Episode 1: "I'd do anything for them"

In our first interview with a kinship carer we speak to Gillian, who has been looking after two of her grandchildren for nine years, and plays an important role as secretary of her kinship support group. She shares her kinship experience and the confidence and companionship gained through being part of a group of kinship carers.

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In our first episode featuring a kinship carer, we speak to Gillian, who’s been looking after two of her grandchildren for around nine years. After facing a range of challenges, including the loss of her husband, Gillian gets support and friendship through her local peer support group for kinship carers. As secretary of the group, she plays an important role in making sure its members get the companionship, help and advice they need.

In the interview, Gillian talks about how it felt when she realised there were other kinship carers out there, and the impact her peer support group has had on both her confidence and life in general.

Read the transcript

The text below is a direct transcription of this episode of the Kinship Together podcast.

Welcome to Kinship Together, a podcast that shares stories, experiences, and advice for kinship carers. Brought to you by Kinship, the charity for kinship carers in England and Wales.  

In this series, you’ll find out what it means to be a kinship carer from people who are going through the experience. This includes the highs and lows, and the everyday challenges. All the kinship carers in this series have found that meeting other kinship carers has brought them connection, friendships and emotional support.  

We’ll hear why peer support and volunteering have brought such meaning and sense of belonging to our guests. Whether that be attending local groups, talking together on the phone or connecting online, there is great power in facing challenges together. And that’s one of the most important things that kinship carers tell us they need – emotional support and the feeling that you’re not alone. We’ll also ask every guest to share their moments of joy as a kinship carer, those things that make it all worthwhile. Hopefully you’ll pick out some useful advice along the way too. 

In this episode, we speak to Gillian who’s been a kinship carer for around nine years. After facing a range of challenges, Gillian found support and friendship through her local peer support group for kinship carers. Now secretary of the group, she plays an important role in making sure its members get the companionship, help and advice they need. You can learn more about Kinship’s support groups at compass.kinship.org.uk.   

A note about this episode, the conversation includes references to illness and bereavement. 

Here’s Gillian story.  

Iain Broome: Thanks for joining us today, Gillian. First of all, how did you come to be a kinship carer, and perhaps how long ago was that? 

Gillian: I became a kinship carer, well 2016 was the official date. I have 13 grandchildren, but two of my grandchildren had parents that weren’t able to look after them. And then they decided they would move down to Leicester. Went down there. During 2013, they came back to Newcastle and social services in October 2013 got in touch with me. The youngest one, she was in hospital fighting for her life with bronchitis and pneumonia. They had been sleeping on settees, they’d been sleeping in the cars because they decided to come back up to Newcastle and there was nowhere for them to live. So, it was from there really, the social workers, we worked together, and we decided we would start having the children every other weekend. That didn’t work out and we would end up having to have the children an extra few days because social services would get in touch with us. And then in 2015, in the September, the girls were removed from both parents and they were given temporarily to us until it was decided what was going to happen. And I said, “Well, we’ll have to give it a go”. So both my husband and I talked about it at length. So November 2016 was the official date when we got the girls. It was just really hard, really, at first because the oldest one had so many problems. So, we had a lot of work to do and we’ve done it, we’ve done it, and she’s a totally different child now, totally different.  

Iain Broome: I was going to say, how are they getting on now? 

Gillian: They’re absolutely fab. They, you know, they’re normal children. They get on with normal things. The oldest one started high school last year. She’s gone into high school a totally different child to what I expected her to because I was expecting her to go in quite upset like she was in first school because she always said she was thick, that she couldn’t do anything. School would say she could do it, but she had a lot of, she doesn’t trust men. But this is because of things that she’s witnessed. She was quite, she would get upset every night, she would cry because of maths, they would say there was just nothing wrong, but she’s gone into high school, a totally different child. There’s only nine months between them. So it’s quite, at times, it’s quite stressful because they can be arguing quite a bit, but they’re very, very, very close. Very close. You know, we were just talking about it a few weeks ago actually. My brother and sister in law were here, and they were like, you know, “When they were little, they would sit at the table having their tea, and you’d turn around, and one was holding one hand, and one was holding the other because they would both be sitting, holding hands having their dinners” because they were just so close. I mean, they are still very close, but they do still have their arguments, believe me, they do.  

