Brave young people who remind us that childhood is not always idyllic

Jack Carroll and George Stoker, below.
Jack Carroll and George Stoker, below.
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The Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards are an opportunity to help young people across the region who are living difficult lives. Jayne Dawson reports.

THERE are many different types of childhood.

The one we hear a lot about these days is the childhood where young people have never had it so good.

Their exams are easy, their youth is extended, they are over-indulged with every gadget and material comfort, they will grow into adults who are still living a life free of responsibility at an age when their elders were struggling with a mortgage and two children.

No doubt you will recognise these sentiments, for they are often expressed. And for some young people that is all true but of course, in the bigger picture, they are the lucky few.

For millions of children worldwide, that version of childhood is pure fiction, a made-up tale for the modern day just as much as Enid Blyton’s old-fashioned, comforting stories designed the perfect childhood for earlier generations.

In some countries, children work in slave-like conditions. Their growing bodies are deformed by hard physical labour and their eyes show a weary acceptance that makes us weep, when we are confronted by it.

But a difficult childhood does not just happen far away. In Leeds alone, there are 32,000 children living in poverty - the fifth highest number across the country - where the choice for their parents is not which computer game to buy but whether to pay the heating bill or buy food, and thousands more live in care.

Even for those children who have loving and supportive families, there can be reasons why childhood is hard for them, and not the perfect story of easy indulgence. They may be born with disabilities that make life a struggle, they may have parents who are ill and need to be cared for themselves, reversing the normal child-parent relationship.

To acknowledge all this, an award called Yorkshire Children of Courage was set up three years ago.

Its aim is two-fold: to raise money to help those youngsters whose lives are very far away from the perfect childhood and to recognise those children in our own region who have shown courage in dealing with a life that has dealt them a difficult hand.

The awards came about because of an organisation called St James’s Place Foundation, the charitable arm of the St James’s Place wealth management company.

Its work is significant – since it began 21 years ago the foundation has raised more than £30m and distributed funds to more than 700 charities, with grants ranging from a few hundred pounds to in excess of £1m.

Its main aim is to support disadvantaged and disabled young people under the age of 25, including young carers, and the rate of its fund-raising is accelerating. In 2012 partners and employees raised more than five million pounds, beating the 2011 total by a clear two million pounds.

But 2011 was still a very good year, because in that year the company began the first Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards.

Those of you reading this article who know of such a courageous child now have the opportunity to make sure their contribution is acknowledged by nominating them for an award. Or you can arrange to attend the award ceremony to help raise vital cash for children who are living damaged lives.

Your attendance will not be purely selfless, you will have a memorable night, but more of all that later.

The Yorkshire Post is a media partner for the awards and managing director Helen Oldham summed up why the newspaper has decided to join forces with the organisers: “These awards recognise the huge courage and resilience of some of the youngest members of our communities and go some way towards giving them the recognition that they so richly deserve.”

For the awards, the children are divided into two age groups, 0-12 and 13-18, and in each age group there are five categories. These are for children who have demonstrated outstanding heroism and bravery, endured pain, suffering and disability, devoted their young lives to caring, raised funds for charity or attained outstanding sporting achievements.

One of the winners at the first event included a 12-year-old boy named Jack Carroll, and there is every possibility you have heard of him. He received the Fundraiser Award and judges said: “His stand-up comedy is an inspiration to us all. He never complains about his condition but looks at the positives in life.”

As it turned out, those judges were not the only people to be impressed by Jack, who went on to be runner-up in the UK’s best loved talent show, Britain’s Got Talent.

So this year Jack is back, this time as co-host for the event which will be held at New Dock Hall in The Armouries in
Leeds. He said: “I want to say a huge thank you to Yorkshire Children of Courage for all the help and support and I am proud to be coming back to help host the award ceremony.”

Other winners at that first event included Bethany Hare, who managed to raise more than £7,500 for a children’s hospice by creating her own tribute to her grandfather.

Bethany dressed up as her grandfather’s favourite comic Charlie Chaplin, sang the song Smile, posted it on the web –and melted hearts.

George Stoker was one of the winners from last year, chosen by judges to take the Fundraiser Award in the 0-12 age group. George was diagnosed with a brain tumour in October 2008 and underwent 48 weeks of gruelling chemotherapy as part of his treatment.

But he kept noticing other children who were ‘more poorly’ than him and became determined to help them. Since then, on his own road to recovery, he has raised £50,000 for Candlelighters a local cancer charity.

This year’s event will be held on Friday October 4 and it will pack a mighty punch. An audience of around 700 is expected to enjoy
an extravaganza which will include lots of entertainment as well as the serious business of
the awards.

Hosting alongside Jack will be BBC Breakfast business journalist Stephanie McGovern and there will be plenty of celebrities supporting the event, including writer Kay Mellor, whose last drama The Syndicate – about a group of Lottery winners –has attracted the attention of Hollywood, and her successful actress daughter Gaynor Faye, who is currently starring in Emmerdale.

Panto star and comedian Billy Pearce will also be in attendance, along with Gary and Kath Hetherington, two leading
 figures from the world of Rugby League.

Support from the business community in the region is strong: main sponsors are Aagrah restaurants, Arrow Cars, Mill House Furniture, Blacks Solicitors and Reward Capital. Ticket sponsors are estate agents Manning Stainton while award sponsors include a range of prestigious businesses across the region. Organisers are hoping to raise £60,000 which will go to local causes.

Above everything, what is undoubtedly true is that children can be brave, kind, smart and resilient beyond most adult expectations.

If you nominate a young person, or attend the event, you will be acknowledging that.

Not all children have the best of childhoods but their lives can
be made better, with your help.

How to take part in the event

To nominate

Nominations covering five categories can be made until September 2. There are two age groups for each category: 0-12 and 13-18. 
The categories are:

Outstanding Bravery

Fundraiser

Special Recognition

Young Carer

Sporting Achievement

Group Award (across both age groups)

To nominate a child or to find out more about past winners visit www.yorkshirechildren.co.uk

To attend

If you would like to attend the event on Friday Oct 4, tickets cost £65 each or £600 for a table of ten and include a three-course Indian banquet by Aagrah restaurant. Call Jane Clynes Events on 07703271238 to book.