Norfolk's unsung heroes revealed

Sarah HallEvery day thousands of people selflessly care for their loved ones and many are not aware there is a wide range of support and help available to them.Sarah Hall

Every day thousands of people selflessly care for their loved ones and many are not aware there is a wide range of support and help available to them.

SARAH HALL attended the launch of Carers Week and met some of the unsung heroes.

It is estimated there are about 81,000 people in Norfolk who care for a relative, friend or neighbour and give up at least 50 hours a week to support them.

Some have never had a holiday and many have had to give up their jobs, education and social life to become the sole carer of a relative.

While some are registered as carers and therefore entitled to benefits and support, there are many who do not even realise they are officially carers.

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In recognition of their often unsung and unpaid efforts Norfolk County Council and the Carers Agency Partnership have teamed up to host a series of events, kicking off at the Forum in Norwich yesterday where a range of charities and organisations showcased their work to hundreds of carers and their families.

One of the country's favourite actresses, Lynda Bellingham, launched the event and made calls for the government to do more to recognise the vital role of carers in society.

Lynda has first hand experience of caring, as her mother Ruth had dementia. The 61-year-old said: 'Sometimes people become carers inadvertently, they are caring for a mother, father, sister or brother because they love them, but it is actually a full time job.

'The role of carers is so significant but the government does not seem to realise their significance. We have a great health system but the emphasis is not always in the right place and this needs to change.

'Our population is getting older by the week which means there are more and more people who will need caring for. I will do what I can to raise awareness and ensure the work of carers is recognised.'

The range of carers registered in the county is astounding - the youngest is just three years old and there are many in their 70s and 80s who struggle to leave the house because they are caring for a husband or wife who suffers severe dementia.

There are also a large number of people who care for others with mental health problems.

Sonia Barnes, 49, was a teacher but she suffered a nervous breakdown and had mental health problems .

She lost her job, her home and her partner within a very short space of time and felt as though she had nowhere to turn before she became reacquainted with an old friend who became her carer. She said she could not have coped if it had not been for the care she received from 58-year-old Trevor Barnes.

'Some days I could barely put one foot in front of the other,' she said. 'I have known Trevor since I was a child and he became my carer. I need some one to support me mentally - some days are good, other days I struggle to function and I need his help constantly.

'With mental health it is difficult because there is so much stigma surrounding it - there are many people who care for people with depression or bipolar disorder but they are not recognised.'

The couple married last year and live in Acland Mews in Norwich and Trevor said he is the only one who knows how to cope with his wife's problems.

'When she is down I can see it coming,' he said. 'It's my role to help her in any way I can. For me it's something I have to do and a lot of carers are in that situation.

'I can't get certain benefits because I also work.'

The information fair at the forum was attended by many organisations which offer support to carers such as Mind care support service, British Red Cross, Norwich and district carers forum and the Norfolk coalition of disabled people.

Maria Plumb, helpline co-ordinator for Norfolk Carers Helpline and one of the event organisers, said: 'There are thousands of carers out there who don't realise there is help available to them. We have had a fabulous turn out and a lot of interest from carers - for many it is a rare chance for them to get out and meet others who are in similar situations.'

Information fairs will also be in Thetford, Fakenham, Holt, Wymondham and Great Yarmouth this week.

For more details contact Maria Plumb on 01603 405665.