Iain Broome: Sounds pretty normal especially if there’s only nine months between them. 

Gillian: Oh yeah. Very hard sometimes. Two totally different children though, totally different. 

Iain Broome: Yeah. And were you aware of even the phrase kinship care or being a kinship carer beforehand? 

Gillian: Nope, I wasn’t. You know when social services finished with myself and my husband, there was just nothing. We were just expected to get on with it. Nobody there. And there was a support worker at school that had helped me through some, you know, she’d come a lot to the meetings with me and she was helping us quite a lot. And I had said to her, “You know, it’s not right this”. I says, “There’s nobody for it”. I says, “I think I may set a meeting up” because I knew there was quite a few people in the school that had their grandchildren. 

Iain Broome: So this is like a peer support group? 

Gillian: Yeah, well, well, at the time I didn’t think of it as being that but I had said, “I think I might do that”. And she said, “Well, why don’t you start it off with a coffee morning at school?”. And it was a few days later, I got a phone call off her and she said, “Gillian, somebody from a kinship support group has been into school”. And I went, “What do you mean?”. And she said, “Well, it’s what you do”, she says, “but she’s from the other area”. And I said, “Ah right”. She says, “So there is help out there, Gillian”, she says, “but I’ll come along to the first meeting with you”. There was a couple of parents that were in the school that went with me. We all did, we all went together with her. And it just went off from there. I joined the group and I’ve never left the group since. So,  and now I’m secretary.  

Iain Broome: So you’d kind of had the idea for what would become a peer support group, because you, I guess you were aware that you might benefit from speaking to other kinship carers, I guess? 

Gillian: Yeah. I think we all needed something where you would, you just get help out of, like, you know, somebody could have an idea or something. Somebody could say to me, “Well, how did you do that?”. And then you would just go into, like, how you’ve done it sort of thing. I mean, it might not be the advice they want, but you do try to help them the best way they can. And, you know, we’re a really lovely group, really a lovely group. Well hopefully we’ll always will be.  

Iain Broome: And how did it feel when you kind of first realised that there were other people in a similar situation to you? 

Gillian: I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it. I was sitting in a room with about 17, 18 people and I thought, “Oh my god, here’s me thinking that it’s just me and a couple of people at school” and you just, you kind of think, “How on earth has everybody?”. And everybody’s story is different. Everybody’s story is different. But it’s like, some of them were just worse than what I thought mine was. I thought I had it quite lucky because I had support with a husband at the time. Some of these people didn’t even have like a husband or they didn’t have any of their family members to help them out. But the group really did help them and the person at the time who was chair and chairperson were a married couple who had their grandson and they were absolutely fabulous, absolutely fabulous people. You couldn’t, they couldn’t have welcomed you more than what they did.  

Iain Broome: What kind of things do you do to welcome new members to the group? Because it must be quite a daunting thing to come for the first time.  

Gillian: It’s very, very hard to get people to come to the group. That is the one thing I think that is hard about kinship care. When they say, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know”. And I say, “Well, look, if you would like us to, I can meet you at Morrison’s for a cup of coffee or somewhere so that you could get to know us. And then at least you would know a face when you got there to the meeting”. I think it’s just that initial, like ‘cause at first, the day I first went, I was shaking in my shoes because I didn’t like going and meeting anybody. Between myself and my husband, my husband suffered with mental health illness. He didn’t like really talking to people or going, he wouldn’t go to the meetings. And it used to be me that always done the talking but when I go into somewhere new, I just clamp and I don’t speak. But it was, it was kind of funny, the first meeting we had because somebody was talking about heart problems and stuff with the child. And I was like, “Oh, well, my son, one of my sons had a heart disorder” and then something else came out. And I went, “Well, that’s what’s happened to us”. And it was, it sort of broke the ice in a way really but it was kind of funny. It was kind of funny as well, but they’re just, honestly, they’re really nice people, really nice people. It’s just hard getting people to come to the group. Very hard, very hard. 

