Supporting Carers Week with Comic Relief

Fund & Grant News

Supporting Carers Week with Comic Relief

16 Jun 2020

Nicole Downes is a full-time career to her sons Levi, 8 and Jamie, 5 who both have autism. She also has another son, Gabriel who is one.


After her son Levi’s shock diagnosis, Nicole explained how she didn’t know where to turn.

“I’d never heard of autism, I didn’t know what it was because he hit all his developmental milestones, walking and talking. With Jamie it was a bit more obvious, he was nonverbal until he was three and even now he has limited sounds. They’re working with him in the speech and language until to see if his brain can be retrained to learn how to make those sounds.”

Pre-lockdown, Levi attended St Kevin’s Primary School with full time 1:1 classroom support and Jamie attended the speech and language unit at St Theresa’s, so every day had a packed schedule between dropping Levi to school, waiting for the bus to collect Jamie, shopping, cleaning and looking after Gabriel before getting ready for the boys to finish school, as well as taking them to and from various appointments.

With no family support and her husband Gerard working full time, Nicole’s plate was full and she often didn’t get a chance to sit down and relax until 11pm, when it was time for bed.

It was only through taking part in a course for young mums in Colin Community Centre last year that she became aware that there was help and support available to people with caring roles like hers.

Through the course, she attended a carer’s retreat at Heart of the Dorn with her husband Gerard.

Heart of the Dorn’, a social enterprise based on the Ards peninsula have recently been awarded £4,975.00 by Comic Relief,  through the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland. Using this funding to support carers such as Nicole, Heart of the Dorn have been continuing to support carers during the coronavirus crisis by creating and delivering care packs. These packs contained relaxation and mindfulness materials which were supported by nine zoom workshops lead by chefs and holistic therapists to guide carers, and to help them to make connections with each other during Carer’s Week and afterwards.

Nicole shares how a carer’s retreat lead by Heart of the Dorn can make all the difference.

“That one overnight break with time to focus on just me was amazing.  I felt re-energised afterwards.  The work they do is great, you get a chance to just be a person, not Mummy, not a carer, just Nicole.       

“Julie Humphries who runs it is brilliant. If you have a question, she gets back to you really quickly and knows what support is out there for carers.”       

Nicole also learned about The Carer’s Network which is Belfast Health Trust’s support group for people with caring duties

“I couldn’t believe that a group for carers was there all along. I’d tell any new carers that there is a support network available. You can talk to others who have the same experiences as you, they know what you’re talking about. Sometimes you don’t want to tell your family about how tough things can get because you don’t want to worry them.”       

Lockdown has brought new challenges for Nicole, with Gerard working from home and the family of five in the house together all the time.

“The boys need routine and school stopped suddenly so there was no time to get ready. There were some big meltdowns the first while but now we have our own routine and the boys know what to expect every day.

“I’m worried about all the learning they’re missing out on through not going to school, but at the same time a break from all the running around means things aren’t as hectic.       

Although ‘me time’ in Nicole’s house doesn’t really exist, she’s managed to enjoy some of the activities from the care packs, delivered during careers Week, including an online pampering session delivered on Zoom by one of the Heart of the Dorn holistic therapists and is looking forward to the cookery demo later in the week.

“This is the first time I’ve heard about Carer’s Week. I think it’s brilliant. It feels like a break even though everybody’s in their houses. Even though we don’t know each other on the zoom sessions, people are talking and asking queries and we’re all just happy to know that the help, the support is out there.”


Clare Kiely, Senior Investment Partner at Comic Relief said, ‘Carer’s Week provides an opportunity for us to recognise and thank our Carers for all their hard work. We know that behind closed doors Carer’s work day in day out to provide support to their loved ones and that Coronavirus has no doubt added to the strain and hardship they face.

“We are really pleased that Comic Relief funds can help in some small way through our partnership with Community Foundation Northern Ireland.’


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