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Helping young carers access the support they need – Landmark study on satellite-enabled support for carers

A team of researchers @FalmouthUni have been awarded Health Research Authority ethics for the next exciting phase of its work to provide better future support for isolated unpaid carers. The healthcare ethics approval is a first for Falmouth, but this signals a new direction for the University traditionally associated with creative courses and creative arts. The study’s ethics approval will now enable the research to move to the next stage.     

The research team behind the ‘Connected Healthcare’ research programme is now launching a new campaign to recruit unpaid carers to their study, which could help pave the way for more responsive and connected support for carers in Cornwall.  

The team are calling out for local community groups, families and networks to support this next phase of the study by sharing the study call-out plea as well as the hashtag ‘CornwallCares’.  

The Connecting Healthcare Programme demonstrates the institution’s commitment to multi-disciplinary work which crosses boundaries with other sectors to create real-world impact. In this case, the work will aim to tackle a lack of tangible support for carers, many of whom live in rural, isolated areas in the county.   

Falmouth is now launching a regional recruitment drive for the study – supported by Cornwall’s partner agencies advocating for better support for Cornwall’s unpaid carers.    

Study lead Anna Mankee-Williams says this new recruitment campaign is an opportunity to introduce a sea change in the way we provide support to unpaid carers, who have borne the brunt of isolation and lack of social and emotional support during the pandemic.   

The new study will see carers use SMS text messaging to communicate their concerns, thoughts and feelings with researchers. Research teams will use the real-time data from participants as well as ‘natural language processing’ to theme data in order to understand the needs and pressures facing carers in rural and isolated areas.   

What’s happening in the study / how to join  

The study will investigate the future possibility of SMS messaging as a method of support as well as the capabilities of satellite technology in providing data for a web-based dashboard accessible by health partners.   

During the course of the study, participants will (via text message) be asked for their thoughts, feelings and views on their caring responsibilities via weekly text prompts in order to provide research teams with the ability to group these responses thematically. The study findings will be accessible via NHS and social care professionals in Cornwall and could potentially shape future services in the country.   

The anonymised data produced by the study will be hosted at Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd and a report of the final study findings will be shared with Cornwall Carers Partnership Board and published for all to see.   

Unpaid carer over the age of 18? Join the study! 

If you’re interested in helping to shape the future of carer support, find out more and join the study by texting the Connected Healthcare Research team on (Mobile number) 07770 654 123. We’d also love it if you could share our story & call-out, tagging in Falmouth University on social media and adding the hashtag ‘CornwallCares’.  

Study lead Anna Mankee-Williams says this is an exciting time for the development of new approaches for addressing our most pressing social care needs in Cornwall. She says: 

“We’re pleased to have been awarded Health Research Authority ethics to continue this vital research and I’m pleased to see that local health partners and agencies recognise the crucial need for a range of tech-enabled support for those who need it most in the county. As outlined by Cornwall Council, social care in the county is one of our most pressing areas of need to address and the isolation faced by many during the pandemic would have exacerbated the pressure they are under.  

“We’re now calling on local agencies, partners and groups to encourage unpaid carers in their networks to put themselves forward for the study which will provide much-needed data on the most pressing concerns and challenges facing unpaid carers today. Being able to work with creative, tech and health partners to address future caring needs in this way is something to be proud of.”  

Truro Mayor Steven Webb and Young Carer James Simmons: study an exciting step in the drive for more support for carers 

The Mayor of Truro Cllr Steven Webb is now getting behind the research study and says the work is an important step in the drive to understand and address the level of challenge facing carers today. Following an accident at the age of nineteen, he became paralysed and has relied on care ever since. He has campaigned vocally about the need for more support for carers in Cornwall.  

He says:  

“It’s important that as we continue to recover from COVID, that we look after our carers. We need to understand the pressures they are under and help agencies and services connect the dots in order to address the current and emerging needs of carers across the spectrum. In order to do that, we need to collect evidence to understand when that pressure is greatest and consider how and where we can help. This is why I’m excited to be part of this project by Falmouth University – they are using modern technology to collect meaningful information that will have real world benefits to carers around Cornwall.” 

James Simmons is a young student ambassador studying Technical Theatre at Falmouth University’s AMATA (Academy of Music and Theatre Arts). As a young child, he took on caring responsibilities for a parent and has been a passionate advocate for carers rights both in his native Norfolk and across the UK. James now has a TikTok channel: ‘YoungCarerJames’ which he hopes will raise awareness and help other carers feel seen and heard.  

James adds:  

“As someone who has been a carer since the age of 7, this study is an extremely exciting prospect.   My mum has varying needs ranging from mental health support to physical care needs and as such my worries and concerns for my own wellbeing vary from day to day and depending on the time of year (mums physical illnesses get worse with the cold weather).   Carers are in desperate need of more wellbeing support and as someone who lives in an isolated community, I know first-hand how important it is to stay connected and, unfortunately, how much of a challenge it is to receive support…especially throughout the pandemic.    

“This study aims to bridge the gap between carers in big towns and cities to those living in isolated rural communities, as so many are in Cornwall. Over lockdown I setup a TikTok account aiming to raise awareness for young carers and one of the main issues I’ve noticed is young carers aren’t able to access the support they need due to their geographical locations and poor domestic internet connections. 

“This study into the use of satellite technology could help eliminate such barriers.  This study excites me and shows me how far we’ve come in the journey towards making carers lives easier. I can’t wait to see how the study progresses – perhaps data gathered in this study could be used to develop new technologies and inspire further studies….”  

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