Posted: 17 July 2016

Rugby star Ollie Phillips visits our Hidden exhibit

I’ve faced some serious challenges in my life, trekking across the Arctic ice to play rugby at the top of the world in temperatures hovering around minus 40 degrees and taking part in the round the world Clipper Race on a 70-foot ocean racing yacht.

Last week, I learnt about a different kind of challenge that goes unrewarded and often unnoticed, faced by thousands of children across the UK seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year, when I attended the Henley Festival with my girlfriend Lucy as guests of The Children’s Society.

The charity is benefitting from a three-year partnership with Henley Festival and staged an exhibition at the event called Hidden to highlight the issues facing the lives of young carers across the UK. It featured a series of stunning portraits of young carers who look after their loved ones – often hidden from view, falling under the radar of the authorities. Many times, it turns out, this is because councils, doctors and schools just aren’t asking children whether they have caring responsibilities. But even when a child is identified as a carer, stigma and fear mean they won’t always want to come forward to get support.

It was good to catch up with Max the photographer to hear how he became a young carer himself when he was nine to look after his mum who had schizophrenia. He explained that his experience has given him the ability to empathise and be responsive to people which has been hugely important for his photography - it shines through in the portraits of the children who take on the huge responsibility of looking after parents or siblings who are disabled, chronically ill, have mental health issues or who are misusing alcohol or drugs.

I also met Emma from The Children’s Society who explained more about the work of the charity that highlights and supports the needs of young carers – incredibly, official statistics show there are 166,000 young carers across the UK although Emma said the charity, through the work they do with young carers, believes this is just the tip of the iceberg.

During my rugby career I always sought to improve and challenge myself, not only to be a better player but also to be a better person. So I’m totally humbled to learn about these children who deal every day with obstacles and challenges that would daunt most adults. They make sacrifices that often sees them lag behind at school, get poorer exam grades and are more likely to experience issues with mental health and to live in poverty.

Henley has a special place in my heart as it's home to my mum and my girlfriend, so it’s good to know that young carers across the UK will be benefitting from the Henley Festival for the next two years, to help raise money and highlight issues facing the lives of these remarkable young people.

You can find out more about the Hidden exhibition and the lives of young carers here.

By Ollie Phillips