CATs (Carers’ Assistance Team)
The Unique Story of Nonsuch Rotary’s Service to Carers
An autistic 13 year old wakes up in the middle of the night and starts bashing the furniture in his home – every night. An elderly lady with dementia goes on walk-about in the early hours after the family has gone to bed and tries to leave the house through the front door – every night. Two random examples of the kind of problems continually faced by carers
Eleven years ago when I was looking for a new project for my year as president, Marian Radford, Founder Manager of the Sutton Carers’ Centre, came up with the idea of CATs (Carers’ Assistance Team) in which trained Rotarians would help carers complete the complex attendance and disability allowances forms needed in order to obtain additional income for those with extra needs caused by long term illness or disability.
An initial team of six Nonsuch Rotary volunteers was formed and, after receiving training from the then Centre Assistant Manager, Eddie Parsons, launched CATs in May 2001 at the Centre with a rota of two volunteers for one evening a fortnight to assist carers with their claim forms.
It proved a great success and in 2007 the service increased from two to four man-hours a fortnight and has continued on Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings fortnightly ever since. There are currently thirteen active Nonsuch team members so that each Rotarian is on duty at the Centre roughly once every six weeks for about two hours, this being the average time needed to complete one of these forms.
At these sessions club volunteers hear at first hand about the enormous pressures felt by carers and their families in looking after their relatives, often for ‘twenty-four/seven’. The carers’ relief at being given an opportunity to describe the constant demands on their time and at being helped to complete their forms is palpable. Volunteers know that their task is to prepare an accurate pen-picture to ensure that the needs of the person being cared for are clearly conveyed so that the assessor in a far-away office will be able to award an appropriate amount of weekly allowance. Carers are often reticent about how much they actually do for the person they are caring for so it is the job of the volunteer to tease out the full facts and this entails winning the confidence of the carer.
Volunteers all agree that this service provides a wonderful way of ‘giving something back to the community’ and at the end of the interview it often seems as if a great weight has been lifted from the carer’s shoulders. Carers are generous too with their praise, “I don’t know what I would have done without your help”, is a common message. And later, when they learn that their application has been successful, carers will often contact the Centre to thank everyone including the Rotarian volunteer.
After a ten year partnership with the Sutton Carers’ Centre, currently under Rachael MacLeod CEO, with Karen Page as Centre Manager, Nonsuch Rotarian volunteers have so far helped around 500 carers complete allowance claim forms, resulting in awards of tens of thousands of pounds for those being cared-for. This is truly a real-life example of the Rotary motto, ‘Service above self’!
This excellent partnership continues. In fact, Nonsuch Rotary Club and the Sutton Carers’ Centre would very much like to enter the new decade of CATs by expanding it further to help the many other carers in the borough who would benefit. The Partnership will therefore be inviting all the borough Rotary Clubs to join in to form a proposed Sutton-wide Rotary CATs service for the local community thereby expanding the number of carers who can be helped.