was trapped at home looking after either my mam or my dad.

When I was 8 years old my mam was diagnosed with MS.  My dad did most of the caring but my brother, sister and I were there to help.  At first it was little things that she stopped being able to do, like open a jar or pick something up from the floor.  I remember changing her sanitary towels before I’d started my period, I remember the constant requests; Amber can you wipe my nose, Amber can you lift my glasses, Amber can you move the hair from my face, Amber can I get something to eat, Amber can you fill out my sudoku, Amber I need a poo.  Coming back from university for 3 months in the summer holidays and sleeping every night with my mam as she needed to get up several times in the night, so my dad could sleep in my room and get some respite.  I look back and I kind of miss those things, but I especially miss all the amazing memories that I have.

My mam passed away 3 years ago in July.  Two days after she passed away, my dad got his diagnosis for vascular dementia.  His deterioration has been quite drastic.  Towards the end of 2018, we had to move him into a care home.  In spring 2019, we had to sell our family home to pay for his care and move him to a nursing home.  We haven’t been able to visit for over 12 weeks.  Two weeks ago we were notified that 2 residents in his nursing home had tested positive for Corona Virus.  Today We have been notified that all residents and staff have been tested and there are no cases – goodness knows what happened to the 2 people with positive tests, my only hope is that they survived.

In these times thousands of carers across Wales (there are over 600,000 carers in Wales) are truly struggling.  Ranging from high stress levels, giving their loved one 24 hour care with no idea when or if they’ll get any respite, anxiety, poverty, loneliness, isolation to name but a few things.  Carers are looking after either older people or people living with underlying health conditions and will probably be in lockdown for much longer.  Many of the rest of us will start returning to some kind of normality over the next couple of weeks.  Staying in for 10 weeks has been easy compared to so many carers, it’s the least I could do to help fight the spread and to show my support.

Amber Powell - Volunteer and Engagement Officer, Mid and South Wales

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