In 2021 we sat down to chat with unpaid carer and new business owner Helen as she shared her experiences of juggling the two roles. You can read our first chat on our carer stories page.

Now in 2023, a lot has changed as her caring role evolves and her business continues to succeed. We've caught up with Helen to chat about all things caring, running a business, and being nominated for an International Award!

When we spoke with you in 2021, you recently recognised that you are a carer for your children. Now, in 2023, what are your thoughts on the word 'carer', and has being a carer had any positive or negative impacts on you accessing services or opportunities?

That's true, I did struggle at first with identifying as an unpaid carer: now it becomes much easier to use the term. It did help with getting COVID and flu vaccinations, I think. The biggest shift, though, has been in my mental attitude to my life. I've become better at being kinder to myself when I feel exhausted and at allowing myself to feel the big emotions that come with being a carer.

We've gotten better at asking for help too - just this week, we had help from Gateshead Carers to fill in a PIP form with our 21 year old daughter. The Wellbeing Fund is always a real treat, like a reward for all the hard work - this year, I got an overclocker for all my sewing projects and every time I use it, I feel grateful to Gateshead Carers for making it possible for me to have it.

In 2022, you spoke about your caring role and the adoption of one of your children on BBC Radio 4's 'The Exchange'. This episode has now been nominated for an International Award. How did sharing your story make you feel? Furthermore, what do you think are the benefits of other carers sharing their stories?

Appearing on 'The Exchange' was a very unsettling and emotional experience as it brought so much back about a very traumatic time in my life. I was worried about being judged by listeners and not being able to explain adequately why I did what I did, but actually, the time in that recording studio was really precious and healing for all of us I think, a magical moment - the presenter was in tears by the end!

Hearing that the episode has been nominated for an International Award feels very validating. I feel heard. And that is so important as a carer/adopter/human.

Sharing our stories can be painful and vulnerable, but if it helps people understand how tough it can be and gives an insight into impossible decisions we are forced to make, then hopefully it is worth it.

Being an unpaid carer for your children is just one of your many roles. As the proud owner or Green Heart Collective, a local social enterprise which has been going from strength to strength, most notably with you relocating into the heart of Gateshead's high street. How has the whole experience been juggling a caring role and being a business owner? Have the two roles benefitted each other?

I've come to see that having my own project/work/vision is vital to my wellbeing. To know that I am good at something and have a worthwhile role outside of the home has given me a healthier perspective on what goes on in the home. It's tough though, of course, juggling everything and the unpredictability of my kids' needs can be very stressful to manage. Green Heart on Gateshead High Street is a world of its own that I can get lost in and be my own person. I can switch off and put my anxieties to one side while I am interacting with customers. My colleagues are very understanding so I have some flexibility about hours, etc. I love what I do so even though it's exhausting, I wouldn't have it any other way.

If there was one thing you wanted to share with the thousands of carers across Gateshead, what would it be?

I don't know if it's just me (I have a feeling it's not), but the hardest thing about being a carer is feeling like a failure all of the time. However hard I try, I feel I am failing my kids all of the time. They're young adults now and the world isn't set up for people like them. I am just a human being and I cannot fix things for them. I want the best for them but I'm not even sure what that is. And of course, they're quick to point out all my faults and make me feel everything is my fault so it's hard to stay positive about myself.

So my advice to myself and others is to find something you love and can be good at and make that a priority in your week. I have several: I play in an orchestra, I go to a sewing group and I swim in the sea on a Sunday morning all year round. I ringfence these times in the week as my time. These activities build me up and make me feel great about myself. They give me the strength to face another day.

Green Heart Collective

Green Heart Collective is a local social enterprise based on Gateshead High Street upcycling preloved clothing and other items to sell in their online and in-person stores founded by the fabulous Helen! Be sure to pop into their shop when you are next at Gateshead High Street.