Conversations with Carers explores the lived experience of paid and unpaid carers through a series of podcasts and articles, which have also inspired 5 short dance films performed by disabled and non-disabled artists, some of who are also carers. Conversations with Carers is created by Rashmi Becker, MBE, Founder of Step Change Studios, and supported using public funding by Arts Council England.
Here, Rashmi outlines how Conversations with Carers came about, and reflects on the views shared by carers during the project:
I have been having professional and personal conversations with carers throughout my adult life. I understand the realities of care work – both on the frontline, having worked in social care, and at home, growing up in a family with a severely disabled older brother. I also regularly come into contact with carers through my inclusive dance work.
My life experience has provided an interesting and polarising perspective on care. On the one hand, I find it outrageous that so many carers have to fight for basic rights for people they support; on the other hand, I am acutely aware of the unacceptable working conditions and low value of care work that make it near impossible to provide adequate support. This perspective has led me to question how it can be possible to advocate for the health and wellbeing of people we support, without also safeguarding the health and wellbeing of carers.
During the pandemic, the isolation, stress and poor treatment of carers was magnified. I started sharing my experiences with other carers. The conversations I was having fuelled further frustration at the lack of visibility and honest representation in society of the experience of carers. I was especially struck by how many colleagues in the arts were also carers. This led me to apply for, and secure an Arts Council England grant for a project I have called Conversations with Carers, which aims to connect care, compassion and creativity by giving voice and artistic expression to carers.
I have found this project tremendously rewarding, thought-provoking and moving. Having the time, space and most importantly the permission to talk honestly is critical for carers. As much as I think I know about what care work involves, it still surprises me to learn what burdens many carers carry silently, as they go about their daily life.
In the podcasts and articles, carers talk about frequently supressing their own emotions as they prioritise the needs of people they support. Many carers reflect on the low value that society places on caring. They talk about feeling invisible, and the physical, emotional, and financial strains that can become overwhelming.
Taking the words and themes from these conversations and expressing them artistically through dance has been a hugely positive experience. I created Step Change Studios as an inclusive dance company and I firmly believe in the power of the arts to engage and connect people in unique ways. Artists in the dance films include carers, and each film begins with the words of carers. The arts provide a creative release for many people, and dance can offer an alternative form of expressing emotion and experience.
I hope that Conversations with Carers, in all its forms, will help society to acknowledge the realities of care work, and that it will help make the case for urgent change in the way we treat, support and recognise carers.
I am grateful to the carers and artists that have been part of Conversations with Carers and who have spoken honestly and openly about their experiences. I know that this was not easy to do and I hope that their words give voice to the millions of carers carrying on every day.