Teenagers in choir united by sacrifices they make in their personal lives

These amazing and selfless ­teenagers are taking singing from the same song sheet to a whole new level.

Not only do they perform in a choir but they are also united by the ­sacrifices they make in their personal lives.

Each of them juggle school work with caring for their parents or siblings with life-limiting illnesses such as chronic pain, autism, multiple sclerosis and depression.

The ten-strong Young Carers Aloud is the brainchild of Laura Jones, 29, who single-handedly cared for her mum after she had a nervous breakdown ­followed, in 2001, by a heart attack.

Five years ago Laura, who volunteered at young carers’ charity Action for Children from 16 and studied theatre and media at ­university, hoped to start a song-writing workshop.

She said: “I wanted to use performance and music to help these amazing young people.

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“Singing was always my therapy, my way to heal and find a calm place, and I wanted these little heroes to ­experience that too.

“I know how hard it can be to find the time and cover to come to ­rehearsals if you’re a full-time carer, but I did everything I could do make that dream a reality. Then a colleague of mine at the charity suggested I put a choir together to sing them.”

Since then Young Carers Aloud, the UK’s first choir made up solely of young carers, has recorded an album of their own material.

They have also starred in a ­musical and performed at London venues ­including in front of 200 people in St Paul’s ­Cathedral last October.

Laura, of Mountain Ash, Rhondda, said: “I’m like Sister Mary Clarence from Sister Act, getting these children who’ve never sung before not just to enjoy themselves but to find their own voices and also create the tightest possible bonds.

“Nothing brings you together more than singing in a choir, and being a carer can be the loneliest, crushing experience ­imaginable. I grew up in poverty as a carer but was adamant I’d make something of my life. I owe that to music.

“I held down three jobs to afford to go to university and I made it. I wanted to bring that strength back to The Valleys, to give these kids who dedicate their lives to others ­opportunities and friendships which will last a lifetime.”

Caitlin Brewis, age 15

Caitlin, who goes to Cardinal Newman RC Comprehensive in Pontypridd, has been a carer since she was nine years old, and joined the choir last year.

She said: “My younger brother Zach, who’s eight years old now, is severely autistic, and because my mum and dad are separated and mum works night shifts, I spend a lot of time dealing with Zach. I have to get up early to prep him for school, make his breakfast and do all the little jobs a parent would.

“It’s exhausting in a way nobody else could really understand unless they’re a carer.

“Being out of the house with people my age who get me, it’s a lifeline. My favourite song is We Will Rise Again, showing we’re stronger together. It hits the nail on the head.”

Caitlyn Homer-Hughes, age 15

Caitlin has been a carer for her mum Gail since she was diagnosed with MS eight years ago.

The pupil at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydywaun comprehensive in the Rhondda Valley had never sung before joining the choir three years ago.

She said: “Everyday tasks for mum are just impossible so I have to do everything from cooking to washing Mum’s hair. It’s also really hard for Mum, who feels so guilty for putting me in this position.

“Rehearsals, performances, and trips away are the highlight of every month.”

Ffion Corcoran, age 13

Ffion has juggled studying at Aberdare Community School with caring for her mum Donna, who suffers from depression and anxiety, for the past two years.

She said: “Our nan, Mum’s mum, died two years ago and it massively hit her, leaving me almost overnight to pick up the pieces. It’s so hard, getting up at 6am to prep my younger sisters Cerys and Bronwyn for school, as well as helping out at home with everything else.

“In the choir I feel at home and happy for the first time in so long. I forget how tired I am when I’m singing.”

Corey Barker, age 16

Corey says the choir is a relief from years of caring for his mum and sister, 11.

The Treorchy Comprehensive pupil’s mum has chronic back pain.

He said: “Some days mum’s in so much pain she can’t get out of bed, so I have to cook, clean, do the shopping. It’s become the norm now but it doesn’t get any easier.

“The songs we sing make us all feel less isolated. I regularly well-up when I’m singing, the emotion is so powerful and healing. It’s a blessing being part of this.”

Kasey Chapman, age 16

A first-year student at Coleg Y Cymoedd Nantgarw, Kasey has been a carer for eight years for her mum Natasha, who has severe endometriosis and is in chronic pain

She said: “As well as mum, I also have my younger brother Cameron, who’s 13, and sister Leora, who’s nine, so I’m often up very late at night to get all my coursework done.

“It feels like every single minute of the day I’m looking after someone else, doing laundry or cooking, or helping with homework, not to mention emotionally supporting mum.

“In the choir we share stories and laugh so much. We can relate to each other, and hearing someone next to me singing lyrics about being together, being stronger, it puts a huge smile on all our faces.

“All of us are heroes.”

Arrabella Eames, 17

Arrabella looks after both parents while a pupil at St John the Baptist High in Aberdare.

Since she was nine she has been caring for mum Claire, who has chronic pain after a bus accident 23 years ago. Dad Stephen, is a diabetic and has arthritis .

She said: “As well as all the chores I often help Mum and Dad get dressed as well as being strong for them, which isn’t easy. Putting Mum and Dad first has obviously taken its toll, which is why the choir is a great escape. It’s better than any medication. Each song is so beautiful and personal.”

Arwen Braddock, 14

Arwen has been a carer since she could “walk and talk”. The Mountain Ash pupil’s twin brother Ewan has extreme anxiety, dyspraxia and other issues.

She said: “My dad works full time and my mum suffers from depression so I’ve had help with everything from cooking meals, sorting out his uniform, helping re-teach him stuff from school.

“If I ever get a chance to see my friends, I often have to head back early to deal with a situation. The choir is a safe, healing place where everybody understands what you’re going through.”

Brodie Townsend, aged 17

Five years ago Brodie became a carer for her mum, Wendy, when she was diagnosed with severe PTSD and depression.

Brodie Townsend, 17, is in her second year at college at Coleg y Cymoedd Llwynypia in Rhonda.

She said: “Because mum’s not allowed to work, it’s up to me to cook, clean, and look after her as well as my younger brothers Stanley, 16, and Murdoch, 12. My dad left us when I was 14 and we moved town, so every morning I’m at 6am to make breakfast for everyone and clean up before dashing to college, then the moment I’m home it’s non-stop, too.

“The choir gives me energy, helps me concentrate and brings me out of my shell.”

Keira Phillips, age 14

For four years Keira has cared for her mum Sharon – who has anxiety, depression, PTSD and is bipolar – while studying at Aberdare Community School.

She said: “I have to make sure mum takes all her tablets, take her to doctors’ appointments, as well as doing all the home stuff. On a bad day I have to get Mum out of bed and if she’s in a bad way, take time out of school, which means I’m playing catch-up at break and lunch. My two older sisters, Beth and Charlotte, moved out of home a few years ago.

“In the choir I feel like I’m me, I’m alive again. I remember how performing in front of over 160 people at St Paul’s Cathedral last year was mind-blowing.”

Megan Swales, age 14

Megan joined Young Carers Aloud last October while caring for her mum and brother Jack.

The GCSE student, from Mountain Ash in the Rhondda Valley has been looking after ten-year-old Jack – who is autistic and has severe anxiety – for four years.

She said: “Mum has severe depression, so I have to be here there emotionally for her as much as Jack. I’m always there to calm Jack down when he lashes out and keep his routine but I also cook, clean and do all the other jobs at home.

“Doing that on top of my own school work and trying to see my friends, it’s not easy.

“Being in this choir is a mental support for me and when I’m singing I feel like I’m free. I'm alive and happy.”

  • Find out more at www.actionforchildren.org.uk

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