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Achieving the Swindon Employers Care Award: Working carers supported and acknowledged at The Openwork Partnership.

When you hear the word carer, what do you picture? Often, people think of a health and social care professional, someone who works in a paid capacity perhaps as a home care aide, or in a care home.

Not many think of unpaid carers, those who step in to look after family members, partners and friends while juggling these caring responsibilities with work, study and other family commitments.

At The Openwork Partnership, Carer Lead Sarah Mason and Carer Representative Jenni Cass are working to change this perception, to help colleagues understand what it means to be an unpaid carer and offering advice to those who may, in fact, be a carer but haven’t thought of their responsibilities in this way before.

With the support of charity Swindon Carers Centre, The Openwork Partnership has just completed the Swindon Employers Care Award, recognising its commitment to create a workplace where unpaid carers are recognised and valued.

“The Openwork Partnership has always been very supportive,” said Jenni, who works as an IT Business Support Manager.  “I am a carer to my son, who has quite complex needs. A few years ago, they invited me to bring my son and our training therapy dog to a staff briefing to try and raise awareness of being a carer and the support I have received.

“However, a lot of people aren’t necessarily in a situation where they’re able to progress their career alongside being a carer. Speaking to others outside of The Openwork Partnership, there has been that stigma in the past in some businesses, due to the fact that carers have a lot of additional responsibilities outside of work.”

Both Jenni and Sarah have worked with Judy Evans, Partnerships Manager at Swindon Carers Centre, to revisit and develop support in place for employees who are also carers as part of the Swindon Employers Care Award.

This includes adding to the company’s existing Carers’ Policy and making sure that support is available to carers – from Mental Health First Aiders to an employee assistance programme and confidential conversation mailbox.

As Carer Representative and Carer Lead, Jenni and Sarah have featured in internal communications across the company and have put themselves forwards as a direct contact for people, creating an opportunity for colleagues to speak further with them if they would like advice and information. The Openwork Partnership now has a Carers Support Group, which anyone is welcome to join.

“We’ve had some really fantastic feedback following the measures we’ve put in place,” sad Jenni. “We’ve gone from myself being the only carer coming forward, to a group of six carers all with different circumstances.

“We’ve had comments like ‘this has come at just the right time for me, things have got quite bad’. Being a carer, your mental health can be impacted a lot, and we’re still in a pandemic – really unprecedented times.  People have been able to connect to others who understand them in a way that they’ve not been able to do before.

“Going back to the question ‘what is a carer?’ We need to ask how can people realise they are a carer? How can managers and colleagues understand what a carer is? Because that’s the whole point, that we’re not in this alone.”

If you’re an employer in Swindon, Judy Evans, Partnerships Manager at Swindon Carers Centre, is available to speak to you – to offer tailored advice and support, to help you achieve the Swindon Employers Care Award.

“Judy has been so encouraging,” said Jenni. “I would highly recommend that any businesses go through this process to obtain the Swindon Employers Care Award, because the difference you can make to individuals is phenomenal.

“The way in which we were taken through the award and the help we received, it’s definitely achievable. It doesn’t matter what your starting point is. The important thing is that you care enough to want to make that support available.”

If you’d like to find out more, please email judy.evans@swindoncarers.org.uk or call 01793 975319