Val HewisonI am at once happy and sad to be announcing my retirement and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your trust and confidence in me over the last 15 years that I have been at Carers Leeds… the last 10 as the CEO.

Retiring… in my head I keep thinking that cannot be me! It feels like only yesterday I thought I was the coolest 21-year-old ever dancing to David Bowie at the Mayfair in Newcastle (I was so not cool at all by the way!) so it came as a shock when I realised, I am 66 and for me it is the right time to pass the baton on. However, it still feels like it is happening to someone else.

But it’s not and now I turn my thoughts to how I leave a job that has been such a huge part of my life…

Most of my adult life has been a life of caring responsibilities…. the highs and the lows of my experiences I hope gave me the informal qualification to do the job I have done. I have certainly walked the walk. You trusted me to talk the talk. I thank you.

I know no two caring roles are ever the same, everyone’s caring roles are managed against a backdrop of their own life experiences. but there is much I have found we as carers have in common too. And if empathy, understanding and respect for each other has been those shared qualities, then I hope I have been able to lead an organisation where these qualities have been the cornerstone of our work.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with excellent people…I know how lucky I have been… colleagues both locally and nationally, a wonderful supportive team of staff and without doubt those of you who have been the reason I have done the job… carers. The people who have inspired, educated, encouraged and been the reason to get up each day and work towards being the change I wanted to see in the world.

A world where unpaid carers are recognised and valued, respected, and supported for the contribution they make to our society. Never forgetting one of the greatest strengths we have in our communities is the strength of unpaid carers… but I ask, please do not take that strength for granted.

A world where every workplace has visible and workable carers policies, and every employer, every manager understands who their working carers are and why it is crucial to support those people to remain at work should they wish.

Val HewisonWhere every school and college understand the needs and then supports young carers and young adult carers and where every agency supporting people with addiction knows there will more than likely be a concerned other person shoring life up for those dealing with the addiction. And let those people know, there is help available for those providing that safety net. You are important.

A world where every parent carer knows that every part of society will value their sons and daughters and support families to get the very best for their kids…just like everyone wants, including them and treating them with the kindness and respect they deserve as well as being given what they need to be successful based on their unique abilities.

Where every person who cares for someone who has dementia is listened to, and we really hear what their needs are to help them continue to care safely for their loved ones… and if those families are unable to continue to care for whatever reason, we do not judge and we make sure those families are surrounded with help and kindness to find alternative care.   Knowing those families will always be critical to the wellbeing of their loved ones.

Where people caring for someone who has mental health problems knows where to find help and assistance for themselves and that support will be there. Straight away. There is no worse feeling than being a carer and feeling alone and scared because you do not know where to turn.

A world where carers who are bereaved have someone to ‘hear their story’. It will be unique and if you listen, you will hear so much about the emptiness that loss after caring brings.

Val HewisonTo live in a world where we promote diversity not just to tolerate but to be truly inclusive of carers from different backgrounds, where we honour cultural diversity, our LGBTQ carers, our carers from Gypsy and Traveller communities, refugee and asylum seeking communities.  And we truly respect and value what all our wonderful cultures and diverse groups bring to the carer’s table.

Where every GP surgery know who their carers are …and ask the question of those carers, ‘how are you? Can we help you too?’ That every hospital includes family and sees them as the experts in the care of their patients.

A world that sees social care getting the investment into services so vital to help people live the best lives they can. Where they want to live. Supported to do so. And is seen as the essential part of our society helping people feel valued.

Where we work to make sure the injustices of things like Carers Allowance are never off political agendas and we the fortunate ones continue to speak truth to power and follow our own moral compass to be inclusive in our practices and never stop doing our best to create those inclusive cultures in all we do, at work and out of work.

Where towns and cities follow the lead of Team Leeds and ‘get’ the worth of the Third Sector and our brilliant third sector organisations who know their communities better than anyone and become true equal partners. Never underestimate the strength of community. But invest and make the work in those communities’ core business. Where we recognise the impact of loneliness. I have been there.  Maybe you have. And we keep a focus on social connection and a strength-based community approach.

Val Hewison

Val Hewison

And to my second home, Leeds… I honestly love you and I thank you for working so hard, together, to work as one system, to address all the above.  I hope we will all keep on working together with compassion and actively listening to carers and not take our eye off the ball.

Retirement or not… I will  never stop working towards a better life for carers…and that is not to say my life wasn’t anything but fantastic as a carer… if I could have taken the pain away from those I cared for I would have done in a heartbeat, but throughout it all I know I was the lucky one… I loved and was loved….and despite many tears and frustrations, sadness, blunt talking, anger but wrapped in moments of pure joy and happiness and so much laughter (my days…  I have laughed!)… at home and at work… I loved and was loved!

I wish that for all of you.

Keep on keeping on.

Val xx