It’s 11:30 on a mild Wednesday morning and Richard* is tucking into a selection of Fox’s biscuits, whilst he passionately expresses his dismay with Crystal Palace FC’s latest performance. Richard’s mobile phone is balanced on his leg with expert precision, playing football highlights, as he dips in and out of conversation with his friends at the Carers Information Service’s (CIS) Carer’s Café. Whilst the football playback from Saturday’s match is forcing him to relive some personal pain, his commentary provides great entertainment to his friends.
Huddled around tables and relaxed on comfy chairs, a group of Croydon residents are at ease as they catch up with one another at the Carers Café. Open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10:30am to 12:30pm, volunteer befrienders such as Andrew provide a warm welcome for Croydon’s current and ex carers to meet and unwind.
With around 34,000 carers in Croydon supporting a loved one who is older, disabled or ill, the unpaid role of a carer brings great responsibility. Life as a carer can be rewarding but also demanding both physically and mentally, particularly for people who may not have support networks in place.
Understanding this, the Carers Café, filled with smiling faces and what seems to be an endless supply of biscuits and tea, effortlessly creates a space of support, comfort and understanding for carers wanting to meet people, share their stories and relax.
As a carer you just keep going. It’s lovely to come here and see friendly faces every week. It really lifts my spirit.”Liz, ex carer
For husband-and-wife Gene and Alan, the Carer’s Café has been a place of community and light respite since they started attending over seven years ago. Whilst their 38-year-old daughter who has spina bifida is cared for at home, they visit the café every Wednesday to catch up with friends they’ve made over the years. Gene said: “This place means so much to me. We’ve met some brilliant people over the years and taken trips to the beach and a few museums together. I’m grateful to have made good friends here. If we haven’t seen each other for a bit, we always check in to see if everything is alright.”
As the days become colder and the nights draw in, winter can feel particularly isolating for some. CIS recognises the importance of staying connected year-round and coupled with a range of carers support services, regular social activities such as the carers choir and an IT buddy programme are on offer for anyone wanting to take part.
Working as a central hub for information and advice, The Carers Support Centre is also home to several organisations helping Croydon carers to access local health and care services they may need. Their partnership with the Young Carers Service (Off the Record), provides support for young people in Croydon aged 7 – 25 who are caring for someone with a physical disability, mental health problem, long-term illness or learning disability. In addition to this, CIS’ work with Kids SENDIASS, offers free advice and support for parents and carers of children and young people (up to 25 years) with special educational needs and disabilities.
As the session draws to a close, today’s befriender volunteer, Andrew offers everyone a final cup of tea for the road. Andrew has been volunteering at the café since 2013 and shared stories of his travels around the world as a merchant sailor, but some of his fondest memories have been made here in Croydon. Also, once a carer for his mother, his lived experience as a carer created an easy familiarity with attendees as they talked amongst each other and said their goodbyes. Andrew said: “This place really is a lifeline for some. It’s joyful and nurturing and I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
Pop down to the Carers Information Service for the Carers Café, open on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10:30am-12:30pm.
Location: 24 George Street, Croydon CR0 1PB (opposite George Street tram stop).
Carers Information Service
The John Whitgift Foundation’s Carers Information Service offers a wide range of information, advice and support services to carers who either live in or care for someone who lives in Croydon. They also run the Carers Support Centre, the one stop support shop for carers in, Croydon.
Carers Helpline: 020 8649 9339, option 1
Drop-in: Monday-Friday, 10am-1pm
Email: [email protected]
*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.