Scotland’s carers are being offered “astronomy respite breaks” on an island in the Inner Hebrides by the Royal Astronomical Society.
The four-night sessions, including talks from leading astronomers such as Professor John Brown, the 10th Astronomer Royal for Scotland, are part of the build-up to the RAS’s 200th anniversary legacy celebrations aiming to bring stargazing to a wide range of people.
Campaigners say unpaid carers are constantly on the “verge of sheer exhaustion”, filling gaps in local authority provision, and can go without even 24 hours away from the stress for years at a time.
Edinburgh-based Care For Carers, a charity specialising in providing bespoke breaks for carers, has been awarded £100,000 and is the only project in Scotland receiving RAS 200 funding.
The astronomy breaks start with an overnight stay in Oban before the off-duty carers take the ferry to Coll, where they stay in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, learn to use telescopes, have discussions with guest speakers, attend workshops on subjects such as astrophotography and geophysics, and go on tours of the island.
There is also “down time” to just enjoy time away from home and responsibilities.
Coll was awarded “dark skies” status by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2013, meaning it is one of the best stargazing locations in the UK.
Carers say the breaks make them “think bigger” and re-energise them.
Dr Robert Massey, acting executive director of the RAS, said the Coll trips were a “resounding success”.
“The RAS is a charity, and we’re well aware of our obligations to deliver tangible benefits to the wider public in return for that privileged status. RAS 200: Sky and Earth, part of the celebrations in the run-up to our 200th anniversary in 2020, is a central part of that.
“There have been very few projects in science public engagement in the past working with groups, and the society was delighted to be able to support this work.
“RAS 200 is very much about seeing more people, including those who face challenges in their everyday lives, inspired by astronomy and space, and it’s great to see the carers taking part with such enthusiasm.”
Dipa Ward, short break development officer at Care for Carers, said: “The Royal Astronomical Society has placed its trust and confidence in us to put together a brand new programme for carers. The majority of carers taking part are coping with multiple, complex and enduring caring situations.
“The astronomy breaks let them imagine the world around them with awe and interest, refuelling their confidence and desire to enjoy activities and subjects they thought they could never engage with or understand.”