More than 1,300 young carers across the East and West Midlands were able to take a break from their caring duties by joining hands-on organic gardening and nature craft sessions as part of our BBC Children in Need-funded sessions.
Since 2014, our knowledge transfer officer Elaine Goold has delivered more than 100 activity days to young people in Coventry, Warwickshire, Solihull and Northamptonshire, who needed to take a break from caring for family members who were disabled, unwell or had learning difficulties.
The gardening groups, which included children aged between eight and 12 years, met at community and youth centres across the Midlands to learn about organic growing and benefit from the therapeutic nature of horticulture. All sessions took place during school holidays when the children felt most lonely.
Sowing the seeds of success
The project has had a big impact on the young people. Evaluations have shown 99 per cent of participants reported they’d had fun, 95 per cent had tried something new and 86 per cent had made a new friend.
Part of the evaluation was to gauge the children’s mood at the start and end of the day, using a selection of emojis. Only 69 per cent of the young carers chose an emoji at the start of the day that had a positive feeling attached to it, such as happy, excited, or kind. But by the end of the activity day, 99 per cent chose a ‘positive’ emoji face to represent how they felt.
“Delivering these sessions has been a privilege,” says Elaine. “It’s been so inspiring to meet these young people and see them start the sessions, often very shy and unsure, and get increasingly noisier as they take part in the activities and make friends.
“I’ve enjoyed being able to give them the chance to have a ‘day off’ from their caring roles and just behave like children - getting mucky, playing outdoors, making friends, and having a go at growing their own tasty food.”
Fresh air and freedom
Young carers often don't get the same amount of recreational time as their peers so don't have time to develop hobbies and interests. The aim of the project was to improve the wellbeing of the young carers and give them time away from their caring responsibilities. Through introducing them to activities such as gardening, nature, and crafts, they were able to develop their own interests, socialise, connect with nature, try new activities and enhance their self-esteem.
“It’s been fantastic to hear from project workers and parents about how the seeds they’ve sown during the activity days have grown at home, and about harvests shared and enjoyed with their families,” adds Elaine. “I hope some of them have caught the gardening bug, and now feel confident to try gardening on their own, so they can grow their own little therapeutic garden for when they need it.”