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“Young carers selflessly give their time to others, we want to be here for them.”

31st March 2022 by Nicola Varley, Deputy Head of Youth Work at Wigan Youth Zone

A new survey released earlier this month by Carers Trust to mark Young Carers Action Day reported a dramatic rise in the number of hours young carers spent caring due to the pandemic. It is estimated that there are 166,000 young carers in England – with research suggesting the actual figure may be closer to 800,000. Across the OnSide Network at least (insert number) young people are carers.

Nicola Varley, Deputy Head of Youth Work at Wigan Youth Zone tells us about how the Youth Zone is supporting young carers and the importance of fun and a respite from responsibilities for them.

As youth workers, we’re always challenging ourselves to think how we can empower more young people to access opportunities, working with them to remove barrier.

Of the 5,000 members at Wigan Youth Zone, we know there are many that have caring responsibilities at home. Caring can take many forms. They may have extra jobs around the house like cooking or cleaning, provide physical care to a family member who’s unwell, or they may be a parent to a young child themselves.

Each young person who walks through the door brings their unique experiences, which means we have to be flexible enough to give something different to every member and their unique circumstances. The Carers Trust research found that 47% of those surveyed said they felt less connected to others. Youth Zones directly address this isolation for young carers, providing a place where they can have a break, enjoy being young, socialise, play and have fun. Youth Zones also give young carers a chance to meet other young people who may understand and relate to their experiences.

It’s estimated that 27% of young carers (aged 11-15) miss school or experience educational difficulties, so Youth Zones support those who face extra pressure with their education through initiatives like Homework Club which provide a quiet place to get on a computer, or to access help from an adult in a safe working space.

As well as supporting young people through our universal offer like all Youth Zones in the Network, what we do at Wigan Youth Zone is constantly evolving to better support the needs of our members and our local community. We gain huge value in working in partnership with local authorities, targeted support service and youth organisations.

One of the partnership programmes I’m especially proud of was Sound Creators, in collaboration with UK Youth. Working with a local young mum’s group we ran music session which built confidence and used creativity to support with health and wellbeing. The programme gave participants a break from their caring responsibilities, and a space to meet peers and to talk about their experiences and challenges. We worked really hard to remove as many barriers to participation as possible, for example investing in car seats, so participants could bring their babies along with them to the Youth Zone.

Young carers selflessly give their time to care for others and with the increase challenges and responsibilities they face as a result of the pandemic, we’re committed to continuing to supporting young carers, providing all the opportunities we can to help them to succeed.