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Putting carers on the map: Interview with Sarah Page, Carers Fund Panellist

To mark Carers Week, we caught up with Sarah Page, a member of the Islington Giving Carers Panel responsible for making recent funding decisions. Sarah is also an Islington resident, carer of her son, and now Islington Giving’s Make It Happen Fund Coordinator, where she helps support grassroots projects that spark joy and foster community connections.

The theme for Carers Week 2024,  is ‘Putting Carers on the Map’. There are around 16,300 unpaid carers in Islington, providing physical, emotional and/or behavioural support. Carers are disproportionately affected by poverty, poor mental health and isolation, but their voices are often left out of decision-making processes.

Here, Sarah shares her experiences, challenges, and insights, highlighting the vital, often underappreciated role of carers in society and emphasising the importance of community support and recognition.

Impact Report launch 2024, left to right: Jordan and Freya (Young Grant Makers, Anne, Programme Manager at Islington Giving & our parent charity, Cripplegate Foundation, Champika and Sarah, Carers Panellists.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role on the Carers Panel, and your current role at Islington Giving?

I have lived in Islington my whole life and have been a carer to my son who has autism and a mental health illness for the past ten years. Prior to being a carer, I worked within accountancy. I decided on a change in career after a couple of years into my caring role, so began a part time degree in Sociology as I felt passionate about tackling social inequality. Through my carers group, I was given the opportunity to be part of the carers panel which was such a positive experience and being able to give back to the caring community was very rewarding. I felt really comfortable working at Islington Giving as the team were so welcoming and encouraging.

I feel very fortunate to now be working as the Make It Happen Fund Coordinator. The Make It Happen Fund offers small grants to groups of individuals or small local organisations who have a project in mind that brings people together and is fun, promotes wellbeing as well as provide a sense of pride and connection with their local community. It is such a pleasure and really heart-warming to hear the wonderful and different ideas the residents of Islington have and to see how committed people are to building and improving their community.

What inspired you to become a member of the Carers Panel?

I go to a weekly carers group, Mother2Mother, that Islington Giving also fund. We were asked if any of us would like to be a part of Islington Giving’s carers panel. I was a little sceptical at first as I had been on another panel for mental health, and I found that too raw and close to home. But I remembered Laura when she came for a consultation at the group and she was really lovely, so thought I would give it a try and also put in a good word for our mother2mother carers group as it has been such a lifeline to us in the group and we have Islington Giving to thank for that. The idea of being able to give something back really appealed to me.

“We wanted to support a diverse range of carers groups, i.e. carers of those with mental health issues, those with learning disabilities, neurodiverse groups, refugee support groups, child/adult, physical disabilities…It was a very rewarding experience making the final decisions, knowing it would be helping many carers who often do not receive the recognition they deserve.” ~  Sarah Page, Carers Fund Panellist 

Can you share your experience on the Carers Panel?

I found it to be a really positive experience and felt that I learnt a lot about what goes into the decision making when funding groups. It was not at all stressful, in fact being part of the panel was a welcomed distraction that helped me through a difficult period with my son and his mental health needs. It was very heart-warming hearing back from some of the groups and how hard they worked to help people. I really loved meeting one of the groups and hearing their experiences, it was very humbling and inspiring to hear what people go through and their strength to keep going. I really enjoyed working with Laura and Anne, they were both very supportive and helped guide us when needed.

It was also nice to meet the other carers on the panel and thankfully we were all in agreement as to which groups we thought should be funded, so it all went very smoothly. It was a very rewarding experience making the final decisions, knowing it would be helping many carers who often do not receive the recognition they deserve.

How did the Carers Fund Panel decide which projects to support?

They needed to meet the criteria of the fund and small organisations were favoured over larger ones. We also wanted to support a diverse range of carers groups, i.e. carers of those with mental health issues, those with learning disabilities, neurodiverse groups, refugee support groups, child/adult, physical disabilities. It was slightly challenging as some groups did not respond to initial queries, so we were unable to invite them to apply. There also seemed to be some gaps in support for certain groups of carers in Islington i.e. physical disabilities or they were not as apparent as other groups.

How do you think the funded projects will impact the lives of carers in Islington?

