For many young people, school holidays permit much needed relaxation following the stress of exams or the academic term, but for young carers this time is often filled with the responsibility of supporting loved ones in need. Whilst recent research has highlighted that three quarters of young carers feel lonely during the summer holidays*, independence can also be highly affected.
Thomas, 16, from Scarborough in North Yorkshire, has been playing the vital role of his mother’s carer for several years now whilst his father works full time. Diagnosed with cancer in 2013, Josie was finally given the all clear this summer, but has since been left with Lymphedema which sees both of her legs remain incredibly swollen – often too painful to move.
Josie said: “Tommy does so much for me; every single day he takes care of things for me because as soon as I start moving the pain is just unbearable.”
In addition to helping his mother, Thomas has his own condition to manage having been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease the same year his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Affecting his bowels, Thomas’ symptoms can worsen when he is stressed and in unfamiliar environments. This sees Thomas and Josie relying heavily on each other, strengthening their already extremely close relationship.
“Tommy finds it so hard to trust people and just prefers to be at home with me. I normally have to explain things to people because Tommy would rather shy away from challenging situations.” says Josie. “I would say I’m his security blanket and he’s definitely become mine.”
Breaking his usual routine, this summer Thomas decided to participate in the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme, during which he spent two weeks living away from home building confidence, learning ‘life skills’ and meeting a bunch of new friends.
This was also something completely new for his mum, who was at first very apprehensive of him taking part. “It was awful, him not being around the house, I hated every single minute of it. The stress was absolutely beyond belief to be honest, because I was so worried about Thomas being in a new environment, whilst at the same time he was worrying about me being at home without him. But this all changed when I received a call from Tommy a few nights into the week. He told me how much fun he was having, meeting friends and trying new things. He just sounded so happy and hearing how great his NCS experience was was amazing for me.”
With support from the NCS programme leaders and mentors, Thomas gained a new sense of independence. He said: “Don’t get me wrong, I really missed my mum, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done, it really has changed my life. I’ve made tonnes of new friends and loved the whole NCS experience!
“I think I really found myself. I realised that I’m an upbeat person and that I can be social and help others make friends and mix with different people, whereas before I didn’t think to do that.”
It wasn’t only Thomas who benefitted from the government-backed programme. Josie said: “Thomas’ time on NCS had a positive impact on both of us. Tommy doesn’t worry as much about me because he knows I’ll be okay if he wants to go out, and it made me realise that I can be more independent and do things for myself if I need to.”
This has seen a new type of relationship blossom for Thomas and Josie. Whilst Thomas has gained a new sense of freedom, Josie has become a lot more self-reliant, encouraging Thomas to broaden his horizons in the future.
Josie continues: “I couldn’t recommend NCS more to teens and parents of teens. It is absolutely amazing. It helped us see that the world is much more than what’s going on at home; that there is a life out there and the world is Tommy’s oyster!
“The experience has made me realise that Tommy’s not a young kid, he’s a young adult.”
NCS is a government backed programme established in 2011 to help build a more cohesive, mobile and engaged society. By bringing together young people from different backgrounds for a unique shared experience, NCS helps them to become better individuals, and in turn better citizens.
NCS is open to 16 and 17 year-olds across England and Northern Ireland. The two to four week programme, which takes place in school holidays, includes outdoor team-building exercises, a residential for participants to learn ‘life skills’, a community-based social action project and an end of programme celebration event.
- Almost 500,000 young people have taken part
- Ten million hours of community action have been completed
- For every £1 spent, NCS’ 2016 summer programme delivered between £1.15 and £2.42 of benefits back to society
- It costs participants just £50 or less to take part in NCS and bursaries are available on a case by case basis. Support is provided for young people with additional needs.
To find out more visit NCSyes.co.uk.
*Three quarters of young carers feel lonely during summer holidays. Available at: