Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Half a dozen kids, a box of Pringles and a video in her living room – that was Sallie Boyd’s vision when she decided her children needed a break from the pressures of being young carers.
Fourteen years on, Connects and Co has helped more than 500 families, transformed thousands of lives and turned into a career for its founder.
Every week, the charity provides vital support for young carers in Norwich and Dereham aged five to 25, who have to look after ill or disabled loved ones, offering them a chance to take a break from their everyday caring duties and get guidance on the challenges facing them at home.
In its scale, Connects and Co is different from many similar charities, as it works with youngsters through into young adulthood, as they complete their education and find their way into work.
It’s a long way from the charity’s beginnings in 2000, when Mrs Boyd, who was a young carer herself, decided her own children, Connie and triplets Keith, Oli Bertie, the latter two who have special needs, needed a place to relax and enjoy themselves away from their duties as young carers.
“I was looking for support for my children but there wasn’t anything out there, and I thought ‘Maybe I could do that’,” she said.
“I thought it would be six kids, a box of pringles and a video in my front room. And we’ve helped more than 500 families since then.”
All her children – Connie, now 26, the 24-year-old triplets, Faith, 20, and Honor, 18 – now have an active role in the charity, which operates from Catton Grove Community Centre.
Building Connects and Co from scratch has been as transformative an experience for Mrs Boyd, 51, and her family as it has been for any of the young carers she has helped – though she admits she could never have foreseen its growth.
“I had left education at 15 and at one stage had four children at home under the age of two. I was no one to do anything,” she said.
“But I thought ‘what about the youngsters who are living like this on a daily basis, and whose needs might be neglected?’”
Despite not advertising, the group has been full since day one, proving correct Mrs Boyd’s suspicion that the demand for support was going unanswered.
It’s a service that has continued to this day, supported in part by funding from Sport Relief.
Connects and Co is just one of many causes Sport Relief has funded in which women have been empowered to make a difference for themselves, their families and their communities, and was highlighted for International Women’s Day last week.
It offers information on issues including health, education and housing, and works with schools to ensure they understand young carers’ challenges.
Mrs Boyd said: “The young people lose family members, their parents break up, homes go, but we offer the continuity and commitment that there’s somebody there for them throughout. Even when they are not classified as young carers, we say we will be there if they need us.”
But the relationship is not just one-way, and the work can be life-changing for charity staff too.
“We are always having our minds blown by how our young carers balance everything. We stand in awe of them,” said Mrs Boyd.
“They are precious youngsters, and it is humbling to think you can have an input in their lives.”
Is your charity doing inspiring work with young people? Email firstname.lastname@example.org