The largest provider of care services in Wales has doubled its workforce and trebled turnover in the last six years.
A Mold-based North East Wales Carers Information Service (NEWCIS) has its sights set on further growth after a challenging 12 months for the sector.
CEO Claire Sullivan is celebrating 20 years with the organisation and admits the Coronavirus pandemic has been the toughest period of her professional career.
However, despite a series of lockdowns, NEWCIS has welcomed 5,000 new carers into the fold during that time and received up to 130 referrals a week since Christmas.
That takes their total number of carers to 16,000 in Denbighshire, Wrexham and Flintshire, individuals in need of training, counselling, financial assistance, and advocacy as they offer unpaid support to family and friends.
Set up as an independent charity in 2014, NEWCIS now employs up to 50 staff and Claire says their presence in the region is more crucial than ever.
As they prepare to unveil a new respite break centre in Prestatyn, she said: “It has been very tough because we are all about people, whether that be the carers, our staff and volunteers or the many partners we work alongside.
“Not everyone has had access to the internet so for many it has been especially isolating, but we quickly pivoted and brought everything online, speaking to people on the phone and continuing our first-class service.
“In the first three months of the pandemic we made more than 10,000 calls to people who were scared and struggling, they had no food in the cupboards and nobody to speak to.
“I’m proud of how, as a charity, we have managed to push forward and had so many referrals from hospitals, social services, the voluntary sector and GPs – unpaid carers have needed us more than ever before.”
Following an assessment, carers supported by NEWCIS will have access to a host of services tailored to individual needs, from group sessions and grant funding to respite, counselling and education.
The offering has expanded in past years, and has included the introduction of a social enterprise, a new project for young carers in Flintshire, an initiative supplying carers and families with fresh produce in lockdown, and the successful ‘Keep Busy, Keep Well’ packs distributed to more than 7,500 households during Covid.
They also recently won a Social Care Wales Accolades Award for their Bridging the Gap respite scheme.
Having made so many advances during her tenure, Claire has enjoyed several highlights to combat the difficulties of recent times, including a notable Royal encounter.
“In the last 20 years I have seen a lot but presenting twice to Princess Anne on behalf of the charity and being invited to her 60th birthday party at Buckingham Palace stand out as very happy memories,” she said.
“Another was receiving £1m from the National Lottery to help fund us for three years; I sat and stared at the email for about 15 minutes, too scared to open it, and when I did my shrieks could be heard down the street – we were all so happy.”
Claire added: “Ultimately, the long-lasting respect I have for all of our staff and volunteers is what has made the last two decades so rewarding.
“We have trebled in size, trebled turnover and gone from 23 staff to almost 50, but what matters most is making a difference; one example is when we sent a carer and her family to a caravan on the North Wales coast for a few days. They were landlocked, did not have transport and had young children who had never seen the sea. It was something small to most of us but huge to them.
“That’s the best thing about working for NEWCIS, every day you speak to somebody new and think to yourself “We can help them, we can do something good here” – that is a fantastic feeling I look forward to experiencing for many years to come.”