The Parents’ and Carers’ Network (P&CN) has been providing University staff with support and inspiration for home life challenges for five years. Since being founded by its Chair, Lisa Then, in 2012, the Network now has over 200 members and is continually growing.
“When I returned from maternity leave in 2012, I was eager to make part-time working a success for my team, but experienced unexpected challenges and prejudices,” says Lisa. “I considered that if I was experiencing this, then other people with caring responsibilities may also be in a similar situation. The need for a support network was identified, and with the support of the Diversity team, I established the group with just eight members.”
Lisa has since been working with around eight other members of staff on a voluntary basis, including colleague Julia Branson, to champion events for the community of parents and carers at the University.
Speaking about joining the Network, Julia says: “I found out about the Network through one of my colleagues when she joined the Network after returning from maternity leave. At that point I was caring for my mother, who had terminal cancer, and my father, who had dementia.”
Being a carer can be quite isolating, and it’s good to be able to share experiences with others in the University who are in similar circumstances.
“Many carers and parents find it easier to discuss the issues that they are facing outside of their immediate teams. The PC&N provides a safe space where everybody understands what you’re dealing with, and often people who have been through similar experiences can provide advice and support.”
Caring has recently become a focus for the University; in the last year, Vice-Chancellor and Diversity Champion Professor Sir Christopher Snowden introduced a new policy for carers in recognition of the needs of staff who care for someone else, be they a disabled child or partner, elderly parent or other dependent.
The Extended Carers’ Leave Policy, which is currently running as a pilot, allows staff to take up to two weeks of paid leave for circumstances including caring for a seriously ill dependent or settling a dependent into a care home.
The Carers’ Leave meant I was able to take time off to search for a nursing home for my father when he left hospital, and spend time with him just before he died.
As well as providing emotional and moral support in a safe space, the Network has been running workshops for staff to learn new skills. The team try to ensure that all members will find sessions helpful and valuable, and focus on practical topics such as First Aid, Pilates, Dementia, setting up a lasting Power of Attorney, Ageing and Sensory Integration. These events are open to all staff.
The P&CN have bigger plans for the future too, alongside their extensive events calendar. There are intentions to register the University as a dementia-friendly organisation, and the team are already in the process of securing a ‘Family Room’ on Highfield Campus as a space for staff and members of the public to use. The location of the room is still in the process of being allocated, but once completed it will be a valuable resource for the University and local communities who may be on campus for events such as Open Days or Science and Engineering Day.
“We are developing this space for staff and visitors to use; for example, those who have limited mobility, sensory challenges or need a private place to breastfeed can use the room for a bit of peace and quiet,” says Lisa.
Future plans also include running events on other campuses away from Highfield, encouraging more colleagues from any background to join in, and continuing to work closely with University networks such as the Pulse LGBT + group, and the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic group (BAME). The P&CN will also be active at events such as the Science and Engineering Day and the Human Worlds Festival in November.
“I don’t think a lot of people are aware that you can take time out of the day to attend our meetings and sessions,” says Lisa. “We always hold our events in the lunch hour so that as many people can attend as possible. We have funding from the Diversity team who provide lunch for every event, and support from the Vice-Chancellor who is also the University Diversity Champion and was a speaker at our Diversity Fortnight event last year.
“Our events promote confidence at work, and increase the sense of collegiality within the University community. Feedback from colleagues who attend our events is always very positive and people usually return again which is good!
We would like to invite colleagues to contact us with ideas about the kinds of sessions that would be useful to them. There are around eight of us in the committee and it’s purely run by our ideas, so the more people that know about the network and are involved, the better it can be for all of our staff.
The P&CN are holding an informal carers’ lunch on Thursday 2 November. Everyone who has a caring role is invited to attend for a chat and to discuss ways in which the P&CN can continue to support carers, for further information contact Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Southampton Connects Staff interview with Lisa Then from our January 2016 edition.
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