Iain Broome: I guess whatever the subject, most of the time us humans have something in common, you can find something in common and, and kind of take it from there. 

Gillian: We all just get along so well. Our group is just an amazing group. You know, we’ll have, two members of the group are male and honestly, well, no, sorry, three members of the group are male. And honestly, two of them, you’ve got no idea. During lockdown, they kept the group going because the things that were put on the WhatsApp group page would just be, well, just funny sometimes. But it kept you going and they’re absolutely fab. And you know, those two, two of them, they’ll do anything for you. But we’re all a friendly bunch. We’re all, I don’t know what it is, we just all get on together. We’ve all got our own little things, I suppose. I don’t know. There’s never any arguments or anything between any of us. We all get on really well. 

Iain Broome: What does, a kind of, a meetup look like? So when you mentioned a couple of different places where you might meet as a group.  

Gillian: One of them, we’ve always had a meeting in one place on the first Monday of every month. And that is in a community centre that has a library and a post office and a cafe in. So we have our meeting in that library and around about August last year, one of the kinship carers, their son runs a pub. So we now have on a, well, maybe once a month on a Thursday, we’ll have a meeting at the pub and he supplies the tea and coffee for us. So we’ll have a meeting in a separate room so that we’re not disturbed. And it’s a good, we’ll have a good laugh, we all do. We’ll just sit and have a natter, talk about different things that we’re going to do, like Christmas parties, the Easter parties and stuff, if we’re going to have trips in the summer or whatever. So just any kind of idea from anybody. But we’ll all sit and talk. Maybe it’s about, there’s a couple at the moment who are going through quite a lot of things, so there’s one, one person has gone through it all, so they’re helping them to, like, tell them what to do and who to speak to and stuff like that. So we just all sit and have a natter. 

Iain Broome: And you mentioned a WhatsApp group. It sounds like you also, kind of, the support continues outside of the meetings themselves, is that so? 

Gillian: Yeah, we’ll just put everything on there. We’ll update the meetings on there, the meeting times, wherever we’re meeting at, if it’s the pub or if it’s the library. We’ll put notes on from what meeting, what we’ve discussed at the meetings for some people who haven’t attended. You know, some people can put a question on saying, “Do you know how to go about this SGO thing? I don’t understand it”. And then somebody will message saying, “I’ll give you a ring. I’ll discuss it with you”. So it just, we do that.  

Iain Broome: How do you think having the group and having this sort of support from other kinship carers, how do you think it’s helped you? 

Gillian: Me, massively. Absolutely, massively. Unfortunately, 2019, my husband died suddenly. So, but three weeks before that, the chairperson died as well. So, we kind of, sort of, Russell and I went through the same thing at the same time. We helped each other really and everybody helped me. And because Covid hit just not long after it, we’re all kind of, sort of, we’re just dwindling away until Jackie stepped in and Jackie started getting, because we were a group, we didn’t realise that we could meet up for a cuppa. So Jackie started doing things like down at Costa Coffee outside having a cuppa and stuff like that so it meant we were still engaging with other people and talking about whatever. But it’s helped me massively, absolutely massively. I would never, ever have thought I would be doing now what I’d do for the group four years ago because I was just this shy person that sat back and let everybody else do everything. I never, you know, I mean, even now, getting in touch with different companies, Greggs and things like that, to help with donations for stuff for the parties. The pantomimes, I’ve just had tickets for pantomimes for two theatres in Newcastle for Christmas through just sending emails. I would never, ever have done anything like that. I’ve just, it’s like pushed us along and it’s helped us with the death of my husband as well. My kinship care group is an absolutely fantastic group. I’ve got a lot of friends from other kinship care groups now that I would never have had before. I go on their trips and everything. There’s a few from our group go on their trips as well, and weekends away that we’ll have. So, you know, I do, I do enjoy my kinship. I really do. I love my kinship and I’m hoping to continue with that until whenever, whenever. I just love kinship. I’ll do anything for any of them. 

