We’re nearly at the beginning of Carers Week (5 – 11 June), a yearly campaign led by Carers UK that focuses on raising awareness of carers in society, and the challenges unpaid carers face. According to the 2021 census there are over 5 million people across the UK who act as carers by supporting someone who is older, disabled or seriously ill. This year’s Carers Week theme is ‘recognising and supporting carers in the community’.
I want to highlight the Carer Support Group we have at the museum. It’s a project began in 2022 by Flora Rogers, a gallery assistant in the Sales and Welcome team. She’d spent her personal development time researching whether there was demand for such a group. There was – people were keen to have a group that would offer mutual support and a chance to have their own needs recognised and understood. After pitching her idea to our Equality, Inclusion and Diversity Officer, with encouraging results, she asked me to collaborate with her in bringing the idea to fruition. We’re both carers, so it made sense.
At the V&A we have many different groups for staff, ranging from a disability action group to a decolonizing reading and listening group, for discussing and debating the colonial and imperial histories of the collection. These all meet on the Microsoft Teams platform, so we decided it felt sensible to follow suit.
Both Flora and I work front-of-house at the museum, and were kindly given time away from our daily duties to work on setting up the group. The V&A facilitated special training, so we were familiar with all the functions of Microsoft Teams. Flora asked me to design the group logo, with the specification for it to include my son’s work. My son drew a person smiling, I digitized it and put five logo ideas forward. Flora chose the design that featured a rainbow.
Since the group is online, it means that staff can access it whatever time is convenient to them. A lot of carers at the V&A have flexible working patterns, so we didn’t want to dedicate ourselves to physical meet ups that not everyone can attend. We have private chat where you can join directly with all the members or create your own instant messaging chat with another member or members.
We have several channels; one is a general chat where everyone can post anything, and the rest focus on specific topics such as Wellbeing, Elderly Care, SEND, Caring from a Distance. We use the specific channels for signposting, as one of the things we learnt early was that we weren’t legally permitted to offer advice to one another but could freely share our experiences in a confidential way.
Our support group allows people to talk about what it feels like to look after someone while giving them access to the resources we’ve gathered. A number of carers who work at the museum have reasonable adjustments made for them. If someone were to share a useful adjustment that works for them, then it could prove helpful to another person in managing their own caring role and work balance. This in turn helps a lot with a carer’s overall health and wellbeing. For a front-of-house role like mine, it could be the reassurance of being permitted to carry a mobile phone with you for emergencies. Under normal circumstances it’s not allowed – I have found that such an adjustment gives me a lot of peace of mind. Feeling that we’re supported and have a good work-life balance allows for a greater commitment to the V&A.
The group has been active since January 2023, when we asked a group of carers to join and give us feedback. Our members helped shape us and make the group what it is today. Members can also propose content to include so we have an expanding wealth of resources in the group to help carers and an option to move forward to virtual meetings, should we desire.
In April we opened membership to all our front-of-house colleagues and today marks the day when we launch to the entire museum, with plans to stretch to our friends over in Young V&A and V&A East. Watch this space!