An outreach support project for island carers will definitely begin again this summer, after its funding gap was closed by a donation of £3,000 from community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust.

The Carers Trainers Project is run by Western Isles Community Care Forum – the umbrella organisation set up for voluntary care organisations – who are delighted to have secured the project for another year, beginning in June.

The donation to the project, which costs £64,000 a year, also secures two jobs – one full-time post in Lewis and Harris and a part-time post in Uist and Barra.

Peggy Mackay, co-ordinator of the Western Isles Community Care Forum, said the grant from Point and Sandwick Trust was “fantastic”, adding: “That was the last bit of funding we needed so that guarantees the project and guarantees employment for two people.

“I was delighted. I thought, ‘phew! – it can carry on.’ It was a big relief and it’s an excellent project because this is about being able to sustain carers.”

Donald John MacSween, general manager of Point and Sandwick Trust, said: “PST are especially pleased to support the Western Isles Community Care Forum and the vital work that they do in helping to underpin the network of carers in the Western Isles as they strive to give an excellent service to their clients against a background of poor pay, poor conditions of service and poor-to-non-existent career structures.

“Care workers occupy the front line in caring and supporting elderly and vulnerable people and they are always at the end of the queue when it comes to pay, training and promotion. Care of the elderly and vulnerable should never be led by financial considerations, should always be available, and free, at the point of need. The work of Western Isles Community Care Forum deserves support and Point and Sandwick Trust are very pleased to do our bit to help.”

Co-ordinator Peggy described the Carers Trainers Project as providing “emotional support” to carers, as well as being a signposting and training service.

One of the main benefits is signposting to the grants available directly from the Community Care Forum for respite breaks. Short Breaks grants of £150 are accessed through another project run by the forum and about 39 were given out in the past year.

These grants are distributed four times a year and applications are scored, so those who do the most caring are most likely to get the award. They can be spent in a wide variety of ways – on evening classes, gym memberships, pampering vouchers or a short break – as long as it gives the carer a break from their caring role.

Another service which can be signposted is Eolas – the Community Care Forum’s social programme of funded coffee mornings and afternoon teas at venues in Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra every second month.

The Eolas outings are hosted by the staff on the Carers Trainers Project, who also ensure that cover is put in place for the carer, so they can leave the cared-for person with peace of mind.

The next phase of Eolas meetings began this week with a gathering in the Woodlands Centre in Stornoway and Castlebay Hotel in Barra on Tuesday (March 19).

Other sessions were scheduled for the Harris Hotel on Thursday, the Borrodale Hotel and Borve House Hotel next Tuesday and the Crown Hotel on Wednesday.

Full details are on the community care forum website, www.wiccf.co.uk, and information will also be on the forum’s Facebook page.

Eolas was set up in direct response to a request from carers themselves three years ago and the cost is met by the project. Peggy said: “Carers were telling us, ‘I just want to meet other carers…’ The idea is that by going to a relaxed setting carers are more likely to relax and benefit from the time out from their caring role. Carers can support each other by sharing experiences and information and new, lasting friendships can be formed.”

The forum runs other projects including ‘Fois’, which is free self-catering breaks for carers throughout the isles in the winter months. There are 12 places available, across Lewis, Harris, North Uist and Skye, thanks to the generosity of the proprietors.

To be eligible, a carer must be on the Community Care Forum’s register. The Forum also sends out newsletters and information about events such as public talks and consultations.

The Community Care Forum website also hosts a Personal Assistant Directory, which can be accessed by members of the public looking for paid help.

The Carers Trainers Project is one of their main projects, though, and it also provides a direct emotional support service and training, as well as signposting/referral to other services or grants.

Training is provided in areas such as moving and handling and footcare – and the project also provides this training to other voluntary care organisations on the island.

Staff working on the Carers Trainers Project are Sarah Mitchell in Lewis and Harris and Linda Macdonald in Uist and Barra.

“Sometimes when they go on visits,” said Peggy, “it helps the carer just to have someone to talk to – particularly when you’re caring for somebody with dementia, as a lot of people don’t go visiting anymore. We can have a moan at home about a bad day at work but the majority of carers can’t, so it’s beneficial to them to be able to talk to somebody and release their frustrations and anxieties.  Often carers just want a bit of reassurance regarding their role.

“The conditions of the cared-for person are so varied and the needs of every carer are so different. The caring role is unique to everybody but help is available. Even if a carer doesn’t need help just now, as long as they know we’re here and they can call on us any time. It’s like an insurance policy, in a sense.”

The Community Care Form was set up in 1992 and shares knowledge across all the voluntary care organisations that are members. Its core work is funded by the Integrated Joint Board but funding for projects has to be sourced separately.

“We have worries in this financial climate,” admitted Peggy.

“We’ve put in an application for the coming year but don’t know the outcome yet and it’s a concern to all voluntary care organisations, not just ourselves. It’s a lot of work to find the funding just to keep ourselves afloat and very time-consuming.”

Peggy appealed to anyone with caring responsibilities to register with the forum “and see what we can do for them”. She added: “Our Carers Trainers Project is almost like a one-stop shop for carers. If you’ve got any questions, need support with your caring role, if you want training or just emotional support… it’s almost like a mobile carers centre.”

“We listen to whatever problems they have and if we don’t have the answer, the staff will research the issue and then go back to the carer with information.”

Photograph: A social gathering in the Woodlands Centre as part of the Eolas project. Sarah Mitchell from the Carers Trainers Project is on the far right of the picture – taken by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos.