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past project: a life of my own

Carers unwind and have fun alongside the people they support

tree of life with red and yellow leaves created as part of darts Doncaster's A Life of My Own project

A Life of My Own focused on the needs of carers – often family members who do not recognise themselves formally as a ‘carer’ but whose lives are dedicated to supporting someone with additional needs. A carer is anyone, including children and adults who looks after a family member, partner or friend who needs help because of their illness, frailty, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction and cannot cope without their support. The care they give is unpaid.

Unpaid care increased at a faster pace than population growth between 2001 and 2011 and an ageing population with improved life expectancy for people with long term conditions or complex disabilities means more high level care provided for longer. Increasing hours of care often results in the general health of carers deteriorating incrementally. Unpaid carers who provide high levels of care for sick, or disabled relatives and friends, are more than twice as likely to suffer from poor health compared to people without caring responsibilities, with nearly 21 percent of carers providing over 50 hours of care, in poor health compared to nearly 11 percent of the non-carer population (ref: In Poor Health: the impact of caring on health). Caring responsibilities can have an adverse impact on the physical and mental health, education and employment potential of those who care, which can result in significantly poorer health and quality of life outcomes.

A Life of My Own responded directly to carers’ needs. Funded through the Doncaster Council Adults, Health & Wellbeing Directorate Innovation Fund, the programme focused on resilience and enabled us to build models of arts delivery that explore the complex and subtle ways that relationships can be affected by a caring responsibility. Regular sessions in community settings and in our building, The Point in central Doncaster, gave people the opportunity to attend regularly, building trust and familiarity with place and people.

The arts stir something deep within that gets buried under piles of mundane everyday stuff. It helps take you away from the stresses that shadow your thoughts.

Carers were invited to attend alongside the person they cared for – providing respite as an activity enjoyed together on an equal basis – or to come alone to support their own health and wellbeing. Professional artists delivered a range of artforms including music, visual arts, dance and drama. The key things we learnt are that the opportunity to engage in thoughtful creative activities has helped carers to move on with other areas of their life: ‘I’ve got ideas. I want to do things. I’m going to start learning to drive again’,  that those attending with the person they care for find that the relationship improves as a result, and that the positive impact continues once they go home: ‘He feels comfortable here – he doesn’t anywhere else…he wrote he was happy, confident. Well he’s not anywhere else’.

The positives from the mixed–aged nature of the group were a surprise outcome and participants commented on the benefits of new friendships made: ‘My husband doesn’t need to be in an ‘old’ persons group. We are both young at heart and interested in youth – our future’. Artists’ understanding of caring needs, and the needs of those cared for – especially dementia – moved on considerably and we have refined our approach and practice significantly. Ultimately, darts is providing something in Doncaster that no other agency offers: ‘You’re offering something that nothing else fills the need for’.

 


arts and health   case study

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