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Young carers from Long Stratton take part in Reach For The Skies

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Young carer Sophie. Pictures by Mecha Morton.
Young carer Sophie. Pictures by Mecha Morton.

At 13 years old, Melissa Newby has school and homework to keep her busy. But she also has her younger brother and two younger sisters to care for and help.

Melissa is a young carer. Her mum, Kelly, suffers from depression and anxiety and, on her “bad days”, much of the family care falls on Melissa.

“She is brilliant– she’s my best friend,” said single mum Miss Newby, 34, who also has a son aged 10 and daughters of four and two. “She is such a kind-hearted girl. She has not got a bad bone in her body.”

“When I have had a sleepless night and I am drained, it is poor Melissa who has to do everything. Mornings are the worst. Melissa is up getting them dressed, getting breakfast and making lunches.”

At night, it is the reverse and, after tea, Melissa, who has anxiety difficulties herself, helps her sisters get ready for bed before she has time for herself at the family home in Chequers Road, Tharston. When she has homework, she tries to finish it with friends at school before she goes home.

“It’s hard work,” said Melissa. “But doing stuff for my sisters makes them happy and that makes me happy, too.”

Another young carer is 12-year-old Sophie (the Diss Express is honouring a request not to use her surname) who helps to look after a younger brother who is autistic and has learning difficulties, or helps in the house while her mum cares for him. Modestly she insisted, “I have it easy, really.”

However, her mum and dad say that she is a great help, especially for the time she gives up to entertain her brother and share activities like trampolining with him.

Young carer Melissa Newby.
Young carer Melissa Newby.

Sophie, whose home is in Long Stratton, mostly helps after school, either spending time with her brother or with housework. She enjoys reading, which she can do with her brother, and still manages to find time to sew and cycle, which are her other interests.

Melissa and Sophie have just had some time for themselves at Reach For The Skies, a two-day event organised by the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) for 80 teenagers who care for parents or siblings with a mental health condition.

“It was so much fun,” said Sophie, who took the chance to try climbing, abseiling, canoeing and caving – just about every activity going.

Howard Tidman, a NSFT’s carers’ champion, said: “It’s very tough for them, so we want to give them a break from the many demands of being a young carer. These people do not always go to school regularly or look after themselves by going to their GP or dentist’s because they are so busy caring.

“So they lose out academically and in terms of their own health, and they often don’t have any aspirations because they think their sole purpose in life is to look after someone.

“We call the event Reach for the Skies because we want them to look up and realise they can be whatever they want to be in life.”

At the event held at Thorpe Woodlands Adventure Centre in Shadwell, near Thetford, the teenagers were able to swap caring for activities and a night’s glamping. At the same time, there was an information market place with career and heath care advice.

This article appeared in the Diss Express, April 19.

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