Learning to Sign with Lucy

8th June 17

Karen Harris, 47, from Stanground, Peterborough, describes the transformation that a £400 grant made for her and daughter Lucy to communicate.

I am mum to Lucy, aged nine, and Luke, aged 18. Lucy was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome at birth, and at age three she was also diagnosed with autism. Lucy has some very challenging behaviour, but obviously we love her dearly.

Being a carer, I have struggled in the past to have any time to myself and switch off, which has left me exhausted. However, last year I had an opportunity to do something for myself – a course in British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate with Lucy. While doing it I realised how important having some time to myself was, and meeting with other like-minded people.

When the course finished and I had passed Level 1, I was so proud of my achievement and wanted to continue to Level 2. I asked Carers Trust Cambridgeshire & Peterborough if they could help with the funding, as well as ask their advice about being a family carer. I had a lovely chat with Paul Rhodes, their Customer Relations Team Manager, who helped with this and advised me how to apply to Carers Trust nationally.

“I struggled to have time to myself and switch off until I received a grant from Carers Trust”

Paul gave me some invaluable advice. But more than anything he was a friendly voice at the end of the phone. The day I called I had had a particularly challenging day with Lucy and it was the summer holidays and the change of her usual routine made her feel unsettled. Talking to Paul helped offload some of my stress of the day.

When Paul rang to say that I had been awarded the grant, to say I was ecstatic was an understatement. It meant I could do the course without having to find over £400. The course itself is so much fun, it is engaging and I love learning and improving my new skill. I look forward to my weekly sessions learning to extend my sign language skills.

Pictures by Terry Harris.

Signing helps Lucy in lots of ways. It gives her the visual clue she needs and helps her to communicate if she doesn’t feel comfortable using words. It can also relieve frustration as I can quickly understand what Lucy is trying to communicate to me.

The other people on my course have similar backgrounds, children with additional needs, so we instantly bonded and often meet for coffee to practise our BSL. My tutor Nicki from MySign Tuition which meets in Goldhay Community Centre, Peterborough also teaches us deaf awareness which is so important. Nicki really keeps us working, but makes the course so much fun, she is down to earth and often has us in stitches.

I would like to thank Carers Trust from the bottom of my heart for the grant – and for the two hours a week I get to be Karen, to put myself first, and that is so important, you really cannot put a price on that.”

Paul said he was delighted that the grant had had such a positive impact on Karen’s life. “Karen and I discussed what support she felt she needed at the time and I realised that she would be a perfect candidate for the Skills for You grant. I was able to support an application to Carers Trust national head office and Karen was successful in being awarded the full amount for her course. The panel stated that they felt that Karen represented ‘the face of caring’.

“In the past we have also successfully helped families receive grants for holidays and essential household equipment. The grants are awarded by a panel that meets quarterly.”