The hour starts off with some jokes courtesy of one member, who soon has the rest of the gents smiling as they wait for their tea and biscuits and after about five minutes there is plenty of good-natured banter flowing around the table.
For many of the men present, this friendly get together once a month for carers is a lifesaver: it helps them unwind and chat to others going through similar situations and allows each member time to be themselves.
But despite the good humour, most if not all those present are dealing with some extremely difficult situations back at home. Some are looking after wives who are in the early stages of dementia, others are caring for spouses who are in the more progressive stages of the illness while some are caring for loved ones with other health problems such as difficulties with mobility. This is often on top of any health conditions they may have themselves.
Caring itself encompasses a whole range of tasks such as getting someone up in the morning, making their meals, giving their medication, ensuring they have personal care, organising and taking them to hospital and much more besides.
And while all the men there clearly dote on and love their wives, the responsibility of carrying out so much can take its strain on both husband and wife.
And this is where the Wittering’s Men’s Carers Group plays such a crucial part. Set up four years ago, the group was established by former bank manager Leslie Bourne, 88, who looks after his wife who has cancer. With a few others he decided it would be good for the men to meet and talk and get a little respite from being at home.
“Male carers are in a unique position because many of us had never done any of the cooking at home, never used the washing machine,” he explains. “I thought it would be a good idea for people to meet and it started from that really.”
From that, the group has grown to a regular member base of around 14 men, who are all very grateful to be able to ask questions of each other and share their experiences of caring.
The group was set up with the help of the Carers Support Service, Regis Chichester and Rural based in St Pancras, Chichester, and also receives strong support from the director of the Wittering Medical Centre, Janice Stepney.
Getting carers together, to ensure they do not feel alone and do have people to call on if they are in need is one of the aims of the organisation, and its information officer Louise Spong is full of support and praise for the Wittering group.
“We encourage carers to attend support group meetings like this one. They offer the opportunity to give mutual support, swap strategies on how to cope, learn about local services as well as providing time to enjoy the company of others who understand what it means to be a carer.
“A group like this can play a pivotal part in sustaining someone’s caring role. Many people don’t always want to talk to extended family or their existing network of friends about some of the issues they may be facing.
“However, knowing there is a place to discuss matters close to the heart about the person you love but also care for in a non-judgemental and confidential environment can be a lifeline.
“There are times when carers may feel frustrated and with a condition like dementia may also feel resentful that they have lost the person they once knew.
“Here in the group carers can talk openly about some of these conflicting issues without feeling disloyal.”
As the members chat, it becomes clear there are a range of different issues they want to talk about, from their experiences in hospital – both good and bad – to dealing with loss and bereavement and the difficulty of moving on once a loved one passes.
They talk openly about their own feelings such as the frustration that can develop sometimes when looking after someone with dementia, and how the role of caring affects and changes the relationship with their wives.
Practical and supportive of each other, each member talks in a very dignified and thoughtful manner, and it is hard to not to be touched by their stories, which demonstrate just how important the role of a carer is.
As one member puts it, he is a ‘sharer’, which includes caring for his wife.
“Our wives have done so much for us over the years and we are being there for them.”
And as Lesley explains: “We are all different people, we are caring for different people, we all have different problems, but we can all learn from one another. There is a need here.”
n The group meets at Wittering Medical Centre, Cakeham Road. on the second Wednesday of every month at 2pm. Call 01243 537011 for details on joining.
n See www.carerssupportservice.org.uk or call 01243 537011 for details about the Carers Support Service.