Martin Davidson: Who cares for the carers? Bring them together and lives can be transformed

Taking a break from lives often filled with responsibility or chaos , can help young carers develop new skills and confidence, and make new friends
Taking a break from lives often filled with responsibility or chaos , can help young carers develop new skills and confidence, and make new friends
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Imagine being 10 years old and having responsibility for a disabled parent; or being 14 and taking care of several siblings. If you can picture the impact such ­circumstances could have on a young person’s education, social life and opportunities, you can imagine how hard and isolating their lives could be.

This is the reality for thousands of young people. Many face poverty, ­difficulties attending school and sometimes issues of their own, like mental or physical illness. Some ­support ­parents with alcohol or drug dependency issues and live chaotic lives. For young carers, just having fun being a child is often out of reach.

Martin Davidson, Scottish director at The Outward Bound Trust.

Martin Davidson, Scottish director at The Outward Bound Trust.

At The Outward Bound Trust, we have a long history of helping young people unlock their full potential and learn new skills, through challenging outdoor adventure courses in the wild. But what if a young person’s ­circumstances mean that such a course seems impossible, practically and financially? This is where the work of our partner organisations is vital in ­providing bursaries, sponsorship and practical support.

We tailor our work to help the most disadvantaged and hard to reach young people. We couldn’t do that without invaluable help from organisations that share our values. The ScottishPower Foundation funds us to enable young carers to experience a much needed respite from their duties, gain confidence and meet ­other young people in similar ­circumstances.

The ScottishPower Foundation was established in 2013 with the aim of making a significant and lasting ­contribution to society, enhancing the lives of people throughout the UK. It ­provides funding to registered charities involved in the advancement of ­education, environmental protection, citizenship and ­community development. This year, the ­Foundation has pledged £1 ­million to UK projects, including helping us to continue our work with Scottish young carers.

Our project involves young carers taking part in an Outward Bound activity day in their local area, ­followed by a five day residential course at the Loch Eil centre.

After this all the participants attend a celebration event to share their experience with friends and ­family and six young people are selected to participate in an Outward Bound summer residential ­programme.

We also link with young carers’ ­support organisations to help us better understand the specific ­context of their lives so that we can design residentials to be relevant to their needs.

Broomhouse Youth Befriending/Young Carers is a charity that helps young people in Edinburgh access opportunities they might not otherwise have and discover new hobbies and talents. Nicola Campbell, project worker at Broomhouse, said: “It is amazing to see the transformation in the young people from who they were, and how they behaved towards each other and as individuals at the pre residential meeting, in comparison to the presentation evening.

“Listening during the presentations, whilst they shared their experiences and how it made them feel, gave everyone a sense of how much these young people accomplished over the course of their week.

“It brought them together, ­enabling them to feel part of a wider social ­network of young people in the same situations as themselves, ­making them feel included while building their resilience and reducing their feelings of isolation.”

A total of 56 young carers from Scotland took part in the course over Easter and feedback from the young people and their ­families shows overwhelmingly positive outcomes.

Benefits included taking risks and going outside their comfort zone, helping and supporting peers, working as a team and making new friends. Ann McKechin, trustee and executive officer of the ScottishPower Foundation said: “It was a huge ­privilege to see first-hand the positive impact this is having on the young carers, who are benefiting from the work of The Outward Bound Trust’s New Adventures, New Beginnings project. This project is an excellent example of bringing young people to an inspiring location where they can develop new skills and gain greater self-confidence whilst being themselves and having fun. The smiles on their faces was ample evidence of how such a project can make a real difference.”

Our work wouldn’t be possible without the support of the ScottishPower Foundation. If you know of young people who could benefit and would like to help, please ­contact martin.davidson@outwardbound.org.uk

Martin Davidson, Scottish director at The Outward Bound Trust.