Thursday, 30 June 2016

Volunteering at the Young Carers Festival 2016

It's 15:00 on Friday 24th June. There is 30 minutes until I finish work and 3 hours before I head to YMCA Faithorne Manor to volunteer for the young carers festival. I can barely contain my excitement let alone imagining the excitement of the young people travelling to the festival.

The festival happens at Fairthorne Manor every year to provide a space where young carers from around the UK can come together and enjoy themselves as young people for the weekend. This is the 17th Young Carers Festival. The festival has also been a place where worries, opinions and ideas are shared around the issues young carers face and from it we have seen changes in legislation to benefit the young carers.


This is my fourth Young Carers Festival (YCF) and it is always such an honour to be part of bringing joy to these incredible young carers. Tonight I have the pleasure of welcoming the new arrivals and showing them to their tents. Everyone is so ecstatic to be here that even the puddles in the tents from the weeks previous bad British weather didn't dampen the young people's spirits (pun intended).

The opening ceremony kicks off around 21:00 starting with a message from the Young Carers, leading to guest acts Mahalia and Jake Quickiden, then to the spectacular fireworks display (I'm sure it gets better every year), finishing with a disco to end the first night. What a great way to start the weekend.


It's Saturday and again feelings of excitement rush through me like a child at Christmas. I'm acting as face painter today which means I get to chat to the young people all day. I get to witness them enjoying themselves, making new friends, catching up with friends they have met at last years YCF and sharing their stories with one an other.

In my break I walk around the Voice Zone and I also come across the Wish Tree, which always brings a tear to my eye. Although most of the young carers wished that their relatives would get better, or wished people understood them more, or wished they got more help with their studies; not one person wished they had a different life or complained about being a young carer in any way. They were all grateful and almost honoured to be able look after their loved ones.


These young people are truly incredible and thanks the staff at YMCA Fairthorne Manor and the Children's Society and all of the volunteers and leaders, they get to celebrate all that they do in style every year and I am forever in awe of the Young Carers Festival and of course the Young Carers themselves.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A Youth Ambassador's perspective on the YES Seminar - Madrid 2016

The YES Seminar for me has been a transformative experience, which I am grateful for the opportunity to share today. 

YES stands for Youth Empowerment Space and is a network of young leaders from across Europe, holding seminars and leadership training every year. 

YES Seminar Madrid 2016

The peers I met there worked in a wide range of roles, which gave the opportunity to discuss the different work our YMCAs serve, and share best practise and inspirational stories. 

I was inspirited again to find that wherever people are across the globe, they share the same YMCA heart, all wanting to do the best for the young people and communities they serve, with genuine care for those around them. 

Participants of the YES Seminar Madrid 2016

In the time that we were there, we learned about leadership, networking, governance, advocacy, project initiation, management and measurement, and networking.

Participants engaging at YES Seminar Madrid 2016

We also looked at how young people suffer injustice, what young people need, the structure of YES and YMCA Europe, and the YMCA Europe strategy and how we could contribute to it as a forum. 

Home groups YES Seminar Madrid 2016

The experience was led by fantastic young leaders, who inspired and motivated us to get young voices heard and to do our best for our YMCA. 

We were graced with fantastic guest speaker, Ed Edink President of YMCA Europe, who gave his time to talk to us and answer questions, and also joined us for lunch so that we could share stories and learn from him. 

Ed Edink, YMCA Europe President and Alice Firbank YES Seminar Madrid 2016

Our experience was held in the Scouts Madrid Hostel, with thanks to Juan Simoes Iglesias of YMCA Spain who warmly welcomed us and took care of us during our entire stay. 

The seminar helped to thoroughly prepare us for the YMCA Europe General Assembly, and fostered growth and leadership in all that attended.

Group work YES Seminar Madrid 2016

I would recommend the YES seminar to any young leader hoping to give a voice for young people.

The experience helps to build, prepare and inspire, and brings individuals into a wide network of people across Europe working towards a strong goal: to empower young people and give them a voice.

From Ross

I was dreading my trip to Kosovo as I was going to be travelling for 30+ hours. I had to get a bus from Newcastle to London Victoria, then a bus from London victoria to Gatwick, then I had to wait 10 hours for my 6 hour flight. I broke my phone whilst I was at the airport and I couldn’t sleep what so ever, even though I tried my hardest. I was really fed up but I kept saying to myself “you’re nearly there”. I eventually arrived at Prishtina airport and I was knackered! I still had an hour bus journey to Gjakova but it didn’t matter any more because most of the group was reunited! We had a few new faces join us and even though we had only known them for a short while, it felt as though that they had been part of the group from the very beginning.

This was the furthest I have travelled in my life so I wasn’t used to foreign lands but when I arrived at Gjakova I felt right at home in this beautiful town. The view was outstanding! Everywhere you looked you could see magical mountains. I fell in love with Gjakova and I didn’t want to leave. What really broke my heart was the children who begged on the street. I became really close to one girl Rossina (not sure how it’s spelt). She was only 9 but, she was a wonderful girl full of intelligence. I seen her most nights as she hung round in the bizarre where we would go for drinks after our long days. She told me she is sent out to make money for her parents every night.

Even though this was the 3rd part of the exchange, I still didn’t know what to expect and that’s what I love about this exchange.
We started off with the guys from Kosovo sharing their stories about the conflict. I had watched a few documentaries on the conflict but hearing it from someone who I know and who was actually involved filled me with emotion. I really respect the guys for sharing with me as I can imagine it is a sensitive subject for them to discuss. We did a range of activities throughout the week that would better our cultural awareness, youth work skills and leadership skills. We even got to meet the UK ambassador for Kosovo and a Minister of Kosovo. It was excellent to hear their positive views on youth work and the progression of Kosovo. I really could go on all day talking about how this exchange has transformed me and changed my life, in a way that makes me proud of what me and the other participants do.

The saddest part of this week was that every day was becoming closer to the end of the exchange… From wanting to turn round and go home when I was on my way to Fairthorne in part one to wanting to stay in Gjakova forever. This has changed my life. I’ve become more culturally aware, I’ve developed my youth work  & leadership skills, I’ve learnt how to manage projects and lots more but, the thing I will remember the most is the people I met on the way.
Thank you YMCA for the most life changing and inspirational journey I have ever been on in my life.