Red Cross volunteers offer a service that brings joy and relief for carers, by allowing them just a little bit of time for themselves.
Home from Hospital for Carers is a valuable support service and due to its success, more volunteers are needed across West Sussex.
Maggie Funnell is a capable woman but caring for her husband 24 hours a day at their home in Shoreham has taken its toll and it was when she broke down in tears during one hospital stay that staff stepped in and referred the couple to the Red Cross.
Volunteer Lisa Mills was introduced to the Funnells and Maggie says the time she spent with David was a ‘wonderful release’, benefiting them both.
Maggie said: “Dave is quite a quiet person but Lisa was very good at bringing him out of his shell. She would engage him and then I could have some time to myself. I didn’t have to be concerned when I went out because she was so positive and confident.
“She’s local, so she was able to talk to Dave about places and people that we knew. Usually we are together 24 hours a day so it was so nice for him to have some different company and it’s only natural that I need some time away.”
‘I want to keep him with me as long as I’m able’
Maggie, 67, has been increasingly caring for Dave, 73, since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2012. His health started to deteriorate two years ago and he is now wheelchair-bound with the added challenge of dementia.
Maggie said: “He was always a very clever guy with his hands. He built the whole extension to our house. But around six years ago, he realised he couldn’t rotate his foot. That was when the doctor diagnosed Parkinson’s.
“We’ve been married for 43 years. I want to keep him with me as long as I’m able. Sometimes he has good days and we get out and go for lunch, other times he has bad days where it really is full-on and very, very hard work looking after him.”
Maggie describes herself as capable and a coper but during one of Dave’s hospital stays, she realised she needed help.
“He was trying to get dressed and get out of bed but he wasn’t able to,” she recalls.
“I pulled the curtain around us, because he was so agitated and I was in tears.”
Red Cross to the rescue
The Red Cross came to her rescue and now Maggie hopes to encourage others to sign up as independent living volunteers, giving a few hours a week to help those who need a break from their caring responsibilities.
Maggie said: “I was so grateful that everything was organised for me. I didn’t have to plead, or beg, or jump through hoops – it was all made very easy for me. The simplicity of it was very refreshing.”
Volunteer Lisa, 45, who also lives in Shoreham, was able to make fortnightly visits to the Funnells and Maggie found the support invaluable.
“We had a lovely relationship. Lisa was friendly and capable – the kind of person you would have as a friend,” she said.
“I felt like I could do anything. Sometimes I’d call my friend and we’d go out shopping, which was super. Just lovely. It was wonderful to have such a release.
“It never felt as if she watched the clock. It felt like she wanted to be there. To her, it was about the support, rather than employment. I think if people knew about the joy and the relief that this service brings to carers, a lot of them would want to volunteer.
“When help comes in when you’re least able to cope, it feels like an unbelievable gift. It enables me to continue to care for Dave for as long as I can. You can’t do it alone.”
How you can help
Red Cross is looking for new volunteers to join the Home from Hospital for Carers service for West Sussex.
Manager Shila Patel said: “We’re looking for friendly, compassionate people of any age or background, with a few hours to spare every week.
“We provide full training and support. This is an opportunity to make a very real difference to people in our local community.”
To find out more about volunteering with the Red Cross Home from Hospital for Carers service in West Sussex, contact Judith Fitter on 01293 612523 or email firstname.lastname@example.org