ISOLATED carers looking after spouses, relatives, parents and friends are being given vital mental health support thanks to a Covid fund grant.

Carer Support Wiltshire has been awarded £8,500 from Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund to run online resilience workshops to combat mental health problems among carers after ten months of lockdown.

The fund has distributed more than £1m for more than 200 groups across the county since it was launched last March.

The Devizes-based group, which works all over the county, normally runs support groups, cafes, training courses and advice sessions but has had to suspend all its face-to-face activities.

Community fundraising and events officer, Henry Street said courses are badly needed because research has shown carers’ mental health is worsening.

“It is clear that these challenges are not short-lived or easy to resolve, and they can have devastating, long-term consequences,” he said.

“There is a fear of Covid, a fear of the person you are caring for becoming ill, it is all part of the mental strain that has come at carers from every direction during this pandemic.”

The 2011 census found there were 47,000 carers in Wiltshire but YouGov research for Carers Week last May found the number of people caring during the pandemic had risen by 50 per cent due to the extra number of people shielding and the closure of support services.

Around a third of the people on Carer Support Wiltshire’s books are over 70 but many are much younger, an estimated 700 carers in the county are under 18.

“We have young adult carers of 16 and 18 young who were already feeling like they are missing out on life experiences anyway. Now they can’t see their friends at all,” said Mr Street.

He said the workshops will help up to 70 people find ways to deal with their anxiety and stress. “We are getting a lot of requests for counselling at the moment so we are trying to build up the support we can provide virtually to replace as much of what we were doing for people in the real world as we can,” he said.

“The idea of the workshops is to give people who are struggling some coping mechanisms. They can speak to a counsellor to help them deal with the situations that are causing them stress and anxiety. We want to help them build up some resilience to get them through this time.”

The group has been trying to replicate the support carers get from cafes in places Chippenham, Trowbridge, Bradford on Avon, Royal Wootton Basset, Devizes and Salisbury but, said Mr Street, they are not a substitute for regular face to face contact. “People are suffering isolation and loneliness and they are feeling financial pressures,” he added.

“Our café and support groups give carers a reason to get out and about, meet other people for a cup of tea and chat somewhere that is familiar and friendly. We try to offer a replacement in the virtual cafés but that doesn’t suit everyone, either because of a technology barrier or they just don’t get what they need from it.”

As well as the cafes, the group has been operating a telephone befriending scheme and a help and advice line. This week it is trying a virtual version of its regular cookery workshop for male carers. “We are sending out a meal box and then we’ll cook along with them, it should be quite fun,” said Mr Street. “We are just trying to work out new ways to communicate and get to know people.”

He said the mental workshops are an important step to preparing people for when lockdown ends. “The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the challenges carers face. Research shows they are spending more time caring for their loved ones, are taking fewer or no breaks, suffering greater financial hardship and struggling with emotional stress. Their mental and physical health has worsened, and they are at greater risk of suffering a crisis now than before the pandemic.

“The grant has been transforming because it has allowed us to offer people extra help instantaneously and it will make a difference to people to know that there are people out there who can give them the help they need.”

Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “Carer Support Wiltshire does an incredible job in helping people who are left almost ‘hidden’ by the role they take on. The group has shown tremendous determination and innovation to continue that at a time when its fundraising has been so badly hampered and demand has risen.

“We are so pleased our grant is helping to provide this support for Wiltshire’s carers because mental health is going to be one of the hidden costs of the pandemic. That’s why our fund is so important.”

To make a donation to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to