Courses of action

Lifelong learning may not be a national buzz word but it is
flourishing in the West Midlands thanks to Sandwell’s Adult
Guidance and Lifelong Learning (AGLL) service which won the carers’
category at the Community Care Awards.

“We recognised that carers needed a learning experience in a
relaxed environment,” says co-ordinator Jacky Lindley, who works
alone, managing and fundraising to provide training and advice or
just lend a friendly ear to local carers.

AGLL was established in August 2000 as an offshoot of carers’
support initiative Cares (Carers’ Advice and Resource Establishment
in Sandwell), which itself began in 1987 to provide basic
information, advice and support. It employs 13 staff, including
secretaries and part-time workers.

When the opportunity arose to fund a learning and guidance project,
Lindley leapt at the chance. “I felt carers needed continuous
learning to make it easier if they wanted to return to employment,”
she says.

AGLL received National Lottery cash which enabled a three-year plan
to be drawn up. Fundraising is one of Lindley’s core functions but
its piecemeal nature tends to hamper long-term planning.

In the past two years, 572 carers have attended training courses
and there have been more than 700 calls for information or advice.
The most popular courses are those covering emergency first aid,
stress and lifting and handling. Practical and career courses are
complemented by leisure classes such as card craft and stencilling
which, she says, enhance carers’ quality of life. These are
surprisingly big draws. In fact, card craft became so popular that
the classes became more like social events and Lindley had to split
up the participants, reminding them that this was learning – not
party – time.

People hear about the project after visiting Cares for other
reasons. Lindley also uses internal databases to mail out publicity
for training courses.

According to the charity Carers UK, there are six million carers,
saving the economy £57bn a year. Additionally, about 301,000
people become carers each year and the country’s ageing population
will see the number rise further.

But carers can often find themselves isolated or socially excluded,
says Lindley, which can lead to a lack of confidence. Their skills
become outdated after taking time out to care and the general low
status attributed to their work can lead to low self-esteem.

She says that carers often forget about their own needs. “They
don’t put themselves first.” She believes the learning programme
builds confidence and unearths ambitions that had been dormant.

Sabrina Robinson, nominated by Cares as learner of the year, says:
“I have cared for my 25-year-old son, Melvyn, who has had cerebral
palsy since birth. I first participated in Cares’ Return to Learn
project and studied computing. Since then I’ve done many more
courses both at Cares and Sandwell College, including first aid,
assertiveness and creative writing.

“I feel I am now involved in what is happening in Sandwell. I get
out more and feel I have the confidence to do things myself.
Gaining certificates has made me very proud. I say to myself, ‘Yes,
you can do it!’.”

Barbara Bright, another local carer, echoes Robinson’s enthusiasm:
“I cared for my mother for 11 years but couldn’t return to nursing
as I have broken my hip. I joined in Cares’ sessions in food
hygiene and textile crafts and was cajoled into teaching sessions
myself in card craft. Within 18 months my life has snowballed. I
have gained City & Guilds in teaching and am now working as a
lecturer for Halesowen College. I find it rewarding seeing people
do things they never thought they would.”

The money gained through winning the Community Care award
will be put towards buying laptops for outreach work and
development of the learning centre. Lindley says: “It’s great to
realise your work has been nationally recognised.”

The carers category was sponsored by Reliance

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