Meet the kind Harrogate boy who goes above and beyond to help his disabled brother

What makes kindness so special and truly life-enhancing is its gorgeously cohesive and enriching quality - it’s a social glue that binds us all together, bringing friends and families even closer, but also strangers who open their hearts and do something small but significant to brighten someone’s day.

Thursday, 6th February 2020, 11:00 am
Updated Thursday, 6th February 2020, 11:11 am

Kindness has a certain commonality - it’s a universal language we can all speak, and it is kind actions that can translate into a strong sense of happiness and wellbeing, while making us all feel deeply valued and appreciated in the process.

Every single interaction we have in our day to day lives - whether that’s smiling or nodding at somebody in the street, or merrily chatting away to a member of staff on the checkout - has the potential to blossom into a moment that connects us, and naturally makes our day feel just that little bit more joyous and uplifting.

A beautiful friendship built on kindness: Oliver and Kit.

In our everyday routines that can sometimes feel too prescribed, fixed or rigid, there is always room for spontaneity, and changing things up to make a difference and an impact.

Often it’s just a case of taking a step back from our busy schedules for a moment, and reflecting on what comes naturally to us.

Being kind already comes naturally to the Harrogate district and residents right across North Yorkshire, which is why the Harrogate Advertiser, in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council and sister JPI Media titles in Yorkshire, has launched a major year-long campaign called Salt of the Earth to celebrate this, which will share inspiring stories and examples of the very easy but meaningful ways that we can all make somebody’s day brighter just by showing some thought.

In the fourth week of our Salt of the Earth campaign, we meet nine-year-old Oliver from Harrogate, who would do anything to help his big brother Kit - they have a lot in common, including their love for Manchester City and the Xbox...

Oliver and Kit love playing together, and being kind just comes naturally to them.

The best of friends: How Oliver has transformed his brother Kit's life with by showing some kindness

Oliver and Kit van Berckel aren’t just brothers, they are the best of friends. The boys, aged nine and 11 respectively, share a special bond that runs even deeper than blood - one that transcends all barriers and physical differences.

Kit has cerebral palsy and cannot walk or talk unaided, but Oliver does not see disability and just treasures the amazing relationship he has with his big brother, who is feisty, determined, and has an infectious zest for life with a cheeky smile to match.

The best of friends: Brothers Oliver and Kit.

Oliver goes above and beyond to help Kit on a daily basis, but these acts of kindness are so everyday and routine to him, he thinks nothing of it. The brothers always have fun together whatever they are doing, so it’s just second nature to Oliver to give his mum a hand along the way with small but important tasks to help with Kit’s care.

And seeing the two boys together, they thrive off each other - their faces visibly light up, and it’s a friendship built on mutual kindness and total respect. Kit