Tony Colville

“At 36 year’s old, I find myself equally full of hope and despair for young carers. The hope comes from the drive, passion and focus of young social entrepreneurs like Sanyu who are using their lived experience as a young carer to make things better. The despair comes from having been a young carer for the first 25 years of my life and seeing that very little has changed in the quality of support and understanding of young carers needs. I still, at the age of 36, get asked to talk about being a young carer, to share my experience, the same experience I reckon I’ve been sharing with professionals and journalists, judging by my early 90’s C&A outfit in the Birmingham Mail image, for 27 years.”

“I grew up in a council house with my dad and David, my disabled older brother. We didn’t have much, but we had each other and to look at my life now many would be surprised to see the struggles we faced. But it’s those struggles that shaped my opportunities as an adult. My dad fought hard for the many things me and my brother had as we grew up in what was a mostly happy childhood (my dad was and remains an absolute hero). But my dad had to fight because there was very little recognition for young carers and just as little support for single dads raising two children. David needed 24-hour care and caring for him was expensive, hard work and often, a lonely battle. Listening to young carers today, it’s clear that very little has changed and in many cases, we’ve gone backwards.”

“Set aside the politics, the Blair and Brown years signalled an increased investment and effort to understand the needs of young carers, investing in local groups so we could get away from our care responsibilities and have fun like every child should be able to. To get the support in school when you can’t do the homework because you’ve got care duties. To get the therapy support from mental health specialists via CAMHS in your school. But they barely got going with it before the politics changed and the money dried up. Even during those years, it was too often young carers would be adults before they even realised what a young carer was and that they had been one. ‘Professionals’ weren’t spotting the signs. The help wasn’t obvious. Too often young carers fell through the gaps, just as they are today.”

“I’m one of the lucky ones. Because of my dad, I didn’t fall through all the gaps. But I am not the norm. Those same struggles shaped many of my challenges as an adult. As a young carer, you grow up putting your own needs last. You worry a lot. You work really hard. You struggle with asking for help. I recognise all of those traits in my adult life and every now and then I hit a wall, sometimes a serious one, where I have to remind myself I matter and that the best thing you can do in life is to ask for help. But that only works if the help is actually there. As an adult, I’m surrounded by great people who are there when I eventually ask for help. I have access to specialist services, to professionals who understand my needs. But where is that same support for young carers today?”

“That’s why YUCAN is so brilliant. Whilst the gaps have got wider and deeper, Sanyu is bringing young carers together to design and deliver their own platform, their own services, responding to their needs, founded by a young carer herself. That’s how you change things. If you are a young carer reading this, even if you aren’t sure if that’s what you are, reach out, speak to Sanyu and see how YUCAN can help. It’s your platform. The best advice I can give you right now is to use it.  It’s shameful that service provision is so shockingly poor and that we still have little understanding of the 800,000+ young carers across the UK. But if growing up as a young carer taught me anything, it’s that you can’t wait for others to understand you – coming together with others with the same life experience is a life changer. I remember going to a group when I was a teenager called ’Sibbos’, run by two wonderful women, Pat and Chris, both of whom I am still friends with today. Without that group, I wouldn’t have met other young carers. I wouldn’t have truly understood my own situation, to know I wasn’t alone, to know it’s ok to feel the way I felt. Knowing the love and care Pat and Chris gave to me and other young carers I can only feel hopeful that what Sanyu has started will deliver the same for young carers across East London. Sanyu is one of those people that radiates love, happiness and solidarity when you meet her. What better qualities could young carers wish for when looking for support.”

“My only regret in my journey as a young carer is that I didn’t fully use my experience to support others, to make lasting change. But where I couldn’t, Sanyu can and we should all do what we can to support her on this journey.”

Tony Colville