A teenager from Northumberland, who cares for his disabled mother and has won a place at one of the world’s top universities, has urged the UK’s estimated 700,00 school age carers not to suffer in silence.
Eighteen-year-old Lewis Ferguson will study Spanish and Arabic at Durham University after achieving outstanding grades despite for years having to cope with caring and studying and -in 2020 – the impact of lockdown.
Lewis, who was a student at Cramlington Learning Village, believes there are too many young carers who carry on unnoticed and have to balance the demands placed on them without any help.
“I would encourage them to speak up to their schools – as I did – so that they can be supported better to help manage their home life and academic commitments,” he said.
“They’re fantastic people but don’t get the recognition they deserve. They should not feel the need to hide their efforts, but instead celebrate them. This should not be a barrier for them to succeed and take the next steps forward in life, such as going to university.
Lewis said that even before lockdown caring for his mother, Barbara, and attending school was exhausting. “It’s a juggling act – getting everything in motion. I’d learned how to balance everything,” he said.
“But with lockdown everything changed and the whole routine fizzled out. They were a really tough few months. I feel I’ve managed to cope pretty well considering what’s gone on around me.”
At the start of the year Lewis’ older sister had a baby and moved out. He has two much younger brothers and his mother has been disabled for seven years after major complications following a back operation.
He said his school has been a great source of support: “When I was going there they would always check that I was OK or if I needed help with something. I was given a mentor when I was struggling a bit and they helped keep that balance going.”
But during lockdown he almost gave up on his dream of going to university. “I didn’t think I would get to that stage. To be perfectly honest I thought I would get my A-levels and then get a job. But teachers at the school helped me, saying I could do better and show my true potential.
“Even though I was cut off from school, the teachers would still email me just making sure I was alright and if I did need support they would provide it,” he said. “They were always there for me.”
Lewis found out his results online: As for A-level Spanish and English Language and two starred distinctions for his BTEC Health and Social Care course.
“It was the longest build-up ever just to click a button. I was really, really anxious. I didn’t think I would get grades like that. I was very surprised.” Unsurprisingly Lewis and his mother shared a few tears when they found out how well he had done.
Durham University wants its students to live in college so Lewis will be taking his car just in case he needs to get home in a hurry. His sister and grandmother will take over the day-to-day care duties.
Cramlington Learning Village head teacher Wendy Heslop said: “All of our students have had a tough time over the past few months, but nobody more so than Lewis. He and his family should be so proud of his achievements and we wish him every success in the future.”