From my own experience of attending a carers group, I know how important it is to have somewhere I can go, where I feel understood and can meet others in similar circumstances. It is very therapeutic to be able to share what you are going through and be heard. Peer support is so important when it comes to feeling part of a community and feeling less isolated. I imagine the groups that were funded will provide a similar experience to what I have experienced as being part of a carers group. It gives you the opportunity to meet new people and experience new things and gives you a little respite from your day-to-day caring duties.

“Carers often find themselves in vulnerable situations – financially, mentally, and physically as caring duties can really take their toll…” ~ Sarah Page, Carers Fund Panellist 

Can you share any standout projects or initiatives that the panel has funded?

I visited the Kinship Carers group and the women in the group were amazing, they had given up their lives to look after their loved one’s children and it really opened my eyes to the difficulties they face and the lack of support they receive due to the legal loophole of being a kinship carer. Also, the ADHD parents support group was a grassroots group run by volunteer parents who wanted to provide a source of support to other parents who faced similar challenges in raising children with ADHD and to reduce isolation associated with the challenges involved. It was clear that they would utilise every penny they received to helping parents and their children and I was so touched by their hard work and commitment.

As a carer yourself, what are some of the challenges you face, and how do you manage them?

Being a carer can be very mentally, emotionally and physically draining. It has taken its toll on my physical health, and I feel quite limited with what I am able to do in my life. Financial stress is one implication of being an unpaid carer and not being able to take a ‘proper’ break, to have a holiday and recharge my batteries. I worry about what the future implications of being a carer will be in terms of financial security and my health. It is also psychologically draining as resources are so limited and do not provide adequate support for those in need. It can feel like a lose-lose battle at times and the fallout often falls on the carer, who has no power to make the changes needed to improve the situation. It is a working progress trying to manage the stress of these issues.

Over the past year or so I’ve started to put steps in place to better care for myself and establish some boundaries, so that I can keep going. My carers group has been a big part of that and also recently starting part time work with Islington Giving has given me something to focus on that is just ‘for me’. I have also volunteered at Talk for Health where I’ve met some lovely people, and it is a safe space to be heard. I love going to Waterlow Park or the Heath when I have the energy, being in nature is very soothing.

“I think carers are very valuable to society, not only in the amount of money they save the economy but also the number of skills that are involved in being a carer. I believe carers deserve a lot more recognition for what they do and need to be listened to more, as they have the experience and knowledge of what would help their loved ones as well as helping carers.” ~ Sarah Page, Carers Fund Panellist 

The theme for Carers Week this year is ‘Putting Carers on the Map.’ Why do you think it’s important to raise awareness about the role of carers?

As an unpaid carer it can feel like you are giving up your own life and needs to care for a loved one and you get very little recognition or support for doing so. Carers often find themselves in vulnerable situations – financially, mentally, and physically as caring duties can really take their toll. I noticed a loss of confidence and self-esteem when I became a carer and gave up my full-time job and it has been challenging not only dealing with the day to day caring and everything it entails, but also a loss of my own identity.

However, it has also been rewarding in many ways, I do not think I would have the same understanding of others if I had not become a carer and it has opened my eyes to the struggles of what others go through. I think carers are very valuable to society, not only in the amount of money they save the economy but also the number of skills that are involved in being a carer. I believe carers deserve a lot more recognition for what they do and need to be listened to more, as they have the experience and knowledge of what would help their loved ones as well as helping carers.

“You are important, you are valued, you are deserving, and you are not alone.” ~ Sarah Page, Carers Fund Panellist 

How can the community better support carers, both during Carers Week and throughout the year?

Understanding how the role of being a carer can impact upon an individual’s life as well as on the family. Possibly supporting carers to campaign or campaign on their behalf for better rights for carers but more so for adequate government funding of services. If our loved ones received the support they need from services and feel part of the local community, then a carers role will become more manageable, and would be able to also focus on themselves. I think validation is important as you can sometimes feel that you are the problem, as dealing with services and trying to get the care your loved one needs can feel like an uphill battle.

What message would you like to share with other carers during Carers Week?

That you are important, you are valued, you are deserving, and you are not alone.

Carers’ Fund report

In early 2024 Islington Giving ran a fund for carers. This took a participatory approach, consulting with carers and carers’ organisations to shape the model,

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