"I found my voice - to help make others listen"
Shannon Flynn Young Carers Champion
It’s hard to imagine, on first meeting Shannon Flynn, 23, that in February she was so shy she could barely mutter ‘morning’ to fellow Blackpool Carers Centre workers at Beaverbrooks House.
Weeks later, Shannon overcame stage fright to address 100 local Freemasons for her public speaking debut as Young Carers’ Champion.
She walked off stage with a big smile on her face and £845 for the charity.
“It was my first public speaking and my scariest,” she explains. “I wanted to do a runner but wanted to help carers more.
“So, I put my confident hat on, got my breathing right. I didn’t stutter – and it was two days before I stopped smiling. I smile just thinking about it.
“I even spoke to a local MP (Paul Maynard) who I’d seen on TV and had a really good conversation with him for about 10 minutes.
“I’d NEVER have been able to do that if I hadn’t come here.”
Today (Sat) Shannon and other carers are likely to be talking to more MPs, media and public figures as carers aged from eight to 21 (many start at five years old) from across the region gather at Beaverbrooks House for Blackpool Carers Centre's Mini Care Fest, a celebration of all they stand for, and to herald the start of National Carers Week on Monday. Shannon is also donning wetsuit to take part in the charity's two-day WakePark Wipeout challenge at the Weeton-based WakePark (Monday and Tuesday).
The Young Carer's Champion role is crucial within the charity, usually funded by the annual three-month Cash Quest for Carers, which starts in carers' week. Other young carers’ champions have emerged able to take on the world. Camilla Ball and Amy Gunniss helped front the charity's case for the BBC DIY SOS makeover in 2016 - watched by 3.9m viewers. Both were equally shy when they started in the role and went on to secure work with the charity. Both have since struck out in different directions - in equally worth and community conscious roles. It's an empowering role - and a role model for others. Champions speak to educationalists, health chiefs, the statutory and third sector and lobby parliament - such as for the recent parliamentary debate in which Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden played a prominent role.
“It’s been slow but sure progress and I want to do more now,” says Shannon who cares for her dad. “The best is speaking to young carers, it’s a very special relationship.”
Shannon is also a Children in Need Sessional Worker and her Breakaway youth club is supported by the Rank Foundation Time to Shine project.
“Breakaway is for children who have used their 26 #Take5 sessions and trips so come to my sessions – which frees up the team for new referrals. It’s less youth clubby, more peer support and what do you want to do today?
“If things come crashing in, they’ve got support – it’s a safety net.
‘I tell them the more they worry, the more they panic, so no matter how hard it gets try to stay calm, neutral, find what works.
“For me it’s a hot bath with lavender oil. Or a nice book.”
Shannon self-referred after a family friend used the service and rated it highly.
“She told me I was a carer. I was in a caring role and had no idea. Dad’s my – dad, and I love him, you don’t see yourself as a carer. Nobody asked. For me carers worked in old people’s care homes.
“I felt I didn’t need help, and dad wouldn’t accept it from anybody else. I wanted to do it all on my own.
“When I realised I couldn’t I called the centre. I was very low.”
Shannon took the Carer’s Star assessment which measures and supports change on a scale of one to five.
“I was five across most things - the worst!” she recalls. “I did another recently and it was ones, twos and threes which shows the centre works.
“I was nearly crying with happiness, because I hadn’t noticed, I was just living my life.
“My confidence has grown, I’ve met lovely people, spoken at major events – and it could so easily have passed me by.”
The theme of National Carers Week is Getting Carers Connected – to communities, services, advice and information, friends, family, other carers, technology.
There couldn’t be a better champion locally than digitally savvy Shannon who can not only speak ‘carer’ but talk tech.
Since first seeking help herself, Shannon became Young Carers Champion in February.
She fights the corner of 1000 young and young adult carers registered with the charity and hopes to reach many more beyond. One in eight secondary school pupils are carers, and for many it begins at five to 10 years old.
Shannon is now helping to develop a Young Carers App to provide online support and information.
“I’m passionate about it. Carers need more services, more awareness, more funding, more support.
“I’ve worked at places where they just don’t get what carers are, what they do, how much they matter.
“That’s why I found my voice – to help them and make others listen and learn.”