For the past 20 years, South and Vale Carers Centre has supported hundreds of unpaid carers across the south of the county.

As they celebrate their 20th anniversary this year, they have launched a fundraising appeal to ensure the centre survives.

The Lydalls Road, Didcot, centre needs to raise £1,000 for each year it has supported the community – a total of £20,000 – or face closure.

Oxford Mail:

The centre in Didcot.

Its leaders have struggled with funding since cash support from Oxfordshire County Council stopped in 2011.

Centre development officer Tori Bigge said: “If we don’t receive the funding, then that’s it sadly for the organisation.

“Closing would definitely affect the carers because it would put a lot of pressure on them and some of them won’t be able to care for the person they are caring for.”

Centre plans were revealed in 1994 after council social services became concerned about the number of unpaid carers in the county.

At the time, it was estimated there were about 20,000 unpaid carers across South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse who required ongoing support.

After successfully launching a similar centre in Banbury, council staff invited members of the community to discuss opening another.

The centre was then officially opened on June 24, 1994, by the director of Carers National Committee Jill Pitkeathley OBE.

Centre staff and trustees set out to provide financial and emotional support to as many unpaid carers in the south of the county as possible.

Back then, the centre had just one manager and one secretary, but nine now run the centre.

Manager John Tabor said: “It’s very humbling to think that we have been around for 20 years.

“We are very ambitious about wanting to do more for carers.

“We know that we really are needed and we also know that there’s a lot more that can be done to support unpaid carers.”

But there are not any plans for big celebrations to mark the milestone as funds are limited.

Mr Tabor, from Wantage, said: “We want to be spending our money on helping our carers so we can’t be that flamboyant.

“That’s the dilemma for us because we want to be able to shout it from the rooftops.”

Last year the centre supported more than 800 unpaid carers and about 250 of those were young carers between the age of eight and 17. But on average the centre receives 3,500 enquiries from unpaid carers each year.

A lack of funding means the centre can only afford to support just a small percentage of the unpaid carers requesting support.

Miss Bigge said: “Sadly we aim to support a lot of them as much as we possibly can. We are quite a small team so we can’t give all the support we wish we could.”

Carers receiving help are selected on the basis of their location, and often those living in other parts of the county are pointed to further services.

Oxford Mail:

Young carers support worker, Christina Pusey with young carers, Jordan King, 13, left, and Steven Slade, 15.

It costs about £200,000 to run the centre’s projects each year. But despite receiving funding from town, district and parish councils, centre staff are still left needing to raise a minimum of £80,000 each year.

The centre supports adult and younger carers with their Adult Outreach Project and their Young Carers Project.

All are provided with free confidential information, advice and ongoing emotional support over the telephone or face-to-face.

Carers are often regularly visited at their homes or at a location they are confortable with.

Adults are supported when completing their benefit claim forms to ensure they are receiving all funds they are entitled to.

They are also represented at benefit appeals and tribunals if necessary.

The Young Carers Project has been running since 1996 and outreach worker Christina Pusey works with the young people using the centre’s services.

The young carers help parents or siblings with a physical illness or disability, mental health problem or those dependent on alcohol or drugs.

Miss Pusey said: “They often feel responsible and if they are caring it can bring them closer to their family but they often feel stressed and lonely. They are often young people who are hidden in the family home.

“They are behind the scenes providing a lot of support and the emotional pressure of that can be quite large.

“I have just been amazed by the resilience and maturity of the young people about how understanding and how sensitive they are about the cared for.

“It can be difficult to see young children in this difficult situation at home and that’s why we want to keep providing a service for them to get them out and provide that respite for them.”

As part of the Young Carers Project, the centre organises 24 trips each year to offer them a chance to get respite from their caring responsibilities.

Previous trips have included laser quest and cinema outings, as well as visits to Thorpe Parke and Cotswold Wildlife Park.

Miss Pusey said: “It’s really a chance for them to be children again, to relax and have fun with each other.”

  • For more information or to donate, call Tori Bigge on 01235 510212.

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