Spurgeons works with around 900 young carers in Birmingham and the West Midlands. One of them, Poppy, has lived through domestic abuse, homelessness and isolation. Now she’s set to appear in her school production of Mary Poppins. Craig*, one of our Young Carers support team, takes up the story of the girl who’s become the face of Spurgeons’ 2019 Christmas Appeal.
I first met Poppy five years ago. I wasn’t long into my young carers role with Spurgeons, having moved from my teaching post at a pupil referral unit, where I worked with young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Poppy was a bubbly little thing; bright, talkative, friendly, a real treasure. She’d been caring for her disabled mum since she was eight-years-old and yet she was still doing very well at school; she was very popular.
But the school had referred Poppy to us because they knew of her situation as a young carer, the fact she was an only child looking after her mum, a single parent who had spina bifida and was a wheelchair user. I started to offer Poppy one-to-one support in school, where she was able to talk to me about her caring role and I could begin to shape her support package. Poppy became a regular at our Birmingham Young Carer’s group, getting to know young people in similar situations to her own.
But there was more to Poppy’s story, as I found out as I got to know her. Mum and daughter had been made homeless after they’d moved in with Mum’s new partner, only for him to subject them to domestic abuse. Some ‘friends’ had given them temporary shelter, helped Mum make a homeless application and then taken both of them to a local neighbourhood scheme; yet they left them there with all their things and no access back into their property.
It emerged these so-called friends had taken advantage of Mum financially, that they’d been intimidating Poppy and had damaged their white goods when putting them into storage. In short, the pair found themselves in a situation of anxious uncertainty, abuse, disrespect and real hardship.
They went on to spend a year in temporary hotel accommodation, being moved around every couple of weeks, with one place being more than 40 miles away, in Leicester.
I used to travel out to these hotels to see them once a week and provide pretty much their only practical and emotional support. I would sit with Mum and help her with things like completing her housing benefit application; not only was she unsure of how the system worked, she found it physically difficult to fill in the forms because of her condition.
“Trapped in a cheerless existence”
There they were, physically and socially isolated, surviving on sandwiches and pot noodle because their accommodation didn’t extend to hot meals.
Poppy was unable to attend school because they couldn’t afford the taxi fares (Poppy was too young to travel independently) and they spent one snowy Christmas and New Year in a basic hotel, trapped in a cheerless existence they didn’t know how to escape (I remember organising some funding that year to pay for a winter coat for Poppy).
Meanwhile, their relationship with Poppy’s Nan, which had never been strong, had deteriorated once she was diagnosed with dementia. There was precious little available in the way of family support.
At least I was there to help fight their corner, to lend an understanding ear and help wherever I could. I continued to support Mum to find a home, showing her how to bid for accommodation on the Council website and check on progress.
Even when accommodation was found there were problems. They once got a room in a homeless shelter but I had to step in to raise the issue that the disabled shower used by Poppy’s mum didn’t have constant hot water like all the other showers, for example.
Education was suffering
Though Poppy is bright and Mum would buy her school books, Poppy’s education was suffering from teachers not always posting school work to the hotels where she was staying, despite me calling to ask for this to be done; I would often also have to remind the school that Poppy should be getting funds as a young carer to pay for travel to her place of education.
I’ve been in close contact with Poppy and her mum through all this time and I’m delighted to say that things are looking a lot more positive for them now. They’ve been placed in a ground floor flat in Birmingham, which has been modified for wheelchair use, while I’ve accessed various funding pots to get them things like beds and furniture – we got some money from BBC Children in Need, for example, to pay for a cooker.
Hope for the future
Poppy is now thriving at secondary school, excelling at her studies and with a keen interest in the performing arts, is about to feature in the school production of Mary Poppins!
Finally, they’re settled and they’re happy together. Issues continue to pop up at school but I’m able to support Poppy with them whenever I’m needed; meanwhile, she continues to be a regular at our group sessions and on their trips out.
Like my colleagues in the Young Carers team, my job can be difficult but I’ll leave the final word to Poppy’s Mum, who wrote to me recently.
Her letter said: “Thank you for being the much-needed support that you gave during the hard times. Your support is appreciated and of great comfort to us. Thank you for your thoughtfulness… and support. There is no sufficient amount of words that could equal how much we appreciate everything you have done and the support you have given.”
Craig – Spurgeons’ Birmingham Young Carers
To find out more about Poppy’s story, her place in the 2019 Spurgeons Christmas Appeal and how you can donate, go to www.spurgeons.org
*Craig is a fictional name, used here and in our Christmas Appeal for reasons of sensitivity