A devoted son who cares for his sick mum whilst juggling two jobs is urging thousands of unpaid carers in Essex to get the help they deserve at a series of roadshows.
Ellis Stuart, 23, has been looking after his mother Debbie, 60, ever since she was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease three years ago, whilst holding down a full time job as a Junior Business Officer at Essex County Council, and a second bar job at Pat Molloy’s Bar in Colchester.
He is just one of an estimated 145,000 similar people in the county who play a vital role in supporting a relative or friend who are either frail, sick, disabled or suffer from mental ill health or substance misuse, including 10,000 young people, aged 11 to 18, who juggle childhood and school work with caring for a parent.
“For a long time, I didn’t see myself as a carer. I was simply caring and supporting my mum as any good son should,” said Ellis, who wants to help people in his shoes find the help they deserve at five roadshows run by Essex County Council, designed to show ‘Carers Count’.
“But I’ve recently had a carer’s assessment, something I didn’t know I was entitled to until recently, and thanks to that, I will soon be getting funding to cover travel costs to see my mum each week, rather than having to cycle after working a full day in either of my jobs.
“I’ve been able to work from home and take time off during the day to be able to support her at appointments and see her doctor, amongst other things. The council’s attitude of ‘work is something you do, not somewhere you go’ has been very helpful and I imagine it’s quite rare at other companies or organisations.”
Debbie, a single parent since she divorced 20 years ago, strives to remain as independent as possible, still doing her own food shopping, catching the bus to her volunteer job at a hospice café and doing her own housework.
But one of the most upsetting things for Ellis is seeing the woman who taught him to read begin to struggle with her own literacy as her Alzheimer’s gets worse.
She is also anxious about forgetting details, not recognising family and is losing confidence talking on the phone.
“Convincing mum that everything is going to be ok because I’ll be there for her is a constant challenge,” added Ellis, who is also a member of the council’s Employee Carers’ Forum. “She feels that people are forgetting about her, but no-one would ever forget a lady as wonderful as my mum.
“She’s at quite an awkward stage in her condition, which means although she’s not quite in need of professional care yet, she still needs a lot of help doing the sorts of day-to-day things that many people take for granted.
“It’s also difficult because she’s very young compared to others with the disease, so there isn’t a lot of support. We took her to an Alzheimer’s singing for the mind class, and she was the youngest there by around 15 years, so she actually felt quite uncomfortable.
“Now that she’s keeping active at a charity shop she no longer feels like a burden and is much happier. I hope these roadshows will help carers and the people they look after discover similar opportunities, as well as finding the support they may never have known was there.”
Roadshow organisers hope to reach the county’s unpaid volunteers – whether they see themselves as carers or simply loving relatives, friends or neighbours.
The events, taking place at libraries across Essex, will help carers discover what support is available locally, with ECC’s social care teams working alongside partners and community organisations to offer information and advice.
Ellis also has a message for anyone who works alongside an employee carer and who may not always know how to support them.
“I hope my colleagues know how much I appreciate them. They may feel as though they’re not doing anything out of the ordinary, but things like emailing me an article they thought I should see, or asking how my mum and I are doing, making me smile or laugh, or simply inviting me to a party or to lunch so I can get away for a bit, mean so much because it picks me up when I’m down and gives me the energy I need to carry on.”
More than a quarter of Essex County Council’s workforce carries out a caring role alongside their regular jobs.
Employees can take advantage of flexible working, and options to take time off, as well as accessing help from Living Well – a website created by ECC and Healthwatch Essex to give residents a one-stop shop for health-related matters – as well as organisations like the Carers’ Trust and Supporting Carers in Essex.
Cllr Anne Brown, Cabinet Member for Corporate, Communities and Customers, said: “We’re committed to proving that Carers Count in Essex, and urge the county’s legion of unpaid carers to take advantage of these roadshows to get the help and support they deserve.”
Supporting Carers in Essex (a group of charities working together to support unpaid carers of all ages across Essex) provides a single contact point for carers anywhere in the county on 0300 0300 770 8090 (Monday to Friday, 9am – 4.30pm) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rapid Response service is contactable from 7am to 10pm, 7 days a week on the same number who those dealing with a crisis.
The roadshows will take place between 10am and 2pm at:
Tuesday, September 13, at Colchester Library, Trinity Square, Colchester, CO1 1JB.
Tuesday, September 20, at Harlow Library, Cross Street, Harlow, CM20 1HA.
Thursday, September 29, at Basildon Library, St Martin’s Square, Basildon, SS14 1EE.
Tuesday, October 4, at Chelmsford Library, Market Road, Chelmsford, CM1 1QH.
Thursday, October 13, at Rayleigh Library, 132/4 High Street, Rayleigh, SS6 7BX.