Plymouth Carers’ Centre Opens Its Doors

A new centre for carers has opened in one of Plymouth’s most famous buildings – staffed by volunteers and paid for through fundraising.

The Virginia House Centre will be the home of city charity Friends and Families of Special Children and the Plymouth branch of the national Carers UK.

But it is also throwing open its doors to all Plymouth’s carers, including children, and will be organising events and inviting groups to use its facilities.

“We can offer a totally holistic service to carers,” said Kay O’Shaughnessy, who is running the centre.

She said the building will form a base for 60 families in the Friends and Families group and more than 50 people on the Carers UK data base, but also to potentially thousands of carers, those cared for and ex-carers throughout the city.

She even wants some to volunteer to help run the place.

And she is already planning to continue the popular Carers of the Year Awards, and young carers’ version, with attendant social events, during national Carers Week in June.

Kay stressed that her organisations will not duplicate work already carried out by other organisations, but will provide additional support for carers.

And she predicts growth, adding: “Two things stopped (Carers UK) from expanding: lack of facilities and financial resources.

“We hope to increase our membership considerably.”

Both charities are totally self-funded, raising money from grant-makers, business sponsorship, and events – such as the black-tie ball that last year brought in £8,000.

“That gives us autonomy,” Kay said. “And out-service can be totally needs-led. We retain total independence.”

The centre is based in the Virginia House Settlement, Bretonside, which was set up in the 1920s with cash from Lord and Lady Astor.

The charity had a mission to help the disadvantaged of Sutton and Plymouth and its base, in a beautiful old building in Stillman Street, housed organisations including Citizens Advice Bureau, Racial Equality Council, Shelter, Plymouth Independent Living, Devon Law Centre, Refugees First and even a carers’ centre.

But, in 2003, Virginia House ran into financial trouble and the building was sold and turned into flats.

The charity continued and retained one part of the building, which was empty for four years until Kay asked to use it last September.

A deal was struck for the carers’ organisations to take on what Kay called “a fantastic resource”.

With help from volunteers she spent two months renovating the large ground-floor office and meeting space, creating a spacious and welcoming environment for carers.

In addition to a huge central room, there is a large office, multi-sensory room, ‘quiet room’ for counselling, kitchen and toilets.

Furniture was donated from generous sources and even bought on Ebay. And, to link with its past, pictures from the glory days of Virginia House Settlement, found in a cupboard, adorn the walls, as does the charity’s original mission statement.

The Carers Centre plans to open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 10am until 2pm, until more people volunteer to staff it.

Events are already being organised, including regular drop-in sessions for carers on the last Thursday of the month, 10.30am-12.30pm, and a Friends and Families coffee morning, on the first Thursday each month, 10am until noon.

But Mrs O’Shaughnessy stressed that carers are also ‘free to drop in for coffee or to get info’. And while organisations such as Plymouth’s 50 Plus Club and WEA have already asked to use the premises, others can be accommodated too, but may have to make a ‘small financial contribution’.

The Virginia House Centre for carers is still in need of donations of cash and goods, and volunteers to help. It particularly needs a printer/photcopier. Contact: 01752 204369.