When Liz Kavanagh visited her grandmother in sheltered accommodation in Southampton, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
Because Liz, who has volunteered for Winchester & District Young Carers for many years, realised that her grandmother’s carer was none other than Sarah Vane, a former young carer Liz had supported ten years previously.
Not only was Sarah now looking after Liz’s grandmother regularly, but she had also just passed a course to train other carers too.
Liz said: “I first met Sarah when I was helping at the Young Carers youth club and over the years saw her flourish from a little girl into a lovely young lady. Her experience as a carer in her own family makes her the perfect person to be caring for my grandma.”
We support over 150 young people in a variety of ways who have caring responsibilities at home and encourage them to achieve their dreams and have confidence in their abilities. We are so proud of Sarah and delighted that she is now supporting a family member of one of our volunteers!
A letter from Tom
Dear Winchester Young Carers,
My name is Tom, and I was a young carer and member of Winchester Young Carers sometime around the 2000-2005 period. I am now 24 and would have been about 7 to 10 at the time.
Back then I remember a gentleman named Ben who I believe was Winchester Young Carers staff, and a lady named Flora who was my “befriender”.
That was an incredibly difficult time in my life. My mother suffered from Wilson’s Disease that made her physically disabled, combined with severe mental illness. My parents were also in a long process of separating, and I would help look after my mother as she got dressed, ate, moved or even provide care when she feinted, including several ambulance calls. I remember being bullied at school and how chronically difficult it was.
At some point I was signed up to the Winchester Young Carers. I remember attending a lot of group events and activities, and in particular remember the days out Flora would take me on so that I could focus on my real job: being a kid. I remember that we had a shared interest in military museums in Winchester, and that she had a habit of always saying “Good Morning / Good Evening Your Majesty” to the statue of King Alfred. Those moments away from home, and the opportunity to meet other kids in similar situations to me, were invaluable. It stopped me feeling quite so alone. The highlight came when Ben asked me to represent the Winchester Young Carers at an event held in the Winchester Great Hall, where I met the Queen and shook her hand. I was incredibly honoured to represent all young carers.
Eventually my mother’s physical disability recovered somewhat, but her mental health problems would lead her into a series of abusive relationships, and she began to heavily abuse class A drugs, much of which I was a witness to. I had to make the difficult decision to cease contact with her ten years ago and haven’t heard from her since. I understand she is now homeless and often in trouble with the Police.
Fortunately, my father intervened as I was entering secondary school, and was able to win custody of me. I went to live with him and my stepfamily in the New Forest, where I was able to grow up with far more stability. However, as I hit my late teens I began to suffer chronic depression and anxiety of my own. When I was 15, shortly before breaking contact with my mother, I went to see my GP and told her I wanted to kill myself. I had a lot of counselling over many years, during which time I was able to do very well in my GCSEs, but got very poor grades at A level, although I volunteered a lot in different youth projects aimed at people like me. Counselling helped me focus on looking after myself first.
At 18 I went on an International Citizen’s Service scheme for three months to Ghana, West Africa, which put a lot of things in perspective for me, especially as my job was to work with disabled people and their own young carers who had nothing like the support I did. When I came back I got a temp job opening post in a Government office. Perhaps it was the experience and forced-maturity of being a young carer, but my work ethic allowed me to climb the career ladder quickly. Five years later, I am a senior policy specialist for Her Majesty’s Coastguard and Civil Service – in the same building. I bought my first home in Southampton three years ago, have a great girlfriend, and a loving family. In short, I have been able to turn my life around.
As I get older, it is becoming important to reflect on how I got here and give thanks to the incredible kindness and generosity of people like Ben and Flora. People, I am sure, like all of the modern-day staff and volunteers at Winchester Young Carers, who pour their time, energy and love into giving children and young people the space and care they deserve. You do this for little or no pay, often without thanks from unruly teenagers, and at a time when children’s services have severely felt the bite of funding cuts. As one of those kids who has now grown up and come out the other side, I can tell you that what you are doing really matters. Even in my darkest moments, my memory of Winchester Young Carers and knowing that I was not alone, and that people cared, meant a great deal. I am here today because of people like you.
I have no idea if Ben and Flora are still involved in Winchester Young Carers, but if it is at all possible I would very much like to get in touch with them and thank them for what they did for me. I hope that the Winchester Young Carers is still going strong.
You guys rock. Thank you.