Iain Broome: Do you think it’s sort of changed how you see yourself as a kinship carer? 

Gillian: Definitely, definitely. It’s, when you become a kinship carer, you’re all frightened to do, like, “Eh, should I have done that? Should I have allowed that to happen? Should I not have allowed it to happen?”. But as you, as gradually it goes on, you learn that you can do that and, you know, it’s like people say to me, “But you’re the guardian, it’s up to you what you decide”. And, you know, when Stephen died, I had to think, “Well, I’m on my own now so I have to make the decisions”. 

Iain Broome: And is there any sort of advice, like is there a main bit of advice that you think would be useful for a new kinship carer to know? 

Gillian: Just stick with it. Stick with it and it will all work out in the end. Everything will work out in the end. You just have to have patience, not lose your temper with anybody, like professionals, thinking that they’re lying to you. They’re not really, they’re trying to help you out but they’re just trying to get it right. 

Iain Broome: And obviously you’ve sort of stepped into this role. It sounds like you’re doing a great job and I wondered if you were able to talk about the difference that it’s made in their lives, in the children’s lives. 

Gillian: Massively. I don’t think the girls would have had the life they’ve got now. Definitely not. Honestly, they’re two amazing girls. They, you know, they’re both good at gymnastics but the oldest one is very, very good at gymnastics. She’s really good. She hasn’t been to gymnastics for a while. That was due to Covid and things like that happening. And one of them is just horse mad. She just wants a horse. She’s just found a horse on eBay yesterday and it’s £200 and she said, “Oh well can I have that for my birthday?”. And I says, “I can’t have a horse, I told you”. They’re just too, they’re just so relaxed and so, I don’t know, they just go with the flow. But honestly, I can’t say anything other than they’re just absolutely fabulous girls. 

Iain Broome: In these interviews we’re asking everyone the same question. Are there any moments of joy that you’d like to share with us, those little moments that you get? 

Gillian: Oh, there’s just too many, there’s just too many. Put it this way, when my husband died, it was sudden, very, very sudden. Here one minute, gone the next. There was girls, tThe day he died, I actually had a heart attack because of the shock of him dying. So, I hadn’t seen, tThat was the first time I’d had the girls away from us. They were for two nights so I had to sit and explain to the girls. Now, my husband was an avid football fan, sport fan, like I don’t know what. The day he died, the day I sat and explained to them that, you know, I says, “You knew Grandad wasn’t very well”. And then I said, “You know, Grandad’s died”. The oldest one sat up and she just went, “Does that mean there’ll be no more football on the telly?”. And I was just like, “No more football, no”. And I still can’t watch the football on the telly to this day because it was just constant in my house. But different little things that happened as well in the house. You know, the lights switch on and off, and now they’ll just go, “Granda, we know you’re here, just leave it”. And it’s, it just makes me laugh because they’re not, they’re not frightened, and that’s the way I’ve made them, not frightened of it. But they, you know, we do have some really good laughs.  

So that was Gillian’s experience of being a kinship carer. A huge, thank you to her for sharing her kinship story with us. If you’re a kinship carer, or you know a kinship carer and want to learn more about the support we offer at Kinship, visit our website at compass.kinship.org.uk.  

Our free phone advice line is for kinship carers living in England or Wales. You can call us, book an appointment or search online for information tailored to your situation. You can attend free workshops on specific topics related to kinship care. You can also get emotional support by finding a peer support group near you using our postcode finder. We also have a range of online support groups, including some for kinship carers who want to talk to others that they have specific things in common with. Maybe you’d even like to start a group of your own. You could become a volunteer, like many of our guests on this podcast, and use your experience to help other kinship carers by offering them a listening ear and sharing your experiences with them. Thank you for listening to Kinship Together. Join us for our next episode, where another kinship carer shares their unique story.