EVERY year we have Carers Week – but this year that takes on a much bigger meaning.

It’s a reminder of the extraordinary contribution of carers in these extraordinary times – and also of their extraordinary work in ordinary times.

There are one and half million people working in social care in England; in care homes, home care, day services, respite centres and many other forms of support.

This is in addition to the numerous voluntary sector-led initiatives, and which together work across 38,000 different settings.

The sector was presented challenges during the pandemic, but the need to create a greater sense of unity across the sector has, and will, become increasingly important.

This has been supported by the development of the CARE brand, announced by the health secretary back in April.

The Department of Health and Social Care is now working on how the brand can be used by providers, and how to support the use of a badge and other material such as a website and an app.

This will give much-deserved recognition to the social care workforce, which continues to work in the very difficult environment demanded by the virus.

Here in Hampshire, with a social care workforce of 37,000, there is a clear opportunity to increase integration and collaboration across all health partners locally.

And there are also millions of unpaid carers, often looking after close family members, some of whom probably don’t even recognise themselves as carers.

The Princess Royal Trust for Carers believes there are more than 130,000 people in Hampshire providing informal care.

Recognising when you are a carer is an important step towards finding support and accessing the services that are there to help.

The Hampshire Carers’ Support and Dementia Advisor Service is provided by Andover Mind and supports any carer aged 18 or over, regardless of the needs of the person they care for.

There is also the Princess Royal Trust for Carers in Hampshire, the Hampshire Young Carers Alliance for under-18s, and a wealth of support available on the Connect to Support Hampshire website.

Many of these are operated on a voluntary basis, and with Volunteers’ Week having just passed, their efforts were once again acknowledged and celebrated.

The public response to the call for people to join the NHS Volunteer Responders was truly overwhelming.

And it is fitting that this group will extend their support to health and social care workers, helping them to protect those they care for by making fewer journeys and coming into contact with fewer people so they can focus on and continue their vital work.

I often talk about the amazing body of volunteers here in East Hampshire, and I continue to be humbled by their passion, creativity and vigour.

Whether in support of environmental initiatives, helping people with disabilities to find work or develop new skills, providing support for those living with dementia and their carers, helping families cope with the demands of young children, supporting young adults through difficult times, or helping with end-of-life care, East Hampshire boasts a bounty of people willing to help others.

Hampshire County Council, East Hampshire District Council, and Community First have taken a leading role during the pandemic, linking vulnerable people with local volunteer support groups and helping volunteers find groups that need more support.

I applaud the way local government and the voluntary sector has continued to work together throughout this crisis.

As we continue to live with the threat of this invisible virus, we must make sure we give greater visibility to those putting the needs of others before their own and work so hard to look after the most vulnerable members of our local communities.