Hi, I’m Pam Harris and I’ve been a member of Durham County Carers Support for what seems a lifetime.
Andrea Emerson asked me to do this case study, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to say, but here goes…
I became involved with Durham County Carers Support around 15 years ago when my partner was diagnosed with dementia. It was when Derwentside branch was based at Delves Lane.
The help they gave me with benefits information to help in my caring role was invaluable.
I was reluctant to join any group at first, but after reading a newsletter, realised there was a group for Carers looking after people with dementia near me, so I decided to give it a go.
When I first joined, I was able to leave John at home by himself. I found the information and help I received from the group so helpful, especially listening to other Carers’ stories and realising I was not alone. We had guest speakers, one in particular was a Professor from DeNDRoN (Dementia and Neurodegenerative Disease Research Network).
At this time John was in denial about his dementia, but I left the leaflets lying around and he started reading them. That’s when he realised and admitted he had it. He decided to sign up for this research, leaving a small sample of his brain and spinal cord when he died to help others in the future. I also signed up and this was the start of my volunteering by becoming a member of their PPI (Patient & Public Involvement Panel).
John’s Dementia worsened and eventually I couldn’t leave him alone for his own safety, so I managed to get someone to sit with him when I went to Carer meetings, the highlight of my month.
I was at one meeting and the Care Support worker asked if I would like to go to Alnwick Gardens, as there was a trip there for Carers Week. I didn’t know anyone going, but plucked up the courage and signed up for the trip. I managed to get John looked after for the day and travelled to Consett to get the trip bus. When I arrived at the bus station, there was a lovely group of ladies already waiting for the bus and they all introduced themselves as members of Consett Carers Group. They were really friendly and put me at ease. I stayed with them all day and made some new friends – little did I know, I was making friends for life, who support me through some really tough times. The dementia group disbanded, so I didn’t think twice about joining the Consett group.
John’s Dementia became worse, he became violent and my health was beginning to deteriorate, so sadly, he was sectioned and ended up in care. I felt so guilty, that I had let him down, but the support from the Consett group was amazing. It is one of the largest groups involved with Durham County Carers and when I was approached to become a volunteer I jumped at the chance, as I wanted to give something back… if I could help others like they had helped me I would be happy.
John died in September 2018, but I have stayed with the Consett group as a volunteer. We welcome past Carers as well as present Carers, as they can empathise with new recruits and share stories with others and advise from their own experience.
Last month, Andrea approached me to volunteer on a new project that had received some funding. Once again, I jumped at the opportunity.
The project is KIT (Keeping in Touch), it involves volunteers working a few hours a week contacting Carers on the database, checking they are managing in their caring roll because of lockdown, seeing if they need anything and letting them know Durham County Carers Support is still open if they need help.
I thoroughly enjoy my volunteer roll with Durham County Carers Support. All the staff I have been involved with, especially Andrea Emerson and Dawn Mallows, have always been friendly and helpful. I am not able to work due to ill health, but feel as though I have a purpose in life. It has also given me the confidence to register as a Research Champion with the National Institute of Research.