THE county’s only charity that supports young carers looks set to close in less than a week after its funding dried up.

Be Free Young Carers, which supports more than 500 young people aged eight to 24, no longer has the money to deal with an ever-increasing demand for its services.

Dozens of carers who have been helped by the Harwell-based group since 1994 have expressed shock and surprise at the ‘tragic’ news and a petition has been started to save the charity.

Director John Tabor said he had been ‘bowled over’ by the reaction and was now more hopeful the many expressions of help could lead to a last minute reprieve.

He said: “There are some discussions going on but there are no firm offers on the table.

“Our position is still that if nothing changes over the next few days this organisation will close for good on Friday.

“We are working very very hard to stay alive but if we do find a way to keep going, we want it to be long-term rather than just soldiering on for a few more months.

“What we need is time, which is something we simply haven’t got.”

The charity, which provides day-trips, social activities and training for those caring for an ill or vulnerable family member, needs £150,000 a year to operate.

It has never received funding from Government or Oxfordshire County Council and has had to rely on raising piecemeal grants from groups and individuals.

At the same time, more and more carers have been seeking help, with 30 per cent now referred by statutory agencies.

Chair of trustees Lesley Legge said applications for funding had become increasingly competitive in recent years.

Last ditch attempts to secure ‘desperately needed’ cash in recent months were not successful, leaving the trustees no option but to close.

Claire Hughes’ daughter, Courtney – known around the county for her Secret Santa Christmas fundraising appeal – has been supported by the group since her mum had a stroke six years ago and has relied on the emotional support provided by the charity.

The 39-year-old from Didcot said: “This is a travesty. For a lot of young carers, there are very few chances to relax and have fun and be themselves for a bit.

“I know for Courtney she needed that outlet to have somewhere to go and talk about her feelings and have someone tell her that it is ok to be upset or worried. We would have struggled without it and this is going to affect so many families.”

Ms Hughes’ petition calling for people to express their support was signed 171 times in 24 hours.

It is thought there are 3,000 young carers in the Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire council areas covered by the charity.