THE Westmorland Gazette today launches a campaign to give the selfless carers of South Lakeland a much-deserved break.

The 'Give Them a Break' appeal aims to raise £20,000 in order to pay for up to 200 carers - and in some cases the cared for person - to have a one-night break at a local hotel, including dinner and breakfast.

With carers taking on a great deal of work to look after their loved one, the Gazette hopes its campaign will offer them some respite and a chance to recharge their batteries.

The Gazette is working with South Lakeland Carers to raise the funds, a local charity that works to support around 1,250 unpaid carers aged from six to 98.

"We are delighted that the ‘Give Them a Break’ campaign will recognise and reward unpaid carers," said Mike Seaton, chief executive of South Lakeland Carers said." People who, without payment, provide help and support to a parent, partner, child, relative, friend or neighbour.

"It is vital that together we raise awareness of unpaid carers and give them the opportunity to take a break from their caring role."

The charity, which is made up of both paid staff and volunteers, assesses the needs of carers on behalf of Cumbria County Council and Carers Support Cumbria to find out how they are coping and what they can do to make their lives easier.

"We take things for granted," Janice Benson, the charity's fundraising officer said. "That we can just pop out and get our hair cut, get a coffee or go shopping. Carers just often can't do that. Having a break is so important, that they can just get away on their own and have some time for themselves.

"The value of unpaid carers to society is about the same as the NHS and that's a staggering figure. If we didn't have this group of heroes doing this, what would we do? And it goes unnoticed a lot of the time I think, people tend to be very self-effacing and just get on with it."

Support might include counselling, offering carers a few hours of respite through the charity's 'sitting service', relaxation therapy, monthly support groups or putting in a place a plan in the event of an emergency that means the carer is unavailable.

"It's all about making carers lives better," said Janice."And making them better able to care for that person."

There are a number of reasons somebody might need a carer - the support might be necessary because of age, physical or mental illness, substance misuse or disability.

And in South Lakeland in particular, there are an increasing number of elderly people suffering from dementia who need to be cared for.

Many carers face both emotional and financial difficulties, with many giving up their income, education or employment prospects or pension rights to care for someone. Others attempt to juggle jobs and their caring responsibilities.

"A lot of them when they take a caring role on it takes over their life," said Mike. "They become very isolated and that can be really difficult during the caring role and when that ceases."

Janice explained that the work was often both physically and mentally tiring for carers and yet still they often thought that other people deserved a break more than they did.

And the charity continues to help carers after their role of carer ceases to help them move to the next stage of their lives.

"A lot of people that we work with wouldn't describe themselves as carers as they see it as just what they do for a loved one," said Mike. "I think they're heroes in the community. They're taking care of somebody who really needs it but they're also making a benefit to the wider community because if there wasn't someone to look after that person, where would they go? There'd be a demand on additional services."

And with carers as young as six accessing the charity's support services, the organisation spends a lot of time talking to students in school and advocating on a young carer's behalf.

"It's often said that young carers are hidden," said Janice. "So it's working with schools so that they understand what a young carer is.

"There are children who are scared to go to school because they think something might happen to mum while they're at school. So if they're not allowed a mobile phone, for example, it's how we can help to tell teachers they need that phone for a reason."

The charity already provides respite activities for young carers, taking them on trips to the Trafford Centre, Laser Quest, YMCA Lakeside Residential and Windermere Residential as well as offering peer support groups.

"I think they relax in a group of other young carers," said Janice. "They all understand what it's like. It's giving them the time to be a young person and have fun."

To donate to the Give Them a Break campaign, complete the coupon and return it to Mike Addison, Give Them a Break, The Westmorland Gazette, 1 Wainwright's Yard, Kendal, LA9 4DP.

Please make cheques payable to 'Give Them a Break'.

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