Eleanor Brain and James Aldridge, both 18, are Youth Ambassadors for Child Bereavement UK. They joined Child Bereavement UK’s Young People’s Advisory Group after the deaths of their dads, and have been nominated for their work representing the voice of bereaved young people.
Eleanor, age 18, Youth Ambassador Buckinghamshire:
When I was 14, my Dad died unexpectedly. I had no time to prepare or deal with my emotions before the death and for the first few weeks, I was in shock. I tried to keep my daily life as ‘normal’ as possible, and went back to school and normal activities almost straight away. My way of coping was to hide my emotions in public, and as a result, people around me thought that I was OK and there was a lack of support. It seemed that people were afraid of saying the wrong thing.
One of my teachers called Child Bereavement UK, and told my mum about it, and I had an introductory support session. At first I said no to coming along to the Young People’s Advisory Group (YPAG) – I just didn’t want to talk about it – I hid the letter I received and got away with it for a while, but mum said I could go for three sessions to see how I got on. In fact I really liked it and made friends, so I decided to keep going. It was lots of fun – everyone was in the same situation and there was no pressure in the group – you didn’t have to say anything if you didn’t want to. In fact I didn’t really speak for the first two sessions! Everybody knows why they’re there and everyone understands each other. Now I feel less alone knowing I have other people to talk to.
In the first year I worked on a photography project and we have made a video and an App. This year we’re helping develop the Young People’s section of the website. Some of the projects we’re asked to do, for instance HealthWatch asked us to make a video, but sometimes we decide as a group, as we did with the photography and the video to help other young people.
I was asked if I wanted to become an Ambassador and I accepted because I wanted to do something for the charity. I’ve been to two Schools Conferences talking to groups of people and taking part in a Q&A facilitated by the charity. I like to think I’m helping CBUK as well the teachers. The young person’s point of view can be very helpful to them; hearing from an adult is one thing, but listening to a young person helps them to apply it to their own students. It’s good because more people are getting the help they need.
People don’t think about the implications of bereavement – they think it doesn’t affect many people but there are statistics that show that bereavement amongst the under 16s is quite common. People are just told to get on with it and knowing that CBUK is there and raising awareness of the troubles young people face – especially not knowing anyone else in the same situation as you – that’s what the Young People’s Advisory Group is good for.
The people who run it are really supportive – they let us take a leadership role, they never put words in your mouth and everything is done completely by us – the staff are just there for guidance.
I’m really proud of raising awareness of the issues young people face. I met Prince William and Kate which was really good; we were filming a video and they came over and said ‘No pressure!’ They clapped at the end – they were really nice. We showed them the work we had done on the videos and they asked us about how we’d made them. Meeting Joey Essex was good fun too – we had 20 minutes with him he was really nice and laid-back. He really saw the importance of Child Bereavement UK and he was telling us how we went on The Cube to raise money for the charity. I have also done a bit of fundraising – I ran 1K on Mother’s Day at the Onesie Walk and took part in Dash for Dad last year and ran 5K.
Just being with other people who have had a similar experience to me has made me feel more ‘normal’, and has helped me to get my life back on track. I feel less isolated and alone. As a Youth Ambassador, I like to give back to the charity by making people more aware of bereavement support and my experience, and the fact that there is no time limit on grief – people come to terms with their loss at different rates.
James, age 18, Youth Ambassador Milton Keynes:
My sister, Charlie, and I were referred to Child Bereavement UK after Dad died in 2009. Charlie copes differently to me – I was more ‘internal’ and she was more ‘external’. We came and had a meeting with Ann who suggested we try the Young People’s Advisory Group – it was probably three or four years ago now. We decided that the group would be a good option for us; it was nerve-wracking going to the first session, meeting a group of new people you’ve never met before, but I settled in quite quickly. Once you walk in, you feel a lot better because everyone is in the same place as you. It was a way of seeing we weren’t the only ones, we weren’t alone, and had other people with us. I have met a really good group of people who are now my friends.
I have worked on numerous video projects and a photography project – we have had lots of good feedback about the videos and other resources we have created. A lot of people have used them and found them useful.
Being a Youth Ambassador entails representing the charity and giving something back after they have helped me. The Young People’s Advisory Group is a good place to go and you kind of feel at home there, because you don’t feel out of place, and it helps you take that outside of the group and makes you feel normal. Before, you’d walk into school and know you were different, but that has got much better over the years.
I have attended a few Schools Conferences. I took part in a question-based session for teachers and we showed off the resources we have made such as the App and Fink Cards. Teachers were curious about how school specifically dealt with our bereavement and what they could have done better so they could take that to their school and implement it.
I have also taken part in a few fundraising events. It was good meeting Joey Essex – you see a completely different side to him. In the media, he’s portrayed as being quite ‘out there’ and when we saw him, he was also talking about his experience and it was nice in a way. We also met William and Kate and they asked a few questions about what we do and how we help people. It was good to see somebody of such big stature – how they can walk into a room but know that they’re the same as you because they’ve had the same thing happen to them. So it didn’t feel unusual for Prince William coming into the group as he’s had the same experience as us.
I do enjoy being a Youth Ambassador – it is what I signed up to and wanted to do and it is fun. I would say to anyone thinking about joining YPAG – just do it – it might seem daunting at first but as soon as you get in there you feel at home, there are no awkward questions that you might get in joining another group as you know what boat everyone is in.