Words by Abi Scaife
The story of the unpaid carer is not one that often gets heard. It’s not easy to devote your whole life to the care of one person - especially when it is a loved one - and depending on your situation, help or respite can be hard to come by.
Chloe’s daughter, T, was born with an incredibly rare genetic mutation called ALG13-CDG, which manifested in her having hundreds of seizures every day. Chloe became her full-time carer and, though T has been seizure-free for two years now, that isn’t the end of Chloe’s work.
“Even though she's not having seizures, it's still very demanding because she can't walk. She crawls around but she has no sense of danger,” explains Chloe. “She's on the ketogenic diet, and that's very time-consuming because you have to weigh everything to the gram.”
Chloe’s days are filled with caring for her daughter’s needs and, though parenthood is demanding even under the best of circumstances, adding onto that the duties of a full-time carer really take it to the next level.
Carefree is a charity which turns vacant accommodation into breaks for full-time carers. Plenty of rooms in hotels and other accommodations sit empty and unrented - and Carefree helps to turn that absence into an opportunity for good.
Their work is vital, as many carers - Chloe included - are rarely able to get time for themselves when they are not responsible for their loved ones. When they do - like when Chloe’s daughter attends her SEND school - it’s often only time enough to catch up on housework, run errands, or prepare for when their cared one returns.
“My mum and my nana [help] sometimes but it is quite limited,” explains Chloe. Because of her age, she is classified as a Young Carer by Carefree. “When she's at school I'm doing meals and appointments, preparing and catching up.”
Chloe was able to go on a Carefree break in September 2023 - and instead of spending all her free time catching up on jobs, because she was out of her usual environment she could allow herself to relax.
“It was really good … usually when I get a break, I try and cram as much as I can in because I don't know when my next break might be,” explains Chloe. “But this was dedicated to actually just chill. So it was a completely different experience.”
According to research, two-thirds of people in the UK will care for a loved one in their lifetime - half of us by the time we are 50. Other studies show that 71% of carers experience poor physical and mental health themselves - and 38% of young carers report having a mental health problem.
Being a full-time carer can be incredibly isolating, as well as stressful, and Carefree is on a mission to take some of that stress away. Respite care is organised while carers go on their break, meaning they can enjoy themselves without needing to worry about how things will be while they are gone.
“It makes you feel appreciated. You can refresh your mind and you go back with a different mindset,” explains Chloe. “Because obviously, it's very stressful. And just that break - even if it's one or two nights, it massively helps.”
Everyone needs a break from their job - a chance to get out of the working headspace and engage in self-care. That isn’t any different when your job is caring for another person, and everyone deserves that peace.
“People need more rest but it's very hard to get that through the social service route,” explains Chloe, who was told her daughter had to be eight years old before she would qualify for any respite care. “But even just checking in on people and asking how they are, because a lot of the time people forget about the carer.”
As a charity, Carefree enables carers to do something traditional respite care often doesn’t - whatever they want. When you finally get someone to take over your caring duties for a short while, it can be easy to fill your time with all the things you need to do, but if you’re already on holiday at least then you can relax.
“It made me feel recharged and ready to carry on and go back in a new mindset.”
You can learn more about Carefree, sign up your rental accommodation, or recommend a carer by visiting the Carefree website.
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
Carer’s Trust. This is the largest network of organisations across the UK that specialises in the support and well-being of unpaid carers. Support them here.
Carer’s UK. This charity is here for unpaid carers with expert information, advice and support, and also campaigns to make life better for carers. Find out more
Carers First. Carers First works directly with, and for carers, providing personalised information and tailored support. Learn more here.