By Tom James and Jenni Woods, Kingston University

The weight felt by young carers as they struggle to cope with the pressures of caring for family members has been highlighted by a Kingston University student’s award-winning project, A Heavy Load.

Illustration Animation BA (Hons) student Lottie Fox-Jones, created a scaled up version of a soft toy, filled it with sand and stuffing then asked visitors to attempt to lift the model or place its elongated arms around them. The piece challenges the audience to put themselves in a young carer’s shoes, and has made Lottie the first double winner of the Creative Conscience Gold award.

The challenge of caring for a close family member in childhood is a subject close to Lottie’s heart. “My brother Harvey, now 19 years old, has Angelman syndrome – a rare genetic condition that causes severe learning difficulties, seizures and sleep disorder, and in Harvey’s case a mental age roughly equivalent to a 9-month old baby,” she said. “The piece represents the physical and emotional weight of caring for someone much larger than you,” she added.

A Heavy Load shines a spotlight on the issues facing young carers. There are more than 375,000 young adult carers in the UK aged 14-25, but many young people begin caring for others at a much younger age. “An often overlooked group of carers in the UK is those aged five to eight years old,” Lottie continued. “They are thought of as being too young to be the primary caregiver, but in my experience they often have an enormous amount of responsibility and do indeed carry a heavy load,” she said.

In 2015 Kingston University extended its KU Cares programme to include specific outreach activities, on-course support and a travel bursary for young adult carers. Kingston’s Associate Director of Widening Participation, Jenni Woods, said it was important that this group are supported in accessing higher education. “The implication of being a young adult carer and the associated pressures can impact significantly on a young adult carer’s education, personal wellbeing and lead to financial hardship. KU Cares seeks to support students both pastorally and with some financial assistance,” she said.

The challenges and barriers that exist for young carers in their progression into and through higher education were highlighted in a 2015 report by The Carers Trust, Supporting Students with Caring Responsibilities (2015). The Office for Fair Access has named carers as a specific target group in their guidance to HEIs and providers are encouraged to consider services to support the access and success of these young people when writing their annual access agreements. Information about the support available to young carers is also included on the UCAS website.

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