How do you like to spend your weekends? I enjoy clearing my head after a busy week at work with a cycle along the coast followed by an afternoon playing on Portobello beach with my wee boy and catching up with friends. Simple pleasures that, like many others, I’m grateful for but often take for granted.
Through my work with Edinburgh Leisure’s Active Communities Team, I’m aware that for the 788,000 unpaid carers in Scotland, 29,000 of whom are young carers, weekends aren’t always quite as relaxing.
Caring for a friend or family member can be a full time job. The reality for many carers is that they’re so busy with helping the person they care for to wash and get dressed, picking up prescriptions, arranging appointments and picking up groceries, that they have little time for themselves.
Unpaid caring is a key issue of our time and something that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Scotland’s ageing population, with people living longer with multiple health conditions, means that it’s only going to become more common for people to take on a caring role at some point in their lives.
Caring responsibilities can understandably take a toll on the carer’s health and wellbeing. It’s important that carers take the time to look after themselves too. After all, if you’re not taking care of yourself then taking care of others is much harder. One of the best things that carers can do for themselves is to stay active. As well as helping to prevent and manage a range of health conditions, being active can also relieve stress, improve mood, encourage clear thinking and allow them to meet new people. For young carers looking after a sibling or parent, it allows them to enjoy their childhood and forget about their caring responsibilities.
Being active doesn’t need to mean running a marathon or joining a bootcamp. Going for a brisk walk around the block, cycling short journeys instead of driving and doing online exercise classes are simple ways that carers can get active in their own time.
At Edinburgh Leisure, we are a charity on a mission to help everyone in Edinburgh to lead happier, healthier and more active lives. We are proud to provide support to people in the community who face barriers to being active, including carers, through a range of initiatives designed to protect and improve their health and wellbeing.
We recognise that caring can take its toll financially, with a recent study estimating that more than 300,000 people in Scotland have had to quit their job to care for a relative, so we are committed to allowing carers to access our sports and leisure facilities for free when accompanying the person they care for. Our carers go free policy means that if they want to swim alongside them or attend a yoga class together, they only pay for the cost of the person they care for.
Carers can also benefit from our Community Access Programme, which supports community groups and charities to make physical activity more accessible for the people they work with. We’ve partnered with two local carer organisations, Vocal and Edinburgh Young Carers, to give carers access to our city-wide facilities without worrying about the cost.
Through the Community Access Programme, we deliver weekly swimming lessons for young carers at Portobello Swim Centre. Since they started in late 2017, nearly 30 young carers have learned to swim. Tina Hedley of Edinburgh Young Carers said: “The young carers we work with don’t have the same opportunities to be active as their peers. Before starting swimming lessons, many of them had never been to a swimming pool before and were frightened of getting in the water.
“As well as teaching them to swim, the lessons have helped them to improve their mental wellbeing, become more confident and learn an important life skill. It has been incredible to watch them find something they enjoy and look forward to each week. Last summer we took them on a day trip to North Berwick and they couldn’t wait to swim in the sea and show off their new skills!
“Being active is so beneficial for the young carers we work with and we’re so grateful to Edinburgh Leisure for giving them this opportunity.”
Seeing the happiness that swimming brings to these young carers’ lives makes me proud to work for a charity committed to creating opportunities for everyone in Edinburgh to enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle. If you are a carer and would like more information on how we can support you, contact Phil Trodden at email@example.com or call 0131 548 2100.
Phil Trodden is an Active Communities development officer with Edinburgh Leisure.