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Stepping Out: Walks for Carers

Sheppey: 27 July 2018

Strategic ice creams were necessary to cool down the Stepping Out walkers during their annual visit to Sheppey on one of the hottest days of the year – 34°. It was a testimony to the popularity of the walks that over 40 people (with sensible hats, water and in a few cases parasols) came along.

It was the first occasion that Stepping Out had teamed up with a new community support group, the Friendly Faces of Kent, founded by Sheerness residents and carers, Lesley Nowell and Sue Mitchell, to give an active outlet to local people who find themselves at a loss for company.

The group has quickly become such a success on Sheppey that their membership has soared to nearly 200. The inspiration came from Lesley and Sue themselves, who realised their role as a carer had taken a toll on their day-to-day contact with other people.

“I care for my mum and dad and I discovered as a carer you can become quite isolated yourself,” said Lesley.  “Friends and family can stick by you for a little while but gradually drift off. I chatted to a few people in the same position and we said we'd love to get together, have a coffee, just go somewhere and do something light-hearted. Rather than sitting around a table and talking about misery why not go out and have fun.

“Then someone said: “Do you have to be a carer or someone cared for to join?” We thought no, not really. Anyone can come along who feels lonely or isolated or just wants to meet other people. Any age group, male/female, it doesn't matter,  just come along and join in. And now here we are, The Friendly Faces of Kent, with 172 members on Facebook.”

The Group offers all kinds of social activities including cream teas, bowling, colour therapy, computer courses and teamed up with the Stepping Out Carers Walking project, guided by the Kent Ramblers, to go for a stroll along the Leas at Minster or enjoy the longer lakeside walk around Bartons Coastal Park.

“We found that some people are happy to talk online but still frightened to go out,” continued Lesley. “It is a matter of confidence. But when we mentioned that we were just going for a walk, people can be much more open to that. We had one lady join us on the walk who hadn't been out for an incredible six years. Yet thanks to the Stepping Out group she managed to walk up to the Leas. She sat and had an ice cream with her two daughters who are her carers. She said that just to be out in the fresh air, watching people going by, some of them saying ‘hi, stroking a dog – these were all things she hadn't been able to do for years and years. It was a monumental thing for her.

“Afterwards, she said: ‘Thank you for inviting me because I feel like its opened a door.

“That's why we're doing this. At the moment my friend Sue and I are funding this ourselves -  the cost of tea and coffee and things – with the help of some of other lovely people in the community. We have plans to expand to Sittingbourne and the Medway, hopefully Chatham. It means seeking out extra funding but the evidence that it makes such a massive difference to lonely and isolated people is spurring us on.”

The Friendly Faces of Kent group meet first Thursday of the month at the Healthy Living Centre, Sheerness 10am-11.45am.  For more information: www.friendlyfacesofKent.co.uk