Christine Gibson has cared for her son Russell since his accident over 20 years ago. In 2001, Russell tragically fell from a third story tenement building in Edinburgh and it is a miracle he is alive today. Christine explains:

“From looking at Russell, you can’t tell that there’s anything wrong, so I think people are often taken by surprise. He suffered a brain injury as a result of the fall, which impacts his memory and ability to understand information. He also has epilepsy and deafness in one ear.”

Although Russell has his own flat, he relies on Christine and her husband, William for support in every aspect of his daily life. Christine described that she has to ‘fight’ for Russell, as often he is unable to advocate for himself. Christine added that she and her husband are Russell’s life and said that wherever he goes, they go too.

Providing constant unpaid care can be exhausting, as expressed by Christine, and for many the potential of having a break from ‘normal life’ feels unattainable. To address this crucial and urgent need for access to a break from caring, VOCAL, Voice of Carers Across Lothian, opened a ‘carer cottage’ in June of this year.

Hawthorn Brae is located in the beautiful surroundings of Blair Atholl and has been launched to support unpaid carers with a break from caring and those they care for. When the opportunity arose to visit Hawthorn Brae in August of this year, Christine, William and Russell jumped at the chance for a holiday. She explains:

“We were exhausted in all honesty. But, being able to go away and do things we wouldn’t normally made a big difference. We live in a flat so I can’t really sit outside, and we are in quite a busy part of Edinburgh.

“Every 15 minutes a bus rumbles past so it’s a constant hustle and bustle that never feels quite relaxing. Hawthorn Brae was the opposite! It was so peaceful. I could sit out in the garden with a coffee. We could go a walk together as a family and we played cards almost every evening. Of course there were some arguments over the TV remote and the lovely reclining chair!”

Christine expressed her appreciation at being able to go on a break, and added that Russell had a great time too:

“It was wonderful. Russell actually didn’t want to come home! He had his own bedroom and space, so I think he would have been very happy to live at the cottage. He really loved it and we are so grateful for the time we were able to spend together away from our normal routines.”

Over the past 20 years, Christine has been accessing support from VOCAL, Voice of Carers Across Lothian. Through VOCAL, Christine has received counselling, attended carer support groups and joined training sessions to support her caring role.

The recent opening of Hawthorn Brae encouraged Christine to pursue a break from caring and as her story highlights, breaks can help carers to cope with challenges, impact positively on carers’ situations and gives carers time to rest and recharge.

At a time when the cost of living is at a record high, for many, the opportunity of a break feels even more out of reach. Many carers cannot afford a break, but through Hawthorn Brae, VOCAL is able to offer stays free to carers and the person(s) they care for.

This Christmas, you can give the gift of a break to an unpaid carer like Christine. VOCAL’s is asking for donations to its Christmas Appeal, with all funds raised going towards providing more carers with breaks at Hawthorn Brae carer cottage.

To donate, please visit our Just Giving page.