Young people in recovery from cancer will still be able to get the support they need in 2020 after the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust launched its new Virtual Summer.
The Trust, which supports young people aged 8-24 in rebuilding their lives after cancer through sailing and adventure activities, had to cancel all 34 of its scheduled trips between late May and October this year due to COVID-19.
But, knowing these young people are going to need more support than ever in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Trust has set a new course with a programme of activities designed specifically from feedback gained from young people, their parents and the hospital and charity partners who work with them.
In 2019, 649 young were supported by the Trust, which has bases in Cowes on the Isle of Wight and Largs on Scotland’s West Coast, either for the first time or returning.
Frank Fletcher, Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust CEO, explains: “It was one thing thinking we know what young people need; it’s another giving them what they actually need. So we went out and asked what they were going to miss most about not coming on a Trust trip this year and how we could fill that gap.
“We learned the biggest thing they would miss was their friends; the people who just get what they have been through and understand how they are feeling without having to explain anything. The friends that stop them feeling like the ‘only one’.
“And they would miss learning new skills on trips, the skills that help them realise they are more capable than they believe and which give them a sense of achievement many have not experienced since finishing their treatment.
“They wanted to still feel that connection to people who relate to them in a way others can’t, to not feel isolated, to be involved in a way that makes them more positive and confident about the future and to have something to look forward to. We could absolutely meet those needs and that’s what Virtual Summer is about.”
Virtual Summer provides on and offline support in four areas – social engagement, skills and training, peer-to-peer support and mental health and wellbeing.
There are Tuesday Night Social hangouts, with games, quizzes and mindfulness, sailing skills tutorials, inspiring careers Q&As, drop-in sessions – held in partnership with post-cancer care experts – for young people who need support with specific challenges, a book club, pen pal exchange and online parent coffee mornings too. The Trust’s well-received new podcast, Sound Waves, also returns for season two.
Unprecedented levels of mental health and wellbeing issues are anticipated in the wake of COVID-19. Isolation, loneliness anxiety, anger and fear are all challenges young people and their families experience during and after cancer treatment. COVID-19 is intensifying every one of these to unimaginable levels.
Frank continues: “We don’t know how long we won’t be able to run trips, but we do know young people will continue needing support. That’s why we must be here.
“COVID-19 is hitting all charities financially and our income is likely to be down by at least a third this year. At the start of the pandemic we had to make a choice. Do we close our doors to preserve funds? Or do we furlough as few staff as possible to give young people the support they needed more than ever?
“This was one of those times being a smaller charity helped in being able to be more nimble in our decision-making. With the backing of our Trustees, Youth Board and staff, we did the latter. That’s why we can launch our Virtual Summer programme.”
The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust was founded by the history-making yachtswoman in 2003. Since then, almost 2,500 young people have been supported in rebuilding their lives after cancer through the Trust. For more information visit www.ellenmacarthurcancertrust.org