Young carers in Blackpool having fun with RoboCarer

Kids meet RoboCarer

Carers – Kerri-Ann Leighton helps kit Robocarer Wade Cumming out

Published on Monday 20 February 2012 14:07

MOST of us wouldn’t know David Richardson if we bumped into him on the streets.

That’s the way he likes it. The man behind the camera, directing action others watch.

Many will be familiar with his work as a TV director. Emmerdale last year. Shameless back in 2009. Five years or so on Hollyoaks. Grange Hill. EastEnders. Brookside. And more.

Throw in The Celts for good measure and some short films and work with some of the biggest names in British cinema, and David’s on the roll call of honour when it comes to directors of clout and kudos.

So – with the greatest respect – what brings him to Claremont Community Centre, North Shore, on a bleak midwinter evening to help children with their film project?

The secret is in the phrase: the greatest respect. These are no ordinary kids. Not that we would know that either if we met them on the streets. They are bright and chatty and among others who know what they are up against, and how they cope and care enough to make life easier for loved ones, while balancing the demands of school and home life, work and play.

They are kids for who David has the utmost respect, personally and professionally.

They are carers. On their slender shoulders falls a weight of responsibility at which many far older would baulk. The duty of care is often self-assigned. They do it because they want to rather than because they have no choice. Some have no choice, but would still gladly do it.

They may be caring for parents or siblings or others. They pick up the slack in society’s safety net through which loved ones would fall if they weren’t around to catch them.

Their DVD draws on that dilemma. And this definitely is their choice. A group of Young Carers under the wing of Blackpool Carers’ Centre got together and a star was born – RoboCarer.

It’s a short film with a far reaching message. Sometimes life gets too much and we need a break and resent demands on our time. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could call on someone to do all the work for us?

Sounds like a job for RoboCarer? Step forward and take a bow Wade Cummings, 11, and his brother Lewis, 10.

Wade is RoboCarer, assigned to step in after Lewis, the carer star, finds it all too much and kicks off – to go to football, instead.

RoboCarer, kit assembled by the group from handy household props, is cool and efficient and has a winning way with his charges too.

And that’s too much for our star – as Lewis explains: “At first it seems a good idea to get RoboCarer in so he – I – can play football and go out. But he – I – don’t like it one little bit when RoboCarer takes over everything.”

It’s a simple but effective message, and the film is to be shown at Manchester’s Cornerhouse arthouse in March as part of the campaign to ensure young carers’ voices are heard. They’re a silent majority, the extent of their commitment often not even known to mates at school.

Director David has been drafted in to mentor the group. “What they do is marvellous. But they also have an intuitive grasp of film making too. They’re easier than many with whom I’ve worked.”

Natasha Ketley, 13, Kerri-Ann Leighton, 11, and Olivia Dennett, 11, say there’s another plus as all the young carers who gather once a week at Claremont centre offload hassles, chat and laugh.

“Sometimes you can’t always share with mates, but you can here,” says Kerri-Ann. “Not that I’m very good at listening to people myself. Some just annoy me.”

Olivia adds: “We’re often busy doing other stuff and friends don’t understand why that comes first. Here you are not alone, people understand. They do the same.”

Shannon Leighton, 14, who’s helped design costumes for the film, says the group means “time out and a laugh” and adds: “I really like the film’s message.”

Natasha, official director of the movie, rules with a rod of iron. “Excellent, Lewis,” says David after the 10-year-old feigns another tantrum on camera. “Nathasha?” The young director scowls. “No, I don’t like it. We’ll go for another take. Action.”

David’s also impressed with Megan Vowels, 12, on sound. “Megan asks all the questions I’d be asked by professionals. She’s a natural.” Megan is enjoying it. “I prefer not acting. It’s good being this side.”

Blackpool Carers’ Centre is also offering a free training programme for a foundation degree in youth work, community learning and development for all young carers on the Fylde coast, as a stepping stone to a degree course in youth work.

The centre, which has two Young Carers’ Champions, is hailed a model of good practice nationally by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers. And it’s about to open its first charity shop, Charity Chic on Church Street.

Chief officer Michelle Smith adds: “The shop will have an information point and we hope to encourage young carers and families to call in.”

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