"I’m a relative newcomer at Devon Carers. Two and a half years ago, I took the helm of an organisation that’s been supporting a veritable army of unpaid carers across the county for a quarter of a century. A number of my colleagues recently celebrated 20-year work anniversaries - and more are soon to follow!

Devon Carers is an extraordinary organisation - many of my team members are themselves carers - and I’m incredibly proud of the work we do to help those who look after family members, neighbours or friends who are ill, frail, or have a disability, mental health or substance misuse problem. Staggeringly, the work of unpaid carers supports the NHS to the tune of approximately £4,400 a minute!

What started as a small group for carers in Exminster has expanded to cover Devon from coast to coast. Now funded jointly by Devon County Council and the NHS, Devon Carers employs 100 staff and supports 28,000 adults across the county (excluding Plymouth and Torbay). We continue to grow, welcoming thousands of new carers each year. However, we never take our funding for granted; within the next 12 months, we will have to tender for the renewal of our contract. 

Westbank Community Health and Care also runs Devon Young Carers, which supports 2,500 under eighteen-year-olds. Funded by the County Council, the service looks to Rotary Clubs, individual donors and businesses to help cover the cost of specific activities like taking a group to the annual Young Carers Festival. Excursions like this make a real difference to young people who shoulder responsibilities beyond their years. 

People often think a ‘Carer’ means a care worker or NHS staff, but the people we support are unpaid carers. By that, we mean people who regularly care for friends or family members in a way that enables them to cope. That could be doing their shopping, checking in to see if they are okay, or providing emotional support. It doesn’t have to be full-time daily personal care, although it often is. Many carers look after someone for more than 50 hours a week, often alongside a full or part-time job. 

The last census estimated that there are 74,000 carers in Devon, but we believe it’s almost double that. That’s because the questioning in the census was unclear and because there’s so much confusion about the term ‘Carer’ and whom it includes. Also, it can take a long time for people to realise they are a carer and even longer to accept that label. 

25 years on, we provide a whole raft of support services, and we have big ambitions to reach even more adults and young people and to do so earlier in their caring journey. Early intervention makes an enormous difference to most people. We are also working hard to streamline our processes and how we handle new referrals and assessment requests to support even more carers and respond to them more quickly. These changes have reduced waiting times for assessments from a few weeks to a few days - no mean achievement.

To mark our 25th anniversary, we’re planning several events throughout the coming year. To find out more, visit www.devoncarers.org.uk"