"Being a young carer is a tough gig. No one chooses to be a young carer, it's a role you take on."
I don’t feel guilty tonight - I feel proud.
Former Blackpool specialist nurse Amanda Fryer, who’s battled illness for 15 years, paid tribute to her son and carer Joseph, 13, as he received the Young Carer Special Recognition Award at Blackpool Carers Centre’s Spring Ball at the Village Hotel.
“I am so proud of this boy,” Amanda said. “He’s 13 going on 20. He’s missed out on such a lot. I’ve felt guilty, but I don’t feel guilty tonight; I feel proud. He’s my superstar.”
Tears were in freefall as 330 guests at the charity’s annual fundraising ball watched a moving video of young carer Joe revealing how hard it was to carry so much responsibility – and just how much Blackpool Carers meant to him.
As guests leapt to their feet to applaud the young carer's progress to the stage - holding tightly onto his mum's hand - Joseph fought back tears to accept the award.
He was hailed “one in a million” by one of his own idols compere and broadcaster Hayley Kay who consoled him with a hug. “Your mum’s proud, the whole room’s proud. These people who have clapped - and continue to stand there - think you’re amazing.
‘Being a young carer is a tough gig. No one chooses to be a young carer, it’s a role you take on.”
Joseph said: “I’m just completely overwhelmed. I really do want to thank the Carers (Centre) because they have been there (for me) for two years. They have been so helpful, and they won’t stop helping me and that’s all I could ask for. Thank you.”
Joseph provides emotional and physical care for his mum, supporting her through the pain and despair of several long term medical conditions and getting her urgent care when her health has deteriorated.
He featured in a Children in Need speciial filmed in Manchester last year - a year on since the transformation of a metal theft-trashed property on Newton Drive, Blackpool, into a bespoke carers' centre Beaverbrooks House by several hundred volunteer contractors supporting BBC DIY SO Big Build Build for Children in Need 2016. The charity has since made the former NHS run children's service its own. It now has one of the highest profiles of any carers' charity in the country and has taken on a new challenge - a £300k appeal for a respite lodge for young carers in an annexe Nick Knowles and co used as their base and storage area.
Earlier this year, in the run up to a Young Carers' Awareness Day event at carers' HQ Beaverbrooks House, attended by health professionals, youth specialists and supportive community leaders, Joseph confided to the local press: “I couldn’t sleep, I had nightmares, I was anxious – I thought mum was going to die.”
Now just look at him...
Amanda's health continues to be troubled but she's on the mend – and looking forward to getting married to partner Andrew Pratt in October – but a recent relapse saw her hospitalised for 10 days, her son again at her side.
Amanda formerly helped the charity as part of an a award winning nursing team so knew who to ask for help for her son. “I knew he was struggling."
For the past two years Joseph has been helped by a charity as old as he is – Blackpool Carers Centre, which remains independently run, is itself 13 years old.
The £15,300 raised by the ball will go towards the appeal for a respite Lodge for young carers and allied but separate facilities for others - such as the dementia support service. The charity has identified a real need for such in its raft of services and support.
The charity supports 6000 families and carers aged from five to 105.
Support extends to the cared-for too...
Head teacher Rosie Sycamore and three students Archie, Leah and Victoria also won a standing ovation when Highfurlong School was named the charity’s Educational Establishment of the Year for its partnership with the Centre’s work experience placements for young people with additional needs. Those present were so impressed the charity secured further opportunities with other local employers at the ball that very night.
The school helped the charity celebrate Young Carers Awareness Day and holds monthly meetings at Beaverbrooks House which will also host their Leavers’ Prom in July.
Leah worked at a pet shop, Archie at the Grand Theatre and Victoria is going to work with animals (“I have four husky dogs at home, so I should have a good idea what to do!”). There have been group visits to Spire Fylde Coast Hospital - with the Winter Gardens and Royal Mail to come. The students paid tribute to the charity’s work placement specialist Helen Hay for arranging “amazing work placements after talking to us about our skills and qualities and then matching our choices to jobs.”
Head teacher Rosie explained: "Work related learning plays a key role for our young people; students are able to make informed choices to suport their personalised learning pathway by accessing a wide range of opportunities during their time at Highfurlong."
