William Cuthill, aged 13, who won the Inspiring Child category at GSK WellChild Awards last week has returned home to Scotland and has been talking to Teapot Trust – the charity for which he’s a young ambassador.

William lives with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) and is one of 10,000 children with the condition in the UK. While there are no obvious outward signs, children struggle with ongoing pain in their joints, they sometimes have to deal with a regime of hospital treatments and often have to contend with others not believing their pain.

The award acknowledged William’s important role in raising awareness and reducing stigma. He has spoken at public events and used his creativity to raise funds.

Our picture (left) shows William, with Teapot Trust founder, Laura Young, discussing his school Science Project. It was shared with Teapot Trust to help the charity improve understanding of joint pain. The life-sized model of a knee, with a Baker Cyst, highlights the issue which causes many children with JIA to suffer in silence.

Most recently, William spoke at the charity’s online conference – to an audience of health professionals throughout the UK, bravely sharing insights into his experience.

“Living with an illness can be isolating and challenging, especially at school. You feel different and others are often quite unkind. When your condition is invisible, teachers don’t often believe you’re unwell – same with children. If you’re around people that really understand you, it’s a lot easier. Around my family it’s a lot easier because they know when something is wrong. There’s no words spoken or anything – they just know what to do.”

”I think the best way to support young people is to get to know them. Learn about their hobbies and the things they enjoy. Children can tell when an adult isn’t being sincere about their interest in you. Talking about the illness isn’t always helpful because you can’t change it or take it away. In a way, less is more – because one or two adults showing an interest is fun but any more than that just feels like you’re surrounded by strangers. I remember once when I was speaking at an event with the Teapot Trust, there were lots of people and one gentleman asked me about the books I was reading. He even knew the characters in the books I was reading. Making such a big effort to show interest really helps.”

“It also makes you feel better if others offer information about themselves as well – so it’s not all just asking about you. And it feels less invasive. Also, when I struggle with my joints, just sitting down helps, but if no-one else is sitting down, you don’t really want to sit down – if you’re going to be the only person sitting down.

Asked how he felt to have won the award, William said:“I feel very privileged and honoured to be recognised for my work and to be in a position to raise the profile of invisible diseases and Teapot Trust.  There are many invisible diseases in our society, like cancer and people with stomas for example. I feel all children who experience chronic illnesses should have access to Art Therapy; it made an enormous difference to my life and hospital visits, especially when I was younger.  If I can help other children to access this vital service to help their confidence then I will be satisfied.  I haven’t had a joint aspiration or injection for over two years now but I am under no illusion that joint flare-ups can return at any time.  During these two years, I feel I have been in a much better place to help others and I want to continue my work so that I can help other children to experience and benefit from Art Therapy the way I did.”

Describing his experience of the awards event, and meeting Prince Harry, William said: 

“I admire the teams from Well Child, GSK, their sponsors, caterers and everyone who helped. They all worked incredibly hard to put this event together during very tight and challenging restrictions surrounding COVID. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Prince Harry, Ed Sheeran, Anne-Marie and Amanda Holden. Everyone made time to speak to us individually in such a sincere and warm manner. The gifts were enormously generous and the afternoon teas were delicious, especially the brownies!  We were all so well cared for; we were even given blankets, as it was quite a chilly afternoon. I felt honoured to be a part of such a special day.”

Inspired by William, the charity has put young people front and centre of its work.

Kirsty Edwards, Art Therapy Projects Manager said, “We’re giving children and young people a voice and an opportunity to shape our art therapy service provision so that its truly responsive to needs. Participants in the Young Voices work are also given personal development opportunities, such as public speaking – as William has done – and support with getting into work.”

Plans are underway for a wider awareness raising campaign about the impact of Invisible Illness in Young Lives, with more children and young people speaking out as William has.