Workplace carers network: Two years on
It's now two years since we first came to NESTA with our working carers network idea.
Building on the services that we provide through the Employers for Carers forum, we were looking to develop a model with the London Fire Brigade for an employee carers network which could be tailored and rolled out to other employers in the future.
Two years on and we've come a long way.
We've met with obstacles and challenges - some things have gone to plan more than others - but on the whole our 'LFB Carers Connect' service is well on the way to formal launch at the London Fire Brigade in the spring.
So, what have we learnt along the way?
Don't underestimate the impact of "events, dear boy, events" – a hackneyed saying but still true.
Planning and process are always necessary and useful but you must also think flexibly and have a plan B. We were aware of likely challenges from external events, particularly from the downturn in the economy, so we had a flexible mindset right from the start.
We also knew that we would always face challenges in engaging with working carers, particularly face to face, as they are doubly busy people.
However, we didn't predict (perhaps could not have predicted) quite how long some activities would take to test and implement.
Tight economic times may be adding to the pressures on working carers, either in terms of their workplaces, their caring situations, or both - food for thought for the future.
Don't Assume Anything
Although we kept reminding ourselves to keep an open mind on everything, we were still surprised when our assumptions were occasionally disproved.
For example when, contrary to what we thought, carers told us that online information and resources were more what they were looking for than face to face support. In hindsight we've realised that maybe this isn't surprising given the current economic climate - online support is more anonymous, discreet and flexible.
Our service has therefore now evolved as an "anytime, anywhere" website resource which carers will be able to access wherever they are - work, home or elsewhere - and however they like - on an ongoing basis or just as a one-off.
Not everyone will be a 'joiner' so we've been doing some more thinking about how we enable people to dip in and out of the resource on an anonymous basis as well as signing up to a higher level of support through the carers network.
Involvement Doesn't Always Mean Time-Consuming
Low level engagement can still be useful both for the service user and the people or organisation providing it.
Carers and managers who have only had very limited amounts of time to engage have reported that they've found working on the project really useful, and we've also gained very valuable insights and help from their contributions.
Keep Communicating and Cover All Bases
We had communication as well as engagement as our mantra from the start.
However, as our work has progressed, we've realised its importance not only for employees and managers but also for people in back office functions such as IT and print production.
In hindsight we would have paid more - and earlier - attention to communicating with them as well as with the more obvious teams.
We've still got our work cut out for us over the next few months: Final revisions to the 'LFB Carers Connect' website resource and accompanying toolkit for line managers with LFB; formal launch there in the spring; testing and measuring the impacts within LFB during the year; testing and refining the model for roll out with other employers; offering tailored, topical and timely support to make a real difference for working carers, their families and their employers.