Members of Shama Womens Centre's 'Carers Matter' project enjoy a cookery class together

Recent findings from Carers UK show an estimated 4.5 million people in the UK have become unpaid carers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.* When combined with the 9.1 million unpaid carers who were already caring before the outbreak, it means that around 1 in 5 people across the UK are now classified as unpaid carers.

With this in mind, the work of local projects like the Shama Women’s Centre in Leicester has never been more important. Founded in 1985 by a group of Leicester women, their mission is to empower local women from different backgrounds allowing them to become socially, economically and educationally active.

In 2019 the centre started the project Carers Matter with funding from People’s Health Trust using money raised by Health Lottery East Midlands. The project is for women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who are carers. By providing a range of services, from peer support groups to cooking classes, counselling sessions or holistic therapies, the project has been at the forefront of supporting the mental health and wellbeing of carers by providing a safe space for members to meet and socialise. Currently, the project helps around 70 local carers in a variety of ways.

Social isolation is a huge problem, particularly for carers, which will only be heightened by COVID-19. During the lockdown the project has kept in touch with participants through WhatsApp and telephone support, including peer support and counselling. They also plan to take some of their workshops such as jewellery making and cooking online.

Recent reports from Public Health England indicate that minority ethnic communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19*. When asked about whether the group has seen a rise in members experiencing mental health concerns, Kudeja Amer-Sharif, CEO, tell us, “Yes, we have seen an increase in anxiety and depression from carers due to lockdown and as a result of bereavements within the local BAME community.”

The importance of the project is reaffirmed by Shaheena, a participant in the Carers Matter project. She told us, “I have been a carer for my teenage son since he was born. It made me feel very lonely and depressed at times as I didn't get the chance to do things for myself.

On combatting isolation, she adds, “Since I've been coming to the carers cooking group at Shama I've been able to meet other carers who feel the same, make new friends, and learn lots of new recipes, which I try out at home. I feel I can switch off and be myself. I've also managed to have a few pampering sessions which have helped me relax. I feel so much better and grateful to Shama for remembering carers.”