Since 2016, Birmingham Museums Trust has been running a Creative Carers Programme designed to support carers – anyone who is supporting friends, family or neighbours unpaid – by offering free creative activities. There’s lots of evidence that doing something creative can improve your wellbeing, so we’ve been using art and history to give carers a little bit of time for themselves, a respite from their caring responsibilities, and a chance to relax with people who understand their situation.
In Birmingham alone there are over 100,000 carers, and research by Carers UK has shown that carers are more likely to suffer from poor physical and mental health as well as being more isolated, and more likely to be in financial hardship.
With the current pandemic situation, we’re very aware that carers are in an even more vulnerable and isolated position. With many carers having to self-shield to protect themselves and those they care for, there’s little opportunity to get out into the sunshine, and of course no chance at the moment to meet up with friends for a cup of tea, a chat, or just a break from responsibilities.
Usually, our Creative Carers sessions take place at one of Birmingham Museums Trust’s nine sites, and are based around an art or history activity – we’ve tried paper marbling, Egyptian papyrus painting, weaving, clay modelling, jewellery making, creative writing and more, as well as pizza and bread making at Sarehole Mill (a definite favourite!). Every session is free for carers and we provide all materials and plenty of tea and cake!
Although we can’t meet up at the moment, we didn’t want to leave our carers groups alone at this time, and so as with so many people and groups, we’ve been looking for new ways to connect up and check in.
Every week we’re emailing all the carers we’ve worked with, firstly just to say hello – everyone needs a friendly wave at times! The emails also contain lists of things to do, from podcasts to try, to virtual museum tours, to creative activities that can be done at home with minimal materials. We know that not all carers have internet access, so for those who can’t access emails, we’re sending out regular letters too (stocking up on stamps a month ago was a brainwave!), so everyone can stay connected, and know that we’re thinking of them.
What’s been really rewarding is hearing back from the carers – it really brightens up the inbox! One carer said “Thank you so much for your lovely emails. They really are a treat to receive” which definitely made our day! We’re also receiving images of creative activities that people have been up to at home, from felt hangings to Easter bonnets, as well as photos people are taking of spring flowers on their daily walks. Being able to be part of this shared community is fantastic, and is keeping us all going until we can all meet up in person again – and we can guarantee that the cake at our first physical meeting will be amazing!
While we’re all learning new ways of working, we’re also using WhatsApp to continue one of our other regular creative wellbeing groups, CreateSpace, with new creative challenges set each week, and group members and staff supporting each other.
We know that creativity can boost anyone’s wellbeing, so we’ll be posting creative ideas that you can try from home on a blogpost soon – we hope you can find a few minutes to make time for yourself with one of our ideas. Do share what you’re doing with us on Twitter @BMTEngage, and we’ll look forward to seeing you in one of our museums again in the future!