Carers of West Lothian (COWL) is a charity offering a range of services developed to meet the needs of unpaid carers and disabled people in West Lothian. Across Scotland there is difficulty in encouraging anyone to see themselves as unpaid carers and come forward to seek help and support which is their right under the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016. Our inclusivity journey formally commenced when we set a specific priority action in our 2019 to 2024 strategy.
In February 2020 COWL was invited along to a Carer Network meeting which was hosted by the Coalition of Carers in Scotland and MECOPP. We knew we needed to do more to support Ethnic Minority (EM) carers so we went with a vague idea of needing to have our leaflets translated. We came away from the day realising that translating leaflets was the least of our priorities and that we were unconsciously incompetent when it came to supporting Ethnic Minority carers, and that ‘our door is open to all’ approach didn’t come anywhere near to meeting the needs of carers in specific EM families in West Lothian.
The next month the pandemic hit and changed the way we lived and operated. But a global pandemic wasn’t going to get in the way of our journey towards cultural competence! With the assistance of funding from the National Lottery, we set about researching the needs of EM carers in West Lothian.
We successfully applied for a micro grant from Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council during the pandemic to support the vaccination messaging in ethnic minority communities and had the feedback from one African carer letting us know that the information we provided enabled them to access the vaccine as a carer for someone shielding.
Our Chair along with a staff member are members of the Race Forum and during the pandemic shared critical information to be passed on to appropriate people.
Since beginning our work in 2020, we have seen a 300% increase in the number of EM carers being supported by COWL. These carers access support such as short break funding to enable them to have a break from caring, peer support to help alleviate social isolation and access to our mental health and wellbeing support. All of this support improves the mental and physical health of carers allowing them to look after their own health needs which in turn, helps the person they are caring for.
Part of our outreach work has been to increase the awareness of who a carer is. For many, the word “carer” isn’t translatable in their language and the Scottish social care system is alien. Getting out into communities to help people understand who a carer is in this Scottish context and what support they are entitled to has been vital.
The West Lothian Chinese Community Hub held an open day for unpaid carers across all communities in August this year – to see them use the words “unpaid carer” on their posters and to have our two logos together on flags lining the road beside the Hub was a great highlight, the day itself was a great success with over 100 attendees. The journey to supporting the Chinese Hub to successfully apply for their first ever funding was eye opening. COWL has been supporting carers for 30 years but the intersection of caring, language and cultural values brought about challenges which were new to us. We now support this group to support carers in their own community. They work with mothers of children with additional needs to address the shame the mothers feel and to support them access breaks and respite from their caring roles.
The West Lothian African Women’s Network work in partnership with COWL – they aim to ensure that Black African Women have a voice and are fully represented in leadership and have equal opportunities to participate in all aspects of society. We have worked with the group to raise the profile of who a carer is in the Scottish context and the group have been successful in applying for funding to support carers themselves within their own community.
In the last year Chinese, South Asian and Black African groups have all received funding for the first time in West Lothian to support unpaid carers. We work closely with them to deliver this support. We believe that by raising the profile of who a carer is and also using our position as an established and well respected organisation in West Lothian to raise the profile of these grassroots organisations, all works towards creating fair health for all.
Finally we recently engaged with an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion professional who acts as a ‘critical friend ‘ to our board to ensure we are considering all aspects of inclusion. There is a way to go, but we are so glad that we have started on this journey and the feedback is so positive from the people we have reached so far.
Carers of West Lothian are Finalists in the VHS Annual Poster Competition 2023. View the poster entry here.View the poster entry here.
This blog was written by Emma Watson the Development Worker, Carers of West Lothian