A public vote closing Monday will determine if a Kingston charity wins a £50,000 grant from The People’s Projects, said the charity’s chief executive.
Kate Dudley heads the Kingston Carers’ Network, which is one of five London charities shortlisted to win the grant funded by the Big Lottery Fund, the National Lottery, ITV and STV. Winners will be chosen by public vote: the top three will each take home a £50,000 prize, while the two runners-up will each earn £5.000.
Dudley said the charity had never had such an opportunity.
“We’ve had small donations, but this is definitely the most significant, so we’ve got to make the top three,” she said. “It sounds a lot of money, £50.000, but we have already spent it in our minds.”
With the grant, the Kingston Carers’ Network will be able to provide a full roster of fitness- and nutrition-related activities for adult and young carers, all aimed to improve carers’ physical and mental health.
Dudley said: “In terms of public health, this project is really important. Having to send a loved one to residential care or hospital because a carer is unhealthy won’t help anybody.
“If we can ensure that carers can carry on caring, that helps everyone.”
The charity will put the money toward 150 group fitness classes over the course of a year. It will equip a gym with cardiovascular equipment for carers to use at their leisure, and four carers will be trained as fitness champions so that they can lead exercise classes for their fellow carers in the future. A part-time wellness coordinator will also be brought onto the charity’s staff to put the programme schedule together.
Dudley said the charity had run a similar, smaller-scale programme on a £10,000 grant it received in June 2015 from The Big Lottery Fund’s Awards for All funding scheme, and carers experienced a wealth of benefits.
Sharon Zeqiri, 56, is one of the carers who has taken classes through Kingston Carers’ Network. She said fitness had helped her retain a sense of normality in her routine whilst caring for her 83-year-old mother who suffers from schizophrenia.
Zeqiri said: “When you become a carer, all of the sudden all previous structure disappears. If exercise had been important to you, which it had been for me, having these regular classes in your diary means you do go to them and they are very helpful.”
Chris Robertson, director of the fitness-training organisation Don’t Tone Alone, worked with the Kingston Carers’ Network to create the charity’s initial fitness programme. He saw participants’ physical and mental health improve along with their sense of stability.
Robertson said: “I used to care for my great aunt who suffered from dementia, so I know it is very easy for carers to amalgamate with the person they care for. In doing so, they neglect themselves and they can’t sustain it.
“Through training, we saw how much healthier and mentally focused carers became. Their emotional well-being improved, too.”
This initial training programme put the Kingston Carers’ Network in the running for The People’s Project’s big prize, Dudley said. The lottery approached the charity and asked it to put forward two proposals for the £50,000 grant before the project was shortlisted in December 2016.
Even if the charity is unsuccessful in its bid, Dudley hopes its efforts will shed light on the amount of support that carers need — but rarely receive.
She said: “It’s important we raise awareness to support carers. We have to make sure carers are listened to in hospital when their person is being discharged and listened to by GPs because carers are always the people who know the person they care for best.”
Dudley estimates that 14,000 people in the borough are carers. The Kingston Carers’ Network, established in 1994, currently supports about 2,500 adult carers and 500 young carers.
Voting for The People’s Project will remain open until Monday 3 April 2017. Visit the Kingston Carers’ Network page to read more about the project and vote.