11 December 2014

How the YMCA LSW Camp made Will’s summer one to remember

When 11 year old Will jumped off a cliff and into the Irish Sea this summer, he overcame more than just the usual tingling and butterflies such activities can bring out. 

Standing there on the edge, watching the cascading cold water below him, getting ready to jump from 30 feet high and into freezing cold sea water, he also tackled some fears much deeper within him; that his mother was going to die, or that she was going to get ill again, leaving him to care for her and his three young siblings once more.

Physical and emotional challenges

Will is one of the ten young carers from Kingston who this year came along to a week-long Residential Camp at YMCA Newgale on the Pembrokeshire coast in West Wales.

In charge of the Residential Camp was Myke Catterall, Interim Head of Children’s work at YMCA St Paul’s Group. He says:

Will had no fear; he was willing to give everything a go and really challenged himself, not just physically, but emotionally as well.”

The coasteering was awesome,” says the fearless Will, who would definitely do it again.

A tough year

This last year, Will has experienced more hardships than an 11 year old should have to go through. First, Will’s stepdad had a heart attack at only 37 years old. Then his mum Cara was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She says: “Will is a sociable and chatty child – always quite busy. But he has had some stresses and strains which other children his age have not had. He talks a lot, but not really about the things that bother him. The last year has been very tough, and Will hasn’t really had anyone to talk about it with”.

In the midst of all of this, Cara and Will’s step dad went through a “messy” separation, as Cara puts it.

Caring for his younger siblings

During and after her cancer treatment, a lot of the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings fell on Will.

I’m slowly recovering, but Will still looks after the younger children. He’ll bath them and calm them down if they are fighting or too active. He’ll sometimes put them to bed on those nights when I am feeling the strain of treatment. Since the separation, he has kind of had to step up and become the man of the house,” Cara says.

“Will has never really talked about how it was when I was sick – Cara says. I was in and out of hospital and all sorts of things happened. No one really explained it to him”.

Will has been left a bit alone with his thoughts. Eventually, one day he asked me: ‘Will you die mum?’ I had no choice but to tell the truth – I could not guarantee that I’d live”.

Will explains how he tackled the tough time:

“When mum was ill, it was scary and confusing. I didn’t really know what was going to happen, and was too scared to think about it. I just kept telling myself, ‘this is life, I just need to get on with it’, but it was hard.”

Being a young carer

When Kingston Young Carers offered the family help, both Cara and Will were sceptical at first.

When Kingston Young Carers got involved and offered their support, I was resistant at first. Having to accept help can feel like a failure, like you are not good enough. Will too, was hesitant, and it was not a good start when he broke his leg on the first outing he did with them!

However, the period after the cancer treatment has been just as tough on the family as when they were in the midst of it, as Cara explains “It feels a bit like, ‘now you are well, now you can care for yourself’. But I was alone with four children – it was tough”.

Having the support of Kingston Young Carers became the rescuers for Cara and her family in this period. They were able to take Will to activities that Cara couldn’t, and whilst away with the Young Carers, Will could forget about his home life and do the things any 11 year old should be doing.

At the Residential – a chance to play and be carefree

The Residential Camp to YMCA Newgale is organised by YMCA St Paul’s Group and is funded by the Royal Borough of Kingston with kind donations from individuals and the Kingston Rotary club.

The fact that the Residential Camp was organised by YMCA LSW in partnership with Kingston Young Carers made it more attractive for Will to go,” Cara says. “His friends and class mates in school all thought it sounded wicked, it was this cool holiday club that everyone envied him. Also when we heard that one of his favourite teachers from School, Mr C, was in charge, Will was so excited – he really looked forward to it,” Cara says.

Residential Leader Myke, or ‘Mr C’ as he is affectionately known as among the young people, says:

Although he was nervous on the first day, Will clearly enjoyed the Camp. He loved the activities – especially the coasteering. He was the entertainer, who’d take initiative and suggest activities for the other children. Although he didn’t know any of them beforehand he got along really well with everyone, including the staff team”.

All the young children at the Residential camp are young carers.

The Camp was a place where Will could see that “It’s not just me” – other children are going through the stuff he is going through too,” says Cara.

The point of the camp is to give the young carers some freedom to run around and just be children –to not have any responsibilities or worries and just be happy and play,” says Myke.

The activities at the Camp challenge them and push their boundaries, which again leaves them with an immense sense of achievement. The activities often makes the young people open up and share their feelings with each other,” he continues.

Will says: “It was really nice to have a break from home. I really missed everyone though, but to be given this opportunity was wicked! I felt I had freedom to just be myself and I had space to play and think.”

A positive effect on the family

Will going away to Wales, has had a very positive effect on the family”, says Cara.

It was so good for him to get away – he learnt so much. The children, all in the same boat, would talk amongst themselves about their experiences at home, something Will really struggled with before he went. Also, they were away from computer and television screens and were instead running around outdoors, which is so good for them”.

Cara hopes that in the future, the scheme will also be available to her younger son Freddie, who also worries a lot and who experiences a lot of the same anxieties and issues that Will has struggled with over the last year.

“Being alone with four children, I can’t take them away on experiences like these. The Camp was a fantastic opportunity for Will, and he was so lucky to get on it. It gave him the opportunity to not only try something new, but open up and start to understand his emotions, which has benefited him so much.