Guest Blog – Matt Woodhead: “Through the Who Cares Digi Fund we are trying to raise £5,000 to pay for young carers to get the digital support they need.”

Throughout the pandemic most vulnerable households were left without access to web.

Matt Woodhead has launched the Who Cares campaign to tackle digital poverty amongst young carers. 

Reading reviews is basically a self-indulgent form of torture. The bad ones make me want to rip my own fingers off so I never have to write again. The good ones make me want to rip my own fingers off because I’m scared I’ll never write anything of worth ever again (the voice in my head – who by the way is Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote – tells me any good review is just a big fluke)

On Tuesday 9th of Feb, Who Cares (a play what I wrote) was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It’s adapted from 100 hours of interviews with a group of incredible young carers from Salford. The play follows a day in the life of Connor, Jade and Nicole as they try to juggle the drama of their teenage years with the challenges of caring for a loved one. Who Cares run on and off for 6 years. Everyone who has worked on the show is like family.

Who Cares Promo©The Other Richard

Who Cares Promo
©The Other Richard

I was making my morning coffee and toast (with the voice of Jessica Fletcher asking ‘Do you really need another slice of toast Matt?!’) when I got a ping on my phone. It was a review from British Theatre Guide… I left the toast in the toaster, opened the article and got ready for the finger ripping to begin…. But it never came… For once I was in no man’s land… The opening of the article read:

The longevity of Matt Woodhead’s play Who Cares? is both impressive and depressing. The fact the play remains relevant, however, suggests… the awareness-raising impact of the play has not achieved the primary objective.

Credit where credit is due (and as much as it pains me to say it) maybe David from British Theatre Guide had a point. 6 years has passed… has anything changed?! I spent the rest of Wednesday eating toast and watching re-runs of Murder She Wrote on double speed on YouTube to see if Jessica Fletcher could help me do some soul searching. Here are some things I learnt on that journey…

Angela Lansbury, Murder She Wrote

Murder She Wrote Lesson Number 1: If you want to change the world, you’ve got to get local. Jessica Fletcher changed lives in Cabot Cove.

Who Cares began its life by touring around youth zones and schools. At 7am each morning the team would rock up in an empty hall and work like hell to transform it into a theatre space. In the afternoon, year 8s and 9s – many of whom had never been to the theatre – would come and bear witness to the real life stories of Antonia-Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige.

It is estimated that over 450,000 young carers in the UK are hidden. This means they are caring behind closed doors, unknown to anyone outside their own home. At the end of the tour, the show was seen by over 10,000 young people and over 200 teenagers were signposted to their local young carers service for support.

After we left these schools, we were blown away by stories of teachers who embraced a young carer culture into their schools. Support groups were started, designated young carer leads popped up – the legacy ran much deeper than just those 200 young people.

Murder She Wrote Lesson Number 2: You’ve got to go national, but change takes time. Jessica Fletcher spent many an hour cosying on up to the high and mighty in Cabot Cove. She shook things up and she got there in the end.

I’ll never forget when Who Cares was performed in the House of Lords. Antonia-Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige stood up in front of a room full of hundreds of politicians in the Houses of Parliament and advocated not only for themselves, but for the rights of young carers across the UK. I thought seismic political change might come the next day but the harder lesson I learnt was that policy doesn’t just change over-night. It takes time.

Since then we’ve been working with professionals (teachers, lawyers, academics, NHS staff) to draft new legislation to present to the people who were moved by what they saw that day. Those politicians in Westminster haven’t heard the last from us yet…

Murder She Wrote Lesson Number 3: Everyone has a role to play. When solving a murder, Jessica Fletcher couldn’t just do it alone… The residents of Cabot Cove sometimes had to come together and help.

During lockdown, we have upped our efforts to support young carers. Hundreds of people have sent our open letter to Matt Hancock. We’ve worked with Salford Primary Care Together to create resources with young carers on how to care for a loved one right now. We’ve also launched a creative makers project which has been running for 3 months for over 30 young carers in Salford, Cheshire West, Kent and North Wales.

To coincide with Who Cares on BBC Radio 4, we are also proud to launch the Digi Fund. One in three young carers are from low income families and many don’t have access to technology like laptops and phones. These things are vital for young people accessing school work in the pandemic and to help them fulfil their caring role. Through the Digi Fund we are trying to raise £5,000 to pay for young carers to get the digital support they need.

If you are reading this article right now, wondering what you can do to support young carers, do donate. Any amount, big or small can change a young person’s life! Like the residents of Cabot Cove, we can make a change – if we do it together!!

Here endeth the gospel according to Jessica Fletcher

To conclude, I still think David maybe has a point – the longevity of this play is depressing. But there is hope. This play has changed lives in so many ways and our work isn’t done yet. We will keep banging the drum for young carers, we will keep hustling and we will effect change. And to quote queen Jessica Fletcher… ‘I could be wrong here… but I doubt it’.

Matt Woodhead is the Co-Artistic Director of LUNG and long-time Jessica Fletcher enthusiast.

Who Cares is co-produced by LUNG and The Lowry in partnership with Gaddum who support young carers in Salford.