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West Norfolk Young Carers awarded funding support from Freebridge Community Fund


A charity supporting young carers across West Norfolk has been given a funding boost from Freebridge.

West Norfolk Young Carers provide tailored support for 7-18 year olds across the borough who are caring for a family member. The impact of lockdown has been felt particularly keenly by these young carers, with many struggling to protect their loved ones and adapt to a change of routine.

The charity normally holds group sessions as a chance for the young people to have a break and meet others in the same situation, but these have had to be put on hold for most of 2020.

Sue Gardner, the finance manager of the charity tells us that stopping the groups doesn’t mean the support has stopped: “They haven’t been able to come to the groups so we’ve gone to see the young people instead, albeit at a distance. It’s important we see them in person because if you ring, you might speak to a parent who says ‘oh no, they’re fine’. Our support workers do know the carers well so if they can just have that chat, they might pick up on something.”

The Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequent lockdown, has impacted on everyone across the country in different ways. Sue tells us that young carers in particular have had it tough and some have struggled with anxiety: “Often they live with someone who is shielding. The nature of being a carer means that there is someone in the family who is unwell and often it’s a physical illness. The young carers became very anxious that they might bring something back to a loved one who was already ill.”

The support that the charity provides has therefore been more important than ever before, but like most charities, their finances have been hit hard this summer. Their fundraising is 100% down as they haven’t been able to attend any events over the summer. They are generally funded by grants from places like Freebridge and the National Lottery - who have given them a Covid resilience grant this year, and they were also eligible for a discretionary grant from the Borough Council.

What they’re spending out on has also changed. They’re saving by not paying for room hire but meeting the carers individually means it’s taking longer and costing more. Additional costs they hadn’t planned for included mobile phone top ups for the team who are doing more one to one support now, along with activity packs for the carers themselves.

The charity has adapted how they interact with the young carers and introduced a few small group meet-ups earlier in the summer. These were all held outside and at a safe distance but the weather means they won’t last like that for long.

Jane Evans, the charity’s CEO tells us the priority is getting the children back out safely and interacting with their friends: “Earlier in the summer a small group of children who’ve been particularly affected by the Covid situation went alpaca walking in Wells. One child really struggled with the journeys each way – even though they were Covid-safe – as a result of experiencing anxiety about being away from the person they cared for and the potential for bringing something back while out.

“It’s been a recurring theme since March, but gradually they’re getting better at wanting to be around their friends. They’re Zoomed out as we’ve done so many Zoom support meetings!”

The return to school life has been a big help, as without the routine of education some children struggled as Sue explains: “Going to school for them was a bit of a break from their home environment, and certainly coming to the young carers groups was a big help because they’re with others who understand.”

Looking ahead to the winter, the team at the charity are keen to continue supporting the carers as much as they can, working with the latest Government advice and information to be as safe as possible.

As Jane explains, they’re a group that need as much moral and practical support as possible: “They often aren’t able to have what we would consider a normal childhood because they have these extra responsibilities, but they don’t see themselves as carers, they’re doing it because they care about their mum, dad, brother or sister.”

The funding from Freebridge’s Community Fund is part of a number of grants provided to West Norfolk charities and community groups by the housing association. Thirteen projects across the area have benefitted this year, with each being awarded amounts up to £1000. This year Freebridge raised the amount available to the fund to £10,000, double the £5000 that is normally offered, to mark the fact that they've been providing this money to groups for a decade.

We'll be taking a closer look at each of the grant recipients as part of #FreebridgeFundFriday each week.