"We have seen opportunities for having new conversations about what really is important to people."

The ALLIANCE Carer Voices project promotes the carer voice and person centred care through its engagement with health and social care professionals and unpaid carers. The project supports rights based approaches to care which advance shared decision making and meaningful conversations.

Previously this involved face-to-face delivery of Intelligent Kindness learning and development sessions to health and social care colleagues, listening to and sharing carer experience in order to impact policy. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the Carer Voices team had to adapt their people-facing work to online.

This involved transforming Intelligent Kindness session for suitable digital delivery across a range of organisations and sectors. This included a series of 40 sessions delivered to 1,000 colleagues at Social Security Scotland. Moving to digital delivery has allowed Carer Voices to have broad and expansive reach, having now engaged with upwards of 13,500 people through over 200 sessions across Scotland, England and North America.

Carer Voices also partnered with NHS Lothian to deliver a Check in and Chat service, as well as running weekly sing-alongs in care homes, running a creative wellbeing project, and launching a digital Conversation Café for carers to attend on a monthly basis. Since its launch we have held monthly meetings with carers from across Scotland, joining us on a regular basis from Ayrshire to Shetland. Summaries of these initiatives can be viewed within this short animation film (this link will take you away from our website).

Throughout the various stages of the pandemic, the learning from the ways in which Carer Voices has adapted has shown that connections amongst people, and sharing stories about what matters and who matters has never been so important. Whether that be in uniting a grandparent and newborn grandchild in hospital over Facetime, or hearing from carers across Scotland within a short film (this link will take you away from our website), Carer Voices has understood the value that creating space for listening and having meaningful conversations brings. And that digital does not change this.

From the pandemic Carer Voices has learned that providing digital options widens access to opportunities for peer support and participation for unpaid carers, as attending a zoom meeting from home allows for flexibility around carers’ schedules. However, increased screen time and the consequent ‘Zoom fatigue’ amongst other factors does impact some levels of participation. Moving forward, Carer Voices will operate a blended approach to delivery, recognising that face-to-face is still necessary in supporting carers to share their personal stories, and to influence operational change across sectors.

Since March 2020, our partnership working with ALLIANCE member organisations working across the third sector, as well as many NHS boards, Scottish government colleagues, universities and colleges, has shown the importance of fostering shared values across sectors. This included working closely with academics at the University of the West of Scotland, University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde to share research on the impact of care home lockdowns to families. The third sector is instrumental in facilitating this and bridging gaps between organisations. Carrying out this role requires the sufficient funding and resources to match.

Overall, the pandemic has been challenging in many ways, especially for the carers and health and social care staff that Carer Voices works closely with. Within this however, we have seen opportunities for having new conversations about what really is important to people, and how as a project we can continue to listen.

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