Theo, 12, spends much of his time in the role of a young carer to his five-year-old brother Toby, who has autism.
“Toby idolises Theo,” explains mum, Nicole, “and he wants to be with him all the time. When he isn’t having to watch his brother, many of Theo’s interests are solitary ones and he is happy in his own company, playing Minecraft in his bedroom.”
For these reasons, when Nicole heard about the YMCA East Surrey youth club sessions in Merstham through social media, she was keen for Theo to give them a try, get out of the house and interact more with others.
Theo also has autism, like his brother, and struggled with sensory issues as a younger child. He enjoys his lessons at school, is eloquent, musical, interested in reading and finds it easier to communicate with adults than with his peers.
“We live in a stressful household and Theo has a lot on his plate for a boy of his age,” says Nicole. “Out of necessity, much of my time is taken up with looking after his brother and so I can’t give Theo as much attention as I would like.”
“There’s not a lot else to do in this area for children of Theo’s age, so my hope was that the youth club sessions would give him the chance to mingle and make some local friends.”
YMCA East Surrey runs 12 free youth club sessions at five venues across East Surrey, aiming to provide a friendly, relaxed space for young people in school years 6 to 11 to hang out.
Stuart Kingsley, Family Services and Youth Work Manager and Deputy Head of Children and Young People at YMCA East Surrey, says:
“Being given the opportunity by Surrey County Council this year to take on the leases for the Horley Family & Young People Centre and the Phoenix in Tadworth has allowed us to offer a wider programme of universal youth work. We want to offer targeted support projects so we can listen and respond to local need.”
Between 1 April and 31 July 2021, YMCA East Surrey held 89 youth club sessions at which there was a total of 569 attendances.
Marlon Williams is YMCA East Surrey’s Lead Youth Worker and Mentor. He says:
“When Theo first attended the Youth Club, following lockdown, he was quiet and reserved and preferred to take part in activities, like chess, that he’d tried before. He was quick to say ‘I’m not very good at this’ if he was encouraged to join in with something new.”
“Theo’s become a lot more confident over the recent months. His social skills are improving and he communicates very well with the other young people who attend, is considerate of their feelings and happy to participate in activities with them, not just with the other adults. He’ll give something a go if he hasn’t tried it before and recently received a YMCA Youth Accreditation Award for the development he has made in table tennis.”
Theo is particularly delighted that the youth club sessions have improved his pool skills – an interest he now shares with a local young friend.
“I wouldn’t have nearly as much to do without the YMCA Youth Club,” he says. “The Youth Workers are fun and I think that anyone who hasn’t given the sessions a try is really missing out!”