The past 18 months have been excruciatingly difficult for a lot of us – but it’s been tougher than most for young carers in rural north of Scotland.
Children as young as six can often be tasked with the huge responsibility of caring for their mums, dads and siblings.
And while this can be a heavy burden to carry in pre-pandemic times – during the numerous lockdowns many found the role not only just as demanding, but often brutally lonely.
Youngsters that usually got a break when going to school or from home helps who would visit to care for their loved ones now had their responsibilities 24/7.
And many of these youngsters were confined to rural areas such as Lybster and Keiss – with some forced to shield due to the ailments of those at home.
And after a year-and-a-half of hard work, it was thanks to the only project in the county for young carers, Caithness Klics, which organised excursions to give the children some respite.
Klics (Kids Living In Caring Situation), with Paradventures, took the under-18s to various outdoor spots in July, including Dunnet Forest and Armadale, to give the young carers an opportunity to take part in challenges and do some exploring.
One girl who enjoyed a day out after isolating in the rural town of Lybster during the pandemic was 12-year-old Bryony Manning who has looked after her mum Laurel Rose Manning since the age of six.
Bryony’s mum suffers from numerous conditions including scoliosis, osteoarthritis and type two diabetes – all of which means she struggles to move around the house.
Speaking of her “life-saver” daughter, Ms Manning said: “She washes my hair, she gets the shopping in, cleans up and helps me out of my bed and upstairs because I am finding that very, very difficult.
“She see’s how I struggle and how slow I am – just to get the living room sorted out – she has now realised how much I need help.
‘But mum you can’t help it’
Ms Manning says she has apologised for the hefty workload she has put on her daughter, but that Bryony offers to help.
And for that reason, she is grateful to Klics for giving her an outlet.
She added: “She has been helping leaps and bounds and she gets very heavily praised for it. She cooked dinner last night bless her heart and she does the hoovering to save me a job.
“I cant complain, it is putting a lot on her and I’ve said to her I am really sorry about this and she said ‘but mum you cant help it’.
“She needs an outlet and Klics gave her that.”
‘My brother has severe autism where he cannot really talk’
14-year-old Jack Wilkie from Wick helps his parents care for brother Sean. He first discovered Klics at age 11.
“I was told about a group for people who have autistic brothers or parents or other people with disabilities. At first I was hesitant but thought I’d give it a go and I really enjoy it,” he said.
“It was pretty cool to go out with Klics, I love photography so I was taking lots of pictures and enjoyed being able to talk to people and learn things about the Highland Clearances.
“My brother has severe autism where he cannot really talk, he can do stuff for himself but he has a bit of help with it and I help him quite a bit when I am at home.
“I take my brother out of his room so my parents can do the rest. I make him drinks and bring him food. I sometimes help open and close curtains when he is going to sleep.”
‘Young carers miss out on socialising’
Denise Macleod, senior field worker at the charity, says that young carers can miss out on socialising due to their responsibilities around the house.
And that is why organising events that take them away from that environment can be a big benefit.
She said: “Young carers miss out socialising with peers on a regular basis due to their home life responsibilities caring for a family member.
“An organised activity away from their normal routine will give them some respite.
“Team building events, interacting with people from different areas, new challenges, and various workshops all help with their wellbeing, raising their confidence and increasing their self esteem.
“It will hopefully reduce any stress and anxiety they may have.”
Irene Bews from Paradventures who led the trips said: “It has been great because at least it gets them out and away and a bit of respite from what they do.
“Obviously the people they care for didn’t want them going out and bringing Covid into the household so they have been so isolated.
“A lot of them are pretty rural, we are not just speaking about Wick and Thurso – there are tiny villages like Halkirk, Watten and Keiss – they are all over the place.
“If you then think about them totally isolating and the parents not wanting them to go to school when it did open incase they brought something home – they have just been totally out on their own.
“Klics have certainly done a great job at keeping in touch with them.”
Funding for the young carers days out was acquired through Think Health Think Nature HLH project.