Stage-struck student Archie stressed: "I had a fantastic placement at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool. I love acting and this was a perfect match for me. I got to wear a headset. I learned about lighting and stage sets. I used my team working skills.
"It is really important for all pupils from key stage three upwards at Highfurlong us to have lots of placements and visits so that we can make the right choices for the future. "
Other awards on the evening
Social Care Special Recognition Award – to Nichola Sullivan from the Community Mental Health Team for Older Adults for working tirelessly with carers and loved ones living with dementia or mental health conditions and making a real difference to so many to so many facing challenging situations.
The award was collected on Nichola’s behalf by Hannah Fletcher, Blackpool Carers Centre Family Support Team leader.
Health Special Recognition Award – to Kathy Bradshaw and the Primary Intermediate Mental Health Team for continued dedication and commitment to carers and families, working in close partnership with Blackpool Carers Centre in a compassionate, proactive, positive and approachable manner.
The award was presented to Kathy Bradshaw.
The Community Partnership Award – to Spire Fylde Coast Hospital and director Barbara Cummings for raising awareness of carers within the hospital; monthly talks provided by consultants to carers free of charge; inviting the charity to switch on their Christmas lights; providing numerous buffets free for fundraising and celebratory events including the Carers’ Week Summer Fair when Barbara cooked the sausages – and pro bono professional support and room use along with donations and sponsorship.
The award was collected by Andrew Walsh, finance and commercial manager at Spire Fylde Coast Hospital, on Barbara's behalf.
The Special Achievement Award – to Sandcastle Waterpark with managing director John Child’s team praised for always being there for carers, providing a daily pass for young carers and their families; supporting fundraising; winning awards for access and equality; staff trained to work with the charity’s families with disabilities often staging one-off events for specific groups – and being one of the most competitive teams in the annual Cash Quest for Carers having raised £50,479.28 for carers in Blackpool.
The award was collected by pretty much the entire team at this fantastic award winning seafront attraction which has established itself as one of leading waterparks of the world with a great community ethos too.
Sponsors included BBC DIY SOS Blackpool Big Build for Children in Need volunteer David Sidwell of Your Big Day who donated the dance floor, magic mirror and much of the entertainment; Spire Fylde Coast hospital who sponsored the reception drinks and canapes; Sandcastle Waterpark who sponsored the awards; Blackhurst Budd Solicitors who sponsored the table plan - and Blackpool and the Fylde College who donated the casino and blackjack tables. Smooth Chalk provided the entertainment.
A strong contingent of BBC DIY SOS volunteers also attended the evening some battling adverse weather to travel from as far as Cornwall (contractor Kenny Bone) and Devon(landscape architect Laurence Douglas Mitchell) to join friends from the 2016 Big Build for Children in Need of Blackpool Carers Centre’s HQ Beaverbrooks House.
Charity chief executive officer Michele Smith - who was praised for her inspirational leadership by chair of trustees Paul Jebb - said: “This year’s ball was a resounding success. From the moment we walked into the room until 2am when the dance floor was still packed, the atmosphere was vibrant and warm with a real party spirit.
“We celebrated carers and their positivity, raising over £15k towards the Lodge conversion. More importantly, the evening helped to raise the importance of identifying carers in our community so that they can be provided with practical and emotional help at the earliest opportunity.
“In a time when all charities are under the spotlight, Blackpool Carers, as a truly local charity, builds relationships meant to last – and they do; we are local, we employ local people; we bring funding in from across the country to ensure that we keep the Blackpool £ right here where it is needed.
“In Blackpool, here in this town, we have some of the most vulnerable families, BUT we also have some of the most generous and kind-hearted individuals who really do make a difference and improve lives.
“If each of you tells one person about our work: maybe a funder, a business; or someone who may be a carer- we can keep working towards a better life for carers.”
Coming events for the charity include:
· An Easter fair at Beaverbrooks House, 147 Newton Drive, on March 24 (noon-3pm)
· The mayoral ball on May 10 at the Imperial Hotel (tickets £40) – as the charity is the main beneficiary of Mayor Coun Ian Coleman’s year in civic office
* . Blackpool Easter Hockey Festival - featuring teams from across the UK - also raises funds for the Blackpool Carers Centre http://www.blackpoolhf.co.uk
for regular updates see: http://blackpoolcarers.org