JLS star Oritsé Williams surprised a group of young carers from Basingstoke when he turned up at a festival they attended.

A group of young people from Basingstoke and District Young Carers took part in the Young Carers Festival 2022 held at Fairthorne Manor in Southampton from July 1 to July 3, run by the Children’s Society.

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The group of 20 from Basingstoke joined 800 young carers from across the UK to enjoy a range of activities and entertainment, including a disco, fireworks, kayaking and paddle boarding.

However, the highlight of the weekend for many was when JLS member Oritsé arrived to surprise the youngsters.

The 35-year-old has spoken before about the struggles he faced as a young person caring for his mother, Sonia, who was diagnosed with MS in her early 40s.

As a 12-year-old boy, Oritsé became the family’s main carer overnight, responsible for making sure everyone had breakfast and helping his mum get out of bed.

He had to wash and bathe his mother, as well as take her to the toilet, while his younger brother took on the responsibility of administering drugs and injections.

Speaking about the experience to the Daily Mail, he said: “I think at the time you don’t realise you’re a young carer. You are just doing it for the person you love.”

He added: “I was always worried about her when I was at school and sometimes, I wouldn't go, which often my teachers didn't understand.”

JLS fan Holly Streatfield-Fowkes got to meet Oritsé at the festival, where she was supporting the group from Basingstoke.

Holly, 21, joined the Basingstoke young carers group as a child when she was caring for her mother.

She now volunteers with the group, supporting other young carers, and said: “It was a bit surreal meeting Oritsé but he was really down-to-earth and really interested in what was going on. Me and my friends grew up following them from X-Factor.”

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Holly, who works at the Orchard Community Café, in War Memorial Park, said her experience as a young carer helps her offer meaningful support to those in the group, explaining: “Coming from a place where I know what they feel and what they are going through, I can offer a different kind of support. I have actually lived that childhood.”

She described her work with the young carers group as “very rewarding and special” and said the festival provided a great opportunity for the young people, adding: “It gives them the chance to be children because they don’t get that when they’re at home. The group each week is a few hours for them to do kids things and not have to worry about cleaning the house.

“I had to care for my mum when she was poorly, but for me that was normal. A lot of kids when they get asked what it’s like they don’t know how to answer because it’s their life.”

Ed Ives-Wara, chief executive of Basingstoke and District Young Carers, said the festival offered a chance for children to have respite from their caring responsibilities at home.

He added: “The highlight of Saturday was Oritsé Williams coming along. He wanted to support the carers and share his story. It shows that if you put your heart and soul into something your dreams can come true.”

Ed thanked Basingstoke Deane Rotary, Basingstoke Loddon and Basingstoke Rotary for contributing towards places at the festival for young people.

He added: “The young people get to meet new friends and see they are not alone and realise they are not the only ones going through this. But overall, it’s about having fun and being a child again for the weekend.”

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