Online programmes start as CFT delivers vital laptops to West Sussex young carers

After providing them with laptops, Chichester Festival Theatre is now providing young carers across West Sussex with a fun and vibrant programme of online arts activities to educate, entertain and inspire.

Poppy Marples & a Portfield Primary Academy pupil receiving a Young Carers Connect laptop. Photo Sarah Sheldrake
Poppy Marples & a Portfield Primary Academy pupil receiving a Young Carers Connect laptop. Photo Sarah Sheldrake

Scores of laptops were distributed across West Sussex before Christmas, from Chichester to Crawley, from Horsham to Worthing, taking in Mid-Sussex along the way, as part of the Young Carers Connect scheme, allowing young carers “to express their creativity and experience moments of joy.”

Crucially, for many, it also gives them the chance to do their schoolwork properly from home.

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The second tranche of laptops is being distributed now, providing a total of 300 West Sussex young carers in all with the vital IT equipment with which to enjoy a broad-based programme of arts activities including workshops on drama, dance, puppetry, drawing and design. It all comes after Chichester Festival Theatre’s fundraising appeal to raise £91,000 to reconnect West Sussex young carers with support, education and the arts met its target in just three months. It is about bringing them together virtually and ending the isolation.

Laptops are now being distributed to young caregivers throughout the county in partnership with schools and West Sussex Young Carers Service.

There are an estimated 6,000 young caregivers in the county under the age of 18 who take on substantial responsibilities, providing vital care and support to their loved ones when they are themselves just children and teenagers. Due to COVID-19, many remain confined to their homes as they continue to care for vulnerable family members; they have been unable to access the help and support they rely on, simply because they do not own, or are unable to afford, a computer or internet access.

The CFT is delighted to put that right – work that CFT senior youth and outreach officer Poppy Marples is thrilled to be part of: “I love working with the young carers and it is a really, really important part of our outreach work. It is really, really great especially now that they are logging on online and using their laptops for the workshops.

“At the end of the day, these young people in this pandemic are going through all the stresses that any children of their age are going through. They are all finding it hard, missing their friends, missing being at school, but on top of that they are having to worry about poorly parents, especially if they are having to shield. And yet they are just brilliant. The work they are doing is just amazing. But so many of them are finding it tough, which is why this project is so important. You can really see the benefits. They are so excited to be part of the creative programme and the chance to socialise with other young people.”

The point is that the laptops really do connect them – to each other and to school. Poppy knows of at least one young person who was having to attempt homework on a mobile phone. The youngest of the young carers is just five. The oldest is 16, and they come from right across the county: “It is about giving them the opportunities that other young people have, to engage in fun and creative workshops and to socialise with each other, with other young carers.” Young Carers Connect will also signpost young carers in crisis to the support they need.