Chair of Islington’s Family Carer Action Group wins council accolade

Carer Virginia Bovell is presented with her award by Mayor of Islington Gary Heather and Cllr Janet Burgess

Virginia Bovell is presented with her award by Mayor of Islington Gary Heather and Cllr Janet Burgess. Photograph: Islington Council

A carer determined to prevent families of children with learning disabilities from becoming isolated has been honoured for her work.

Virginia Bovell chairs Islington’s Family Carers Action Group, which supports people with children over the age of 16 with learning disabilities.

It shares ideas and suggestions with decision-makers, based on families’ experiences.

There are more than 100 families in the group, which was founded in 2012, but Bovell said there are others who do not know about the support it offers.

“We have family carers who have been involved for decades and carers who are just starting out on the road,” she said.

The group meets in person several times a year and Islington Council staff usually attend.

Bovell was honoured as joint Family Carer of the Year at the Town Hall’s Dignity in Care Awards.

Ten winners were picked from more than 90 nominations.

Cllr Janet Burgess, who sat on the judging panel, said: “The awards are a great way of recognising and saying a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for the tireless work of carers in Islington.”

Bovell’s was praised her work in helping the council with recruitment and procurement, “providing us with her extensive knowledge and expertise to ensure the best outcomes for the learning disabilities community”.

She was described as “an incredible mother and carer, who will do whatever she can to ensure that not just her son, but anyone else who needs it, will get the right support.”

Bovell said the award “means that the role of family carers in helping to shape the social care and health services that are provided for adults with learning disabilities are recognised”.

During the pandemic, the Family Carers Action Group held online meetings to help families worried about their children’s welfare.

“Covid was absolutely horrendous,” said Bovell.

The isolation was hard to explain to family members, like her 30-year-old son Danny, who lives in supported accommodation in Islington.

Bovell usually sees him several times a week, but that stopped during lockdown.

“Our family members were suddenly surrounded by people wearing masks. We could not visit Danny. Touch is key to his wellbeing, and we could not do that,” she said.

Families are keen to put that upsetting time behind them.

The Family Carers Action Group runs joint training with Centre 404, a charity that works with people with learning disabilities and autism and their families.

The training helps people understand how to build relationships with social care staff. Group members are also on interview panels and are consulted when Islington Council puts services out to tender.

Bovell said: “Getting to know family carers in Islington is an absolute joy. It’s really rewarding.”

She gave up work when her son was nearly three and he was diagnosed with learning difficulties and autism. Later, she got involved with national charity Ambitious About Autism.

“It was very isolating 30 years ago and getting to know other people helped,” she recalled.

These days, she is active in Islington supporting other families.

“It’s really important for individuals not to feel isolated and feel alone,” she said.