Up to 50 young carers who spend much of their spare time looking after parents, family members or siblings, are to be treated to specially-arranged respite breaks after The Bernicia Foundation donated more than £9,000 to a Hartlepool charity.

Staff from Hartlepool Carers, which supports more than 300 local children and teenagers aged from 5-17 years old, are now planning to take groups of four young carers away each weekend to Northumberland, allowing them to spend time away with friends and ‘be children’.

The short breaks will include social and outdoor activities, and are very much needed given some young carers can spend up to 100 hours per week looking after relatives at home as well as going to school. This could include cooking, cleaning, shopping, helping family members to dress, get out of bed or be more mobile, or taking other siblings to school, all on top of their school work and own personal needs.

Sarah Rowntree, Community Development Lead at Hartlepool Carers, explained, “The young people that we support remotely or at our centre vary in age and level of assistance depending upon their family circumstances. For some this may be providing emotional support and meeting friendship groups, getting help with homework, having access to computers, or taking some time out to relax after school. For others it could be supporting with food supplies, counselling and therapy, or additional social care depending upon their relative’s disabilities or lifestyle needs. However, all are incredible, positive individuals who are a joy to know and who are coping very well, doing a remarkable role on a day-to-day basis.

“Having the ability to take them away in small groups on short, organised breaks will allow us to go that extra mile and give them a sense of escapism that many so often need. It’s so important that they’re allowed to be children no matter what age, and the donation from The Bernicia Foundation will enable them to be just that. It’s just fantastic and its appreciated by not just us, but the families too.”

A recent survey** has suggested that nearly 180,000 UK children who care for a relative could be missing out on support because they are not recognised as carers by their families, support services or local authorities. It is estimated that there could be approximately 2,000 young carers in the Hartlepool area alone, rising significantly across the wider North East region.

Sarah explained, it’s an issue that is often overlooked, “Families don’t necessarily put this level of responsibility onto their children’s shoulders intentionally or deliberately. Caring roles can often come about quickly or without anyone even realising, and a lot of the time, the young people we see don’t actually realise at the beginning that they are carers as they think they’re simply helping out at home out of loyalty and a sense of duty.

“Often it’s a close family member who may be ill, have disabilities, suffer with addictions or mental health issues, and the help they give becomes very much the norm and a way of life. For many, it can take up to two years for them to accept or acknowledge that they are actually young carers, and that in itself is a huge breakthrough.

“A carer is anyone; a child or an adult who is looking after someone else who cannot cope independently without their support. However, this is not just about providing physical support but emotional support too, therefore the vast majority of young carers are not on the radar of local authorities or independent organisations like ourselves. They simply don’t know or realise that they are carers so don’t seek help, support or time out until it becomes difficult or reaches breaking point.

“We see instances where children are trying their hardest to put on a brave face but underneath they are not coping well at all, but they don’t want anyone to know, least of all their family. It’s a combination of emotions, feeling they’ve let people down, shame, embarrassment, possibly anger.

“This can have a huge negative impact on other parts of their lives too, especially at school, and we’re now working closely with local teachers in Hartlepool to train them to recognise the signs that a pupil may also be a young carer. This could be anything from turning up late if taking other siblings to school beforehand, if they are tired, unable to concentrate or complete homework, or if they’re anxious or becoming troublesome. It is also recognised that the impact could mean a grade level difference at GSCE which is really concerning.

“There is a much bigger picture to consider, but the support for these young people is definitely out there.”

Ebony Brown (16) is one of many teenagers who attend Hartlepool Carers’ Lowthian Road centre for additional one-to-one support. As well as helping out a family member with health problems at home, she has benefitted from the organisation’s after-school and holiday clubs, as well as making new friendship groups.

She said, “Myself and my brothers have been coming here since 2015, and the support we’ve received has been amazing. To have a place to meet and talk with other people the same age, in a similar position who get it and know how you feel because they care for someone else too, is great.

“Often, you don’t actually realise how much you’re coping with as it is part of your daily routine, and you’re caring out of love. It’s your family, but once you realise that there’s other people who can help you too, then that makes a huge difference. Here we can talk openly about the same things and because of that, I’ve made some really good friends.

“I was also nominated for a young carer’s award, and my family and the staff were really proud. I now do a lot of fundraising on behalf of Hartlepool Carers as a way of thanking them. They’re brilliant and I would say to anyone of a similar age caring for or helping a family member in any way, to talk with them.”

Kevin Haddrick of The Bernicia Foundation, added, “This is a remarkable charity and we are absolutely delighted to assist them in this way. The support they provide is crucial, not just to the young people but to the families too, so to give them the time out they need to have fun and socialise with their friends on a mini-break is just fantastic.

“Fundraising has become extremely difficult for organisations like Hartlepool Carers up and down the country, when costs and demand for services are steadily increasing yet funds are being cut. They need all the help they can get, whether it be from local companies or charitable trusts like ourselves, therefore I would urge any local business, entrepreneur or fundraising body to get involved and help support initiatives like the respite breaks that go a very long way.”

The Bernicia Foundation is a £1m charitable foundation set up by North East housing association, Bernicia, to support people, projects and communities across the region. It has awarded £577,000 since its launch and a further £200,000 to local authorities’ Emergency Covid Fund over the last two years. Its latest round of funding closes to applications at midnight on Monday 13 December.

Two awards are available to organisations and people across Tyne and Wear, County Durham, Teesside and Northumberland; the inclusion grant offers between £5,000 and £10,000 to voluntary or community groups, registered charities, social enterprises and co-operatives with an annual income under £750,000 per year, whilst the inspiration grant offers up to £1,000 to inspirational young people aged 24 and under working towards a personal goal.