Ray Thomas chuckles as he recalls the sight of bread appearing to butter itself on the kitchen counter back when his daughter was at preschool. “Sarah couldn’t reach the counter to make sandwiches, so all you’d see is the bread and knife looking as though they were doing it themselves,” he says.
Sarah has been a carer for her mother, Carole, who has multiple sclerosis, since she was small. Then, when she became an adolescent and her father was diagnosed with degenerative bone disease and fibromyalgia, she had to become his carer too. “I’ve never known anything else,” says Sarah, who is now 18 and who continues to do everything from general household chores to helping with medication, providing physical assistance, filling in forms and many other day-to-day jobs.
“One of my earliest memories was being amazed to see my friend’s mum walking. I thought all mums were disabled and all dads worked long hours,” she says, as I talk to her and her parents at their terraced home in Shrewsbury. “But I can’t say I was disappointed when I found out that my mum was different,” she adds, thoughtfully. “It has meant she’s always been around and although it’s hard to say what I’d have been like if I hadn’t cared for her from a young age, I do know I’m very independent – far more so than most of my friends.”