RUNNING around in the sports hall, having a game of basketball, giggling over board games – these children look and act their age.
But at home, the 30 11 to 16-year-olds at Oaklands Catholic School in Waterlooville take on the role of adults as they help care for relatives unable to fend for themselves.
Circumstances vary from parents with cancer, debilitating illnesses and depression to siblings with disabilities or special needs.
But every Tuesday for 45 minutes the boys and girls let their hair down at a special Young Carers lunchtime club where they enjoy each other’s company and the support of a trusted group of staff members.
It is a saving grace for many who are not official carers – which involves administering medication, doing the shopping and washing – and would have nowhere else to go.
Joe Brady, 14, helps look after his eight-year-old brother who suffers from behavioural problems and Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome – a genetic disease causing physical deformity.
He said: ‘I’ve always helped out because I want to – I love my brother. My friends accept that so if I can’t hang out with them that’s fine.
‘My parents work so hard but they get tired and I want to help. I don’t resent the it at all but it’s nice knowing you’re not the only one.
‘The club is one of the most important things in my life.’
Zoë Manley’s dad was forced into retirement because of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which causes very brittle muscles and bones, and makes his skin come apart.
The 14-year-old said: ‘Dad has a carer who visits daily and I help in any way I can tidying up and looking after my younger sisters, especially when mum’s at work.
‘But I worry a lot. I have my phone on constantly.’
She added: ‘I don’t feel “different” to other people when I’m at the club.
‘I get to be with my friends who share what I’m going through.’
Richard Jones, the school’s inclusion manager, set up the club less than two years ago and has already seen membership soar from two to 30 in that time.
He is now trying to raise £3,000 to give the children a weekend break filled with fun activities like kayaking and dancing at this year’s Young Carers Festival.
To make a donation call the school on (023) 9225 9214.