A number of organisations and groups in the Blue Mountains will mark National Carers Week (October 10-16), a celebration of the vital role carers play in providing support for loved ones with a disability, mental health condition, chronic condition, terminal illness, alcohol or drug issues, or who are simply frail from advanced age.
In Australia there are 2.7 million family and friend carers, of all ages, providing 36 million hours of care every week - and the local Blue Mountains community has its fair share.
"In the Blue Mountains alone there are 8718 registered carers - 13 per cent of the population - providing unpaid assistance to a person with disability, long-term illness or old age," said Marlene Churn, Katoomba volunteer home visitors coordinator with Belong Blue Mountains.
"The true numbers of people who provide regular or daily care to someone who has limited capacity to look after themselves is likely much higher.
"This statistic emphasises the importance of carers, but also provides some respite from the role of caring, which, for many, is unrecognised and under-valued."
During National Carers Week, several Mountains organisations will join forces to present a series of (COVID-safe) events and opportunities. Participating bodies include Wellways, Carer Gateway, Belong Blue Mountains, Relationships Australia, Services Australia, Blue Mountains Food Services and Blue Mountains City Council.
Carers Week is particularly meaningful for two Blue Mountains friends, Keith Davies and Peter Swindell, who are acting as local ambassadors for the event. Mr Davies and Mr Swindell have bonded over their common experiences caring for their wives. Their shared story is testament to the importance of support networks - something Carers Week seeks to emphasise.
"Carers Week is an opportune time to reflect on the benefits, indeed the necessity, of good support," said Mr Davies. "In my case Peter has been a great support and I enjoy working with him on all things dementia and dementia care. Prior to meeting him I was most fortunate to receive great support from family, friends, neighbours and the wider Blue Mountains community - and still do.
"Good support, formal and informal is a key requirement, both to facilitate the best care possible and also, just as importantly, to promote and maintain the wellbeing of the carer. But as a carer you need to be open to receive it. Not everyone is."
Mr Swindell echoed his friend's belief that care for carers is essential.
"When your wife of 50 years needs 24-hour care and moves into a residential care home, it is extremely traumatic and you feel guilty," he said. "You feel as though you are letting them down and only you can give them the best care.
"It isn't quite that way of course, you become a better carer because now you are getting enough sleep, you are eating properly, you are finally looking after yourself. This enables you to visit every day and help care for her.
"My friendship with Keith has had untold benefits, especially when my wife passed away in 2017 and we continue to support each other in many ways."
Activities and events to take place across Carers Week include information sessions of various kinds, workshops (including a laughter workshop with comedian Anthony Ackroyd), cooking classes, trivia, games and movies. For full details visit https://www.bmcc.nsw.gov.au/ and search for the Carers Week program, or phone 02 4780 5000.