Navigating Love and Care: Brian and Kate McDonnell's Inspiring Journey
We’re delighted to share the second part of the interview with our owners/directors, Brian and Kate McDonnell, as part of our celebration of Carers Week.
This annual campaign holds a special place in our hearts, as it aligns perfectly with our mission to raise awareness about the challenges faced by carers, both paid and unpaid, and to recognise their immense contributions to families and communities across the United Kingdom.
How have political factors and the current state of the care system affected caregiving? 

The role of unpaid carer is often affected by political decisions which may be driven by ideology rather than an accurate understanding of the reality of people’s lives and the struggles they face. The current situation is a case in point, with carers now facing the added stress of being pursued for overpayments they may have unwittingly claimed due to issues with Carer’s Allowance.  The amount unpaid carers are allowed to earn from part time jobs has not kept pace with rises in the Minimum Wage, meaning that someone who did 16 hours paid work previously may have unintentionally exceeded the weekly earnings threshold, losing entitlement to the benefit and falling into debt – adding unnecessary anxiety to an already challenging situation. 

Although there has been some improvement in attitudes to caregivers, it feels like unpaid carers remain politically invisible, despite the amount of money they continue to save the taxpayer. In the early stages of our own journey, Kate and I found that there was more support and understanding when we expressed our needs for specific items or assistance – I’m not sure that the system is as generous today.

I feel for those who are just beginning their caregiving journey in today’s climate. The process of describing the effects of an illness on a person’s life is incredibly complex and highly individual – difficult to capture in a standardised assessment.

There is a larger issue here around devaluing the role of paid and unpaid carers. If we want to raise the standards of care, we must first raise the standing of carers. They deserve proper recognition for the vital work they do and the immense contributions they make to the lives of those they care for.


One of the key challenges in dealing with illness and disability is that it can be unpredictable and subject to change over time. We were fortunate enough to experience a benefit system that, while not overly generous, offered a degree of flexibility that allowed us to adapt to our changing circumstances. 

As I began, over time, to feel a little better, we found ourselves in a difficult position. We had fought hard to secure the benefits we relied on, but we knew that demonstrating any kind of ability to work could jeopardise that support. Fortunately, at that time, there was a fantastic provision in place that allowed individuals to come off benefits for a year with the assurance that they could return to the same rate if their illness resurfaced or if the transition didn’t work out.

Additionally, there was the Access to Work scheme, which enabled Brian to become my support worker. This meant that my return to work was really a joint effort – it was us going back to work together, as that was the only way it could have been possible given my circumstances.

The state support that recognised and accommodated the very individual situations people might find themselves in was invaluable. It helped us to avoid getting stuck and allowed us to explore new possibilities without fear of losing the safety net we relied on. I was lucky to experience some improvement in my condition: it’s important to recognise that many people are living with conditions which will never allow them to work. There are many ways of leading a happy and fulfilling life whilst living with disability. I do worry when the state targets sick and disabled people with the work imperative when it is clearly inappropriate.

Brian, how do you think a more empathetic and understanding approach from authorities could help improve the lives of individuals with disabilities and their carers? 

At the heart of the issue lies the need for genuine understanding of the realities people face in their daily lives. It’s crucial for those in positions of authority to recognise the challenges involved in caring for a loved one whilst also trying to maintain some form of employment to help make ends meet. The current system has a cliff edge where all benefit is lost if people make an honest mistake and exceed the Carer’s Allowance earning threshold by as little as £1,

Rather than constantly looking to trip people up or catch them out, we need a more flexible and empathetic approach, which would allow carers to fulfil their role with dignity, free from anxiety and properly recognised/appreciated by society. The current earnings threshold is £151 per week and Carer’s Allowance is paid at a rate of £81.90.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a carer/cared for? 

For me, being a carer, while undeniably challenging, also comes with its own set of profound rewards. At the heart of the caregiving relationship lies an extraordinary level of intensity and intimacy that is truly special and difficult to describe. It has become so much a part of the fabric of our lives that it is hard to unpick it. 

When you take on the role of a carer, you become deeply intertwined with the person you support. You share in their struggles, their joys, and their most vulnerable moments.


Humour has been an essential part of our caregiving journey. We’ve found ourselves in some ridiculous situations!

I remember once we were enjoying the sun on a beach and didn’t notice the tide coming in. There was a race to get me, the wheelchair, beach bags, inflatables and two small children across the sand in time. We just made it, but, even in the midst of it all, we couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of our situation.

Then there was the fairground ride which we were assured was slow and sedate, but which ended up being somewhat white-knuckle! I had a very unstable neck at the time and Brian ended up making an impromptu (and I’m sure ineffective!) brace, by putting his hands around my neck! It was scary, but also very funny – one of those “another fine mess we’ve got ourselves into” moments.

Being able to laugh at how silly things can get has been a tremendous coping mechanism for us.

Kate, how have you dealt with the emotional challenges of being the partner receiving care?

Brian mentioned that he wouldn’t like to be the one being cared for, but I think I would struggle with some of the challenges he has faced as a carer. When I’ve had to undergo risky surgery, I can only imagine the fear and anxiety Brian must have felt, wondering if I would wake up. In those moments, I’ve often thought that I would rather be the one going through the procedure than the one watching helplessly from the side-lines.

As the person receiving care, there is, of course a sense of vulnerability and frustration at times, but also a deep gratitude for Brian’s unwavering support – I know it’s not always easy for him. 

My life would be unimaginably worse without Brian. I don’t allow my mind to go down that road very often – it’s a thought that is almost too painful to contemplate.

Can you share some examples of the accomplishments you are particularly proud of, both big and small, and how they have contributed to a sense of satisfaction in your journey together?

Brian and I have always found joy and a sense of achievement in tackling challenges together, whether they be grand endeavours or small victories. One of the things we take pride in is completing walks that are deemed unsuitable for wheelchairs.  There’s something incredibly satisfying about reaching a rugged and picturesque spot, setting up a picnic, and watching the reactions of passers-by who can’t quite figure out how we managed to get there!


But it’s not just the physical feats that bring us satisfaction. Bringing up our children together and watching them turn into the amazing adults they have become, helping Rory get Cavalry off the ground, supporting Kate to build a career despite the challenges of her illness, are huge sources of pride. Knowing that we’ve created something meaningful that has the potential to positively affect the lives of others is incredibly rewarding. 

It’s in these moments, both big and small, that I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for our journey together. Every obstacle we overcome, every milestone we reach, serves as a reminder of the incredible resilience and love that defines our relationship.


There is a profound satisfaction in knowing that we have not let my illness dictate the terms of our lives. Instead, we have chosen to face each challenge head-on, finding creative solutions and embracing the adventure of it all.

A BIG thank you to Brian and Kate for sharing their story, which serves as a powerful reminder of the vital role that carers play in our society, and the importance of recognising and supporting them in their efforts. As we celebrate Carers Week, let us take a moment to appreciate the unwavering dedication and compassion of carers, who have devoted their lives to making a difference in the lives of others.
At Cavalry, we remain committed to raising awareness about the challenges faced by carers and to providing the highest quality of care and support to those who need it most. We hope that Brian and Kate’s story has inspired you, as it has us, to continue advocating for carers and working towards creating a society that truly values and supports their incredible contributions.

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