Community care

Art prints laid out on a table

Lena and Claire share their experiences of being unpaid carers and the benefits of nature-inspired workshops and meeting others in the same boat

Age UK Islington, in partnership with Create, recently hosted a series of creative workshops in Gillespie Park at the Islington Ecology Centre, specifically for unpaid carers. “It was great to hear the chatter among the participants,” says Carmen Alcovedes, activities co-ordinator at Age UK Islington. “As well as taking some time out of their caring role, everyone seemed really enthusiastic to come together with other Islington carers.”

Lena and Claire, two of the attendees, share their experience of the workshop, being an unpaid carer and the benefits of meeting others in the same boat

The participants on the project came from different backgrounds, but we were able to connect with each other through our experiences as carers. I have a background in creative art and fashion, and I was very excited to participate on the course. This was my first programme with Age UK Islington and it was an amazing opportunity to meet like-minded carers.

We explored our ideas through different forms of creativity: photography, pottery, marble inking, free-hand drawing and so on. The course leaders were amazing at putting everyone at ease – they were very calm and ensured that everyone could participate, regardless of whether they had tried a particular technique before or not.

I have a young family and a mentally ill in-law, whom I look after full time. I have been a carer for 23 years. Not knowing anything about how to manage mental illness was really challenging, but I have learnt a lot, adapting to the role little-by-little, being patient and calm. I have used my skills and knowledge as an artist to help manage symptoms through different forms of arts and crafts.

Having aspirations is very important, at any age. We all have different strengths, which shape us in so many ways. I have learned to find qualities that make each and every one of us unique. As a carer, I have taken the time to understand my mother in-law, finding her passion and the twinkle in her eyes that was there before the onset of mental illness 60 years ago. It has taken time, compassion, love and support. I discovered she loves hand embroidery. During the first lockdown this became her saviour, working with colours and patterns. This has improved her mental wellbeing and become an invaluable coping mechanism.

It’s taken confidence in myself to realise my potential as an artist, mother, wife and in my role as a carer. I have found resilience through mental wellbeing, understanding that it’s important to prioritise my own wellbeing and take time out for myself. That might be going for a walk in the morning or doing something creative.

Looking after someone with mental illness becomes very challenging but I like to stay positive. I tend to express my feelings through daily art therapy. This has allowed me to embrace life around me. I like to think that every individual is an artist in their own right.

Appointments permitting, I’m hoping to attend one of the sessions during Carers Week. It’s a great opportunity to meet other carers!

The nature inspired art workshops for carers was the first Islington Carers Hub activity that I tried. The workshop took place in the Islington Ecology Centre in Gillespie Park, round the corner from Emirates stadium. I’d never been there, but it was a really nice setting. Everyone was very welcoming. The workshops took place every week for six weeks. The sessions were light, varied and interesting. Despite everything going on in my life, I was able to focus on the session and the creativity was really interesting. It has inspired me to make time to continue doing something creative and I have since re-found my sketchbook!

I’ve been a fulltime carer for my mum for the past seven years. She has acute Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is a lung condition, so she can’t walk far. She also can’t see or hear very well. I moved back to London to live with her when she needed extra care. It’s quite tricky at times and draining, as she has lots of needs. It’s a bit like being her personal assistant. I need to drive her around a lot and take her to regular health appointments, plus I do all the cooking.

I don’t get much time to do things myself. I found the workshop really relaxed and it was nice to talk to other carers. We all had something in common, so it was great to have a chat.

Given my experience of trying out one of the ICH activities, I’m planning to try one of the Carers Week activities. I thought I’d try the carers picnic in Cally Park.

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