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Carers Week: “My youth workers were the light at the end of the tunnel”

12th June 2024 by Gemma, Youth Work Apprentice, Preston Youth Zone

To mark Carers Week (10-16 June), we spoke with Gemma, a former Wigan Youth Zone member who’s now completing a Youth Work Apprenticeship with Preston Youth Zone. Gemma shared how the Youth Zone supported her as a young carer, and offered her advice to other carers.

I joined Wigan Youth Zone when I was eight or nine. My experience was amazing due to the opportunities I was given, the mates for life I made, and the support I got from youth workers that I could always talk to.

I started off going to music and drama, and then I got back in to football, something I’d done outside the Youth Zone. During that time, I had lots of things going on at school and at home, and my youth workers were a big help. They were a non-judgemental listening ear.

I had caring responsibilities, which I initially didn’t want to speak to anyone about. I had a trusted relationship with the youth workers; they are really good at getting you to open-up about things naturally without realising. When I felt anxious and had gone into my shell, I was assigned a mentor who brought me back out. She made me laugh, smile, and was someone I had a good time with.  Suddenly I felt a weight being lifted from my shoulders. When things were hard, my youth workers were the light at the end of the tunnel.

My caring responsibilities sometimes meant I found it difficult to balance school, responsibilities at home, and finding time for myself. One misconception I find people have about young carers is that they don’t care about their education, which often just isn’t the case. I’d be up early before school, often at 5am, to sort my caring responsibilities, I’d be on the school bus for 7:30am, and would be back to my responsibilities after the school day.

The youth workers helped me come up with a schedule. The time I’d come into the Youth Zone was when I’d switch off and do what I enjoyed. They reminded me to take time for myself, and that even though I had responsibilities, I wouldn’t be able to help other people if I didn’t help myself.

Now I’m doing a Youth Work Apprenticeship with the soon-to-be-opened Preston Youth Zone, and my long-term goal is to become a paramedic. What inspired me to do the apprenticeship was being able to relate to the young people I’d work with when I was a Young Leader at Wigan. I know what it is like to struggle and to not know what to do in life. I want to help them grow, and to come out of positions similar to mine, as I know it can be hard sometimes.

My advice to other carers would be something said by a person who’s inspired me a lot; “be unapologetically yourself. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”  I don’t think people consider the impact being a carer has on your health and wellbeing; because they see you as being ‘too busy to struggle’, which is a strange idea. There’s going to be times when your caring responsibilities are high, but that doesn’t stop you from being you. Take that time to look after yourself. Remember that there’s support out there, either at your Youth Zone or youth centre, local council and beyond.

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