One number, one service, one woman and one extraordinary team

Sandie Keene, Val Hewison, Chris Butler, Councillor Alison Lowe and Councillor Ogilvie

Sandie Keene, Val Hewison, Chris Butler, Councillor Alison Lowe and Councillor Ogilvie

As mentioned in our last blog, there are four services that have come together to form a new organisation and on Tuesday at the Leeds City Art Gallery, it was the official launch of the bigger Carers Leeds and their ‘One Number, One Service’. I was fortunate enough to be there and witness how much difference this service could make to the many thousands of unpaid carers in our city, and how one woman on a bike (oh yes Val Hewison, Chief Executive of Carers Leeds, that was you!) and her indisputably dedicated team has, and will no doubt continue to inspire and change the lives of many.

And so today, a little reminder of what the service is about (already covered in Monday’s blog), a rightful congratulations to all involved and finally, an indulgent homage to that amateur cyclist/extraordinary woman. That’d be you Val.

Surrounded by devoted supporters of carers and carers themselves, Councillor Ogilvie formally launched the Single Point of Access Carers Advice Line (0113 380 4300), with Sandie Keene (Director of Adult Social Care); Alison Lowe (Chief Executive Officer of Touchstone) and Chris Butler (Chief Executive of Leeds and Yorkshire Partnership Foundation Trust). The event was so popular with over 150 there. Folk even had to stand at the back and it wasn’t because there were scrummy scones and jam on offer!

They were there to support a brilliant service that will ultimately make access to information and advice for unpaid carers much easier. For any unpaid carer in our city, there’s now one number to call for help; one number for advice; one number for information and, critically, one number that will guarantee an understanding, experienced and knowledgeable listener on the other end of the line – you could call it a lifeline as I suspect many will. Welcome to the new Carers Leeds and the new contact number: 0113 380 4300.

Sandie Keene, Director of Adult Social Care said of the new service:

The four services that have come together have a wealth of expertise at their fingertips and will ensure the advice and information our Leeds carers receive will be the best in the country. The new service has committed itself to be empowering, person-centred and working in a way that will encourage carers to exercise choice and control, both over their own support and the support available to the person they are there for.

As noted by Councillor Ogilvie, the effects on carers are diverse. The emotional strain of caring for others, possible damage to a carer’s own health and wellbeing, money and employment worries; all of which needs greater support in our city. With the many carer organisations unified into one partnership, support will be bigger than before; better than before and so much easier to access than before.

There are too many names to mention but as the presentations went on, certain names were repeated time and time again in recognition of their hard work in bringing this partnership together. Of those, I recall:

  • Bridget Maguire and Sinead Cregan from Adult Social Care who worked so diligently to get the new service right for the very people who need it now and for those who may need it in the future. That’s no small ask so congratulations for the guidance they gave and the courage to take on this enormous task.
  • Alison Lowe from Touchstone who shone at the event by proudly ensuring that the new service would always be ‘person centred, culturally sensitive, diverse but most importantly, will give people the dignity they demand and deserve’. Again, it was clear that Alison’s involvement was critical to the success of all that Carers Leeds will achieve.
  • Leeds Yorkshire Partnership Foundation Trust who provided persistence and commitment and who were willing to overcome the difficulties and challenges faced. Chris Butler spoke from his own experience of how much his organisation recognises and values family carers.
  • Val paid tribute to Age UK who had been part of the original team and contributed to the planning of the future service.
  • Steve Taylor, Service Delivery Manager of the new combined service, also gave an insightful presentation of how Carers Leeds would look and feel in the future. Clear commitment to the cause.

Apologies if I’ve missed anyone off the above list. You know who you are and what an exceptional achievement this is and so to you all, congratulations for an incredible achievement.

I perhaps should now apologise for the length of this blog, but for those that know Val Hewison, a leading force behind support for unpaid carers in Leeds, I suspect no-one would complain. Sometimes the wonder of one woman should be celebrated – and so, time to eat a little pie Val (that’s the humble variety), and sorry – it would simply be too rude and remiss of me not to share what so many people were thinking and saying!

When I next see this extraordinary woman, I will no doubt be told off (but only a little!) because she has so modestly said time and time again, that it’s not a one woman show, it’s the wonderfully committed team around her that makes a difference for unpaid carers in Leeds. For that team of supporters, of volunteers and of staff, she is absolutely right. The wonderful work is astonishing and the future success of Carers Leeds is safely in their capable and caring hands.

But we all know there’s someone else usually hovering in the foreground, a smiley force to be reckoned with who needs rightful recognition: Val Hewison, Chief Executive of Carers Leeds. She has led the way in getting vital support for carers on the Leeds map. She has stood proud in waving the flag for them and I, and I’m sure many others, salute her for this.

For her brilliance; her brightness; her unfailing determination to bring colour back into the lives of others; for the thousands that have crossed her path and have walked away more supported knowing that they don’t have to be on their own, amazing. To the thousands more that will no doubt gratefully share their often troubled journey with her, again we thank and salute her for helping them find a way forward to a brighter, lighter and better life.

Many will agree (and do later) that the jolly Geordie from Carers Leeds is simply unforgettable. I received a call hours before the event from Val who asked me what I thought to her catchy idea of opening the launch by riding in on a bike, wearing a cycling helmet and fluorescent jacket with the new service number pinned on her back so people would remember it (timely reference to the Tour de France if you were wondering about the bike bit!). I had to say, in the presence of the great and glorious, ‘of course you should Val because you and possibly only you would get away with it’, which she did! However, the vision of her hilarious entrance illustrates a little more about Val than the most memorable way to open a launch I’ve ever been to.

Val Hewison makes and entrance!


She sacrifices for the greater good time and time again. ‘If it gets the message across, why not bring out the bike and who cares if I might look a bit daft’ she said.

For countless years, this inspirational, vibrant, explosively energetic, selfless shining star has brightened the lives of carers across our city and probably far beyond. Obstacles in any path she chooses (like the mammoth task of joining forces with carer organisations in Leeds, albeit with support from significant others) aren’t obstacles, they are small challenges to overcome, and overcome she does. Why? Because she has credibility, she cares, she’s committed and she is so very much placed in a hallowed place of respect by those who work with her and by those she works for – the unpaid carers of Leeds.

Yes Val, I’m sure we will remember the ‘One Number, One Service’ from the event, but we will also perhaps remember that there wasn’t one speaker in that room that didn’t acknowledge your unfailing work and dedication nor the fair few hundreds of folk that were there. Here are a few reminders:

Sandie Keene, Director of Adult Social Services said:

‘Val is truly an inspiration to the city and her energy exhausts me!’ (to which Val replied, ‘It exhausts me!’)

Councillor Ogilvie also acknowledged Val’s contribution by saying:

‘Val was one of the first people I met when I was lucky enough to get this job as Executive Member for Adult Social Care a year ago. Your warmth, your compassion, your sense of humour shone through then and made me feel really welcome as it does every time I meet you; I’m sure everyone else will agree. But also your absolute determination to champion the rights of carers here in Leeds is inspiring, so thank you Val.’

Thanks to everyone involved in the event – a great start to a bright future.

Why not pick up that phone now… 0113 380 4300.

Lizzie Whewell

About betterlivesleeds

Health, social and age-related care services working together to make Leeds the best city for health and wellbeing
This entry was posted in Achievement, British and Minority Ethnic, Carers, Choice, Dementia, Health and Wellbeing, Information, older people, Uncategorized, Working together and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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