Story By Andy Graham
It’s one of the ironies of life that if you ask someone if they know an unpaid carer, they’ll often say no. Even when they’re sat next to the person they look after.
That’s the situation that sometimes faces Carer Hub volunteer Kevin O’Callaghan, who helps support carers at the Royal United Hospital in Bath. People rarely want to sing their own praises, he finds, or ask for help.
But life is full of surprises and when I go to visit Kevin in the hospital atrium, we are immediately met by a couple from Wiltshire. The husband is looking after his wife and his mother and, though in good humour, seems tired and in need of somewhere to turn.
Making a referral to his local carers centre is easily done, but it’s not always the case. Kevin has found that some people can be defensive, especially if they think you want money. Luckily, with his 34 years in sales and marketing at BT, Kevin is quickly able to diffuse the issue.
As we go out to chat to visitors, he admits that getting a positive response is often reliant on the question you ask.
“I used to just say, ‘are you a carer'” says Kevin. “Often people would just say ‘no’. Then I started to ask if they knew any carers, and that opened up a conversation which could often lead in a more positive direction.”
And indeed, as we move through the coffee shop, we get to hear a lot of fascinating stories.
“You’ve got to be careful not to make assumptions,” says Kevin. “I approached a man sat next to a women in a wheelchair. When I asked him if he was a carer, his wife piped up that in fact she was, caring for her husband who had dementia.”
Later, we make our way up to the cardiac ward, where visiting is in full flow. The ward staff seem friendly and the ward provides multiple opportunities for the former account manager.
“I tend to leave the wards until later in my shift,” he says. “Ward rounds are in the morning and you’re more likely to meet carers in the afternoon.”
Despite the serious purpose, there is much humour on the wards and the visiting relatives seem in good spirits. One woman from Trowbridge has survived multiple cancers and now has a heart condition. Her husband runs a small business and although he can’t see himself as a carer, admits he could use some help.
Before we finish for the day, we go back to the coffee shop. Kevin sets himself a target of around 8 contacts and, like all good salesmen, likes to meet this self-imposed quota.
“My record is 32,” he says, “but I was working with another volunteer at the time.”
Closing the Hub portal for the day, he reflects on his role, which he discovered while attending the hospital for treatment. “I enjoy it,” he says. “It’s as much or as little as you want to make it, and it’s very social.”
If you are interested in volunteering for the Carer Hub, call us on 0800 0388 885 or drop us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org