Young carers launch Christmas grotto at Stretford Mall


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A ten-year-old girl who helps look after her two younger brothers was among ten young carers who got a Christmas treat, when they launched Santa’s grotto at Stretford Mall.

Selfless Jessica Whelan, is a vital support to her seven-year-old brother Mason, who has autism, and also helps care for her one-year-old baby brother Noel.

Their mum Amanda suffers from fibromyalgia, a chronic condition which causes pain all over the body, and she needs support to help care for the two younger boys, while also supporting their older brother Luke, 17, who is at college.

Jessica, from Ashton-Upon-Mersey, is among more than 200 young carers who receive support from Trafford Carers, based at the busy Stretford Mall.

The youngster was one of ten children supported by the Trafford Carers, to get a well-earned festive fuss at the shopping centre, where they were VIP guests at the launch of Santa’s grotto.

They each got to meet Santa, who will be at Stretford Mall every day now until Christmas Eve, have a photo taken with him and receive a present.

Managers at Stretford Mall are also encouraging shoppers to support Trafford Carers this Christmas, by donating any spare coins to the Wishing Well inside the shopping centre. All funds collected in the well during the festive season will be donated to the charity.

Paying tribute to her daughter’s selfless role as a young carer, Jessica’s mum Amanda said she never complains when she can’t do things other children do while busy caring for her family.

Amanda said: “Jessica is a massive help to all of the family, especially since Mason was born as his needs have always been complex.

“But Jessica adapted naturally and is brilliant with him, she has so much patience and is very aware of his impulsive behaviour and is always prompting him to stay safe.

“I’ve never known a child quite like her, she’s very popular and has a gift with people, she has done wonders for his progress.”

The mum-of-four added: “Jessica helps me and her dad around the house and with looking after her siblings but she does miss out on a lot because her brothers can’t adapt to certain environments.

“Often when we go out as a family, Jessica helps Mason to stay safe, if he is having a meltdown and she is always on the look-out for any triggers to his condition.

“It’s heartbreaking but she never complains, she just accepts it and I couldn’t be prouder of her for that, she’s an amazing person.”

Amanda said Trafford Carers have been fantastic with her family, and even gave them a grant to allow them to take Jessica away for a few days.

“The charity have always been very approachable and a massive support,” Amanda said. “They’ve always got events going on and they’ve offered us tickets to Chester Zoo, the pantomime, pottery classes and rock climbing.”

“It’s great because it gives Jessica the chance to have some well-earned rest and recuperation away from the stresses of the family home and the role she has to play here.

“Saturday was lovely because it made Jessica and all the young carers feel very special.”

The children all said they enjoyed getting the VIP treatment at the grotto.

Jessica said: “It was really fun seeing Santa. We got presents and some gingerbread and a drink.

“It was nice to have a break and get away from the boys.”

Also enjoying the fun was eight-year-old Thomas Draffan, whose mum has Multiple Sclerosis and his older sister has severe autism.

He said: “I enjoyed seeing Santa, he gave me a present and seeing the shopping centre looking all festive has made me more excited for Christmas.

“I help my mum and sister at home so it was nice to have a treat.”

Thomas’ mum, Lisa Bebbington said: “The Trafford Carers are great because they offer Thomas a break from his daily routine and allow him to do something without having to worry about me or his sister for a little while.”

Brother and sister Ollie Seagrave, aged eight, and his sister Kiera-Mae, aged seven, were also among the young carers to get the special treatment.

Their dad is disabled and his mum suffers with fibromyalgia.

Ollie said: “Me and my sister help my dad a lot, we help get him dressed in the mornings and make him cups of tea and do the washing up.

“I had a lovely time launching the grotto, it was really fun.”

Ollie and Kiera-Mae’s mum, Michaela Leigh said: “Ollie and his sister really enjoyed themselves at the grotto.

“It’s nice that Trafford Carers give them a bit of respite from the challenging roles they have at home.”

Gareth Wilkins, manager at Stretford Mall said: “Trafford Carers does fantastic work supporting families and carers of all ages in our community.

“We were delighted to be able to give the children a special treat and also hopefully raise awareness of the amazing work they do.”

Event company Exhibitions International which runs the Christmas Grotto provided the VIP experience free of charge for the young carers, and Greggs the Bakers supplied free lunchboxes for the VIP guests.

Over the past 21 years, Trafford Carers has supported over 10,000 carers in the area.

The charity offers lifeline to carers aged six to 96 with regular well-being activities, groups, and a specialised helpline and counselling sessions.

Over Christmas, more than 23,000 Carers in Trafford will be trying to cope with the effects of caring for a family member.

The charity’s fundraising manager, Joanne Fowler said: “It was lovely to be able to treat some of our young carers at the grotto this weekend. We would like to thank everyone at Stretford Mall for this special experience.

“Every penny donated makes a huge difference, ensuring even more carers in Trafford get the support they need and deserve. We would appreciate any donations made to the Wishing Well at Stretford Mall.

“Each and every one of them deserve it for the work they do at home.

“We feel privileged to have helped touch the lives of so many and hope to continue to do so.”

Entry to the Christmas grotto at Stretford Mall is free with an additional £4.50 for a gift and from £5.00 for a photo.

For more information about Stretford Mall visit www.stretfordmall.com or find the Mall on Facebook and Twitter.

For more information about Trafford Carers, visit www.traffordcarerscentre.org.uk

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