Devon Carers, a free service by Westbank Community Health and Care, has received uplifting feedback from participants after putting on a host of events to celebrate Carers Week this June. An unpaid carer who enjoyed free entry to the National Trust’s Greenway in Kingsbridge said, “We often feel invisible but the activities provided throughout the week have put carers on the agenda.”

Over the last 25 years Westbank’s Devon Carers has grown to be one of the largest charitable organisations in the UK helping adult and young carers.  It provides a wide range of support services to more than 30,000 carers who look after family members or friends because they are ill, frail, or have a disability, mental health or substance misuse problem. 

Devon Carers hosted its first Carer Friendly Devon conference at Westbank’s Healthy Living Centre in Exminster on Tuesday 11 June to raise awareness of the support available to unpaid carers in the community and the schemes run in partnership with local employers. 

Ian Hobbs, Senior Commissioning Manager at Devon County Council and lead commissioner of the Devon Carers contract, told attendees: “Supporting unpaid carers is a sign of a civilised society. It’s about more than saving money - it’s the right thing to do. At Devon County Council, the role of unpaid carers is understood and valued.” 

He said, “There’s no doubt that the work Devon Carers does, and how it connects with other partners, is amazing. I am struck by the tone of this event. It’s celebratory - 25 years of Devon Carers is a milestone event - but it’s also about partnership and embedding support for carers throughout the whole community. I will soon be retiring after 42 years in the job. What a privilege to have worked alongside this committed and energetic team. This is the part of my work I’m most proud of.”

Lucie Hopkins, who attended the conference with colleagues from the NHS Stroke Support Team, said, “It was really helpful to have information about all the different services available on stands around the room. We discovered that Devon Carers does loads more than we’d realised. For example, I wasn’t aware of the Break Fund for unpaid carers or the support offered to them at home after a hospital stay.  Nor that the National Trust was so involved in the Carer Friendly Devon scheme. It would be great to see even more organisations getting involved with Devon Carers and providing support for unpaid carers. Devon Carers save the NHS a lot of money and make the situation much easier for people who care for others.”

Powderham Castle was one of the organisations that signed up at the conference to join Carer Friendly Devon. Kez Paget, Powderham’s Partnership Manager, explained why: “We are committed to supporting carers both inside our business and in the wider community. Charlie (Charles Courtenay, Earl of Devon) was keen for us to come along to show our support and find out what more we can do. We already offer free admission to carers but realised that we could be doing a whole lot more.” 

The most popular events for carers across the week were the days on which the National Trust provided free entry for them and the person they look after and Devon Carers provided tokens for drinks refreshments at the properties.

A carer at Killerton House in Broadclyst, near Exeter, said he thought the Break Fund provided by Devon Carers was  ‘amazing’, saying the money had enabled him to transform his garden into a little sun trap where he and the person he cares for can now enjoy a cup of tea together.

Honiton Carers’ group enjoyed a fabulous afternoon on Seaton Tramway: “We had a private tram from Seaton at 2 pm with a brilliant driver who gave us a very interesting commentary all the way there and back. We enjoyed great refreshments at Colyton Station including some super-sized cream teas before heading back on the 4pm tram. A wonderful afternoon much enjoyed by everyone. Thank you to Seaton Tramways for letting carers go free during carers week.”

Throughout the week Carer Friendly Devon supporters collaborated with The National Trust, Libraries Unlimited, Devon Cycle Hire and Seaton Tramway. Other events included information stands and access to online advice about money matters. Two of the carers at Newton Abbot Carer Conversation Hub agreed they had been very nervous about coming to their first meet up as they are new to caring, but they had found it very worthwhile and said it was good to feel understood.