Ending the isolation suffered by vulnerable people has been the driving motivation for charity Carr Gomm over the past 25 years. Kim McAllister spoke to CEO Lucy Wren about the organisation she founded and her lifelong passion for social justice

 

In 25 years of operation, the charity Carr Gomm has never said ‘no’ to supporting someone, and chief executive Lucy Wren can’t think of a situation in which they would.

“We’re the type of organisation that’s like a dog with a bone, we will make sure people aren’t suffering. If you need somebody in your life to help you, for whatever reason, then we would definitely want to see what we could do. That’s what being person-centred means,” she said.

Wren co-founded the charity, which now operates across Scotland and supports over 3,000 people every day, because of a passion for social justice and the strong belief that people deserve individualised care and support.

In 1998 the phrase ‘person-centred care’ wasn’t common, many institutions and hospitals were closing and the need to integrate people into communities was not well understood.

Named in honour of philanthropist Richard Carr-Gomm, who had a desire to eliminate loneliness throughout society, Carr Gomm began working in East Lothian and supporting people to live their best possible life. In 2022 the charity spent £25 million supporting people across the country in areas like autism, dementia, homelessness, learning disability, mental health, physical disability and respite.

“I didn’t have a particular personal experience, I just think, as a person, I hate injustice in the world. I felt very strongly that we shouldn't be isolating people within communities – as a society, that shouldn’t be the case, that we have people who feel that way,” Wren said

“And there can be all sorts of reasons why people feel isolated; because of mental health, because of a learning disability or physical disability that limits you, or it could be for all sorts of other social reasons you have found yourself isolated and lonely. 

“Our role is just helping individuals to work out themselves, with support, how they can live successfully, or make connections so they can have positive relationships. Really what we do is build good relationships with people so that they can build good relationships with others.”

The charity works with many partners, including GP practices, hospitals, pharmacies and social workers, as well as other third sector organisations. who can refer their patients or families for support. 

This could take the form of 24 hour care or several supports each day or week, respite, advice or local clubs that promote walking, cooking or woodwork.

It depends on the area and the needs of the community, for example there are several horticulture projects that support people to grow, cook and eat together, and there is a ‘Men in Sheds’ group aimed at men who might otherwise find themselves suffering from loneliness, can gather to make things and chat.

Over the years the charity has grown and now employs 1200 people throughout Scotland practicing a variety of specialist skills and approaches.

“They're all incredible people, you know, they're just remarkable people who understand the value base, understand the philosophy, and are so skilled and able at building that relationship with people that can change lives,” Wren said.

Some come with nursing or social work experience, but the charity offers full training. Their priority is that their staff have the right attitude and understand the person-centred approach. It even has a ‘Futures’ innovation programme that funds ideas staff have to improve outcomes for people – like establishing a walking group, fishing club or even just building a shelter to prevent the Scottish weather interrupting.

Wren cites an example of a person supported who is quadriplegic. He requires 24 hour care but the charity recognises that his carers are also his social circle and so takes care to place the right carers who also meet his social and intellectual preferences.

“I think what's amazing about this job is that you see transformations, you see transitions, and you've been a key part of doing that,” Wren said.

“Most people can live with support in the community and live productive lives. We're the largest mental health provider of services in Edinburgh, for example, so we're working with hundreds of people who have been diagnosed with what's classed as severe and enduring mental health issues, and they're living in communities, and living with our relationship, helping them to have stable and safe lives and be happy and productive in their community.”

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The prevalence of loneliness in communities has been exacerbated by the pandemic, according to Wren, who says referrals have increased over the past few years. The loss of a work network and the social interaction that offers has been devastating for a lot of people. Support with debt is a service they are increasingly offering to those who come into contact with the charity, as this can have wide-ranging impacts on families, networks and communities. 

The charity emphasises the importance of relationships, and has offered training on the positive use of social media and online groups to support people who feel isolated.

“If I find it difficult to connect with the things that are going on in my community, and I don’t know who can help me connect, who can help me understand why I'm feeling embarrassed or lacking confidence and I isolate myself because I can't see my way through the problem, you know there are a lot of people in that situation, so many people behind doors that are sitting on their own. 

“Maybe even within their own family, they’re really struggling to speak to each other about the problem. The first step is to soften the problem, build self esteem or confidence to do things that will just make their life better. For us, being able to connect with people in that way is really a privilege.”

This year marks a year of fundraising to hit a £25,000 target as many of the clubs and groups they run are over and above their core services commissioned by local authorities, the NHS and the Scottish Government.  

Wren jokes that she would love to see the day when Carr Gomm was obsolete because the problem of isolated people in communities was solved. Sadly, she says the gaps in society are getting bigger and their services are more in demand than ever.

“There’s nothing we would put up as a barrier, we offer all sorts of different types of services and we’re always open to working with different people,” she said.

“To some extent, we don’t need to know why someone needs our support, no two people are the same so the support will not be the same. What we do is work with people to find out what makes sense in their life, what do they find challenging and what can we help them work through? We want to hear what you think of your life and what matters to you?”
www.carrgomm.org

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£25,000 funding goal will help create healthier communities

To celebrate 25 years of providing person-centred support, Carr Gomm is aiming to raise £25,000 over the course of 2023. This money will be used to fund a variety of projects across Scotland that the charity operates over and above the services the local authorities expects to be delivered.

“It's our role, as a charity, to fill those gaps in society. And for that we need some financial support,” explained chief executive Lucy Wren.

“It’s always a challenge, resources are tight, it’s very difficult to ask people for money. I think what we are doing is making sure people understand what our work is, and that we're there. 

“We’re inviting people in to see it, and let us tell you about it. 

“We want to make sure that people know these services are within their communities, things like our gardening projects and Men in Sheds and cooking groups.

“This is about having a healthy community, that you are part of. You never know whether you might want to be at the garden project, or need the help of a link worker.

You never know when that's coming to your door.”
Given the economic background, Wren is keen to promote the fundraiser as something fun. 

They are encouraging people to participate in a variety of community fundraisers like walks which will, in themselves, reduce isolation. This fundraising challenge is about bringing people together and creating memories while raising money for community projects continue this work.

“Do something with your neighbours, set yourself a little bit of a challenge, just whatever is easy and fun for you to do, that gets you connected to other people. If you managed to collect a little bit of money doing it, we would really appreciate that and we will use that money to help your community,” 
Wren said.

Supporters are encouraged to visit the website and to sign up for the newsletter to find out more about planned events or to get support with fundraising ideas.

www.carrgomm.org/donate