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Carers Week: Westbank Young Carers

16 June 2011

The Westbank Young Carers project supports young carers in Devon in a number of different ways, ranging from advice to advocacy, group work and respite events.

Working in partnership with five other Devon organisations, they recently secured a Big Lottery Fund grant of close to £1 million through BIG’s Youth in Focus programme to offer intensive support to young carers through a five-year project. One aspect of the project is a mentoring programme, where young carers will meet regularly with a trained volunteer. They will be able to talk to their mentor about things that are troubling them, take part in different leisure activities, and will also be supported to link to other services such as counselling or young people’s mental health.

A young carer who has benefited greatly from attending Westbank is  Gemma*, 16, from Exeter, who helps her mum to look after her 10-year-old brother who has Asperger’s syndrome and her younger brother, aged 5.

She says: “I get up and I help get the boys ready for school and make sure everything’s sorted, get them breakfast. Later, while mum picks them up from school, I get things out for them to play with and sort out the things that need doing.

“James can get really stressed out, which is difficult because you have to keep really calm about it. You’ve got to realise he doesn’t always know what he’s saying, so it can be difficult having an argument, you’ve got to stay calm and walk away sometimes.

“Me and my little brother are really close. I take him out all the time when mum wants some time with James. Or if mum wants some time on her own I’ll take both the boys out. I take them to the park or swimming, or places where we can do things. Because it’s summer I’ll be taking them out a lot more and helping out in the mornings so we can go out places.”

Gemma attends a weekly youth club at the Westbank Young Carers project, which gives Gemma the break she needs and means she can meet up with other young carers.

“It’s nice to have someone to talk to if you need to, or you can go down [to the youth club] and just relax – sometimes when you want to get away from everything you can go down there, sit on the sofas, watch a film or go on the laptop, you don’t have to worry about anything.

“If I didn’t have it I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to – down there I know there are other people I can talk to who are in the same situation.”

Things would be a lot harder without the club she says: “Sometimes you can get really upset about it and it’s nice to able to share it with someone else and they can talk to you. It feels so much better when you’ve talked to someone about how you’re feeling.”

For more information about Westbank Young Carers, please visit: www.westbank.org.uk/westbank-community-services/exeter-exminster/young-carers

*name changed to protect identity

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