BEFORE her mother’s best friend died two years ago, 12-year-old Ellie Winstanley remembers a happy family life.
But the tragic loss hit the family hard – she had been such a close friend Ellie called her auntie – and consumed by grief, her mother was sent spiralling into a deep depression.
“She used to be upset a lot in her room,” says Ellie.
“She didn’t do anything. She didn’t talk to us.”
As her mother battled the illness, it fell to Ellie to care for her and her three younger siblings at their home in Hull.
“I used to clean, do the hoovering and tidying up,” she says.
“I didn’t really realise what I was doing.”
Sometimes she would cook for herself and sister Chelsea, nine, and brothers Sage, eight, and Craig, 10
“If we wanted something quick to eat I’d make some noodles or pasta,” she says.
“They didn’t notice it as much as I did.”
While Ellie would often help her siblings with their homework, her worries about her mother affected her own schooling.
“I couldn’t concentrate as much,” says the keen netball player and cross-country runner.
“I wasn’t exactly as organised as I was before.”
Despite those difficulties, she found school something of a safe haven away from home.
“I guess it wasn’t normal at home, then as soon as you go back to school it was normal again,” she says.
But she also felt isolated from her classmates and friends – an effect that seems to have endured now her mother is getting better.
“I couldn’t talk to anyone really,” says Ellie.
“I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I couldn’t go out with my friends.
“I don’t do much now either. I just don’t feel like I want to go out. I’ll say I can’t, I’m grounded, but I know I’m not.”
Ellie has also struggled to shake off the burden of her household responsibilities.
“As my mother was getting better I was still cleaning everything,” she says.
“She gets frustrated because I still try to do things.
“I won’t stop cleaning everything and thinking about cleaning.”
Now though, after teachers stepped in and referred her to Barnardo’s Hull Young Carers Service, things are looking up for Ellie and her family.
For the past six months, she has been receiving support and she recently got to go on an action-packed break to Grinton Lodge in the Yorkshire Dales, where she got to enjoy activities such as white water rafting and abseiling with a group of other young carers like her.
“It was fun until we started realising that we had to go home,” she says.
With her mother still getting better, Ellie knows that hope is now on the horizon – and she has some wise words to offer to other young carers.
“There’ll always be an end to anything,” she says.
“It may have been a couple of years but it’s still going to stop at some point.”