I work for Hope Support Services, a national charity based in rural Herefordshire that supports young people aged 5-25 when a loved one is seriously ill with a condition such as cancer. Loved ones can be anyone from siblings to parents to grandparents to family friends: if the young person has been affected by them becoming seriously ill, they can apply to Hope for help. To date, Hope has supported over 650 young people from Aberdeenshire to East Sussex.
Hope offers a safe space filled with professionals and peers who understand the day-to-day burdens of living with someone who has a serious illness like cancer. Many young people in this situation act as carers for their loved one, attending regular appointments, missing school or struggling to focus and being isolated from the social life most young people take for granted. Many feel they have to keep ‘smaller’ things to themselves so their loved one doesn’t worry and don’t go out because they feel guilty that their loved one is stuck at home. Hope provides young people with those opportunities they have missed out on and supports them through the big and the small.
The charity runs a face-to-face service in Herefordshire, involving youth sessions and one-to-one support, as well as a national digital service. The youth sessions are run for ages 5-25 and take in many of the market towns of Herefordshire, where rural isolation can be a really big problem. At these sessions, young people are supported with learning key skills such as cooking as well as taking part in activities from music production to sports. This is often a much-needed break for young people who otherwise spend most of their time looking after their loved one. The young people at these sessions have all been through the same thing and can build relationships, support and understand each other in a way no-one else can.
Don’t just take my word for it either:
Hope has given me opportunities to be myself and grow as a person and brought light into my life at a very dark and lonely time.
I enjoy coming to Hope because it makes me meet new people and gives me new experiences!
These young people are also invited to regular trips and activities, where they spend time doing fun, often outdoor activities, enabling them to let off steam and spend more time with people who understand them. They are exposed to opportunities that they never would have had without Hope. Often, Hope organise these with local organisations, bringing in new influences to the support the charity offers. Amongst these trips are quarterly “Hope on the Road”s, where the young people are invited to take part in a group day trip; in the past, groups have visited everywhere from safari parks to seasides and taken part in everything from music production to sailing! For some young people, these opportunities have helped them to decide their career path or what they want to go on to study, showing how profound Hope’s impact really is.
In addition, Hope regularly offers one-off trips, another way to upskill young people and take them away from their difficult lives for a little while. Recent examples include a day cookery school and a theatre trip. One young person said about the cookery school:
It has made a massive difference to my family because it means my dad doesn’t have to cook straight after coming home from work – I can cook meals for them and develop my own skills and since the course gave me the push forward, I haven’t looked back!
The digital service offers support to young people aged from 11-25, with regular peer support comment threads, monitored by professionals, on top of one-to-one support for those who want it.
The comment threads take in and centre around issues that are key to the young people in the group. Sometimes, this gives them the chance to talk about the issues which have brought them there and allows them to support each other in their struggles with mental health, illness and loss.
However, these are balanced with plenty of fun topics that offer them the chance to have a discussion and socialise in a safe environment with people who absolutely understand what they have been through in a way other people in their lives often might not.
On top of opening up opportunities for peer support, Hope’s trained professionals offer one-to-one slots that young people can sign up to when they need them, at a time that works for them and from the security of their homes. These are a way for the young people to talk to someone they can trust about personal issues they may be struggling with or anything else, small or big, they want to talk about.
Hope was set up ten years ago when its Founder became ill with cancer with three teenage children at home. She looked for support for her children and found plenty for herself but none for young people and so set up Hope Support Services. So, from its inception, Hope has seen the needs of young people whose loved ones are battling cancer and that has not changed.
Hope is unique; it is run in the traditional way, with a staff team and a Board of Trustees, but also by its young people, with a Youth Management Team and Advisory Group taking part in key decisions and often helping to form the charity’s direction. This means it is not only youth-centric, but youth-led.
Hope’s Youth Management Team play a huge part, regularly volunteering in a variety of ways from helping at youth sessions and events to speaking at school assemblies. They meet with Hope staff once a month, where they give feedback on things that have happened and discuss the direction they see for Hope over the following months. They also plan, organize and evaluate fundraisers for the charity. The Y-Team is recruited and set up like a traditional Board, with a Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, and so on: every member has a specific role to fulfill.
Hope’s Advisory Group are a newer addition but equally involved: they are majorly involved in Hope’s national and international expansion. Recently, their main focus has been developing an app which, going forward, will hold all of Hope’s digital service (very exciting!), but they have also recently led on research projects. This youth leadership model is one of the key elements that makes Hope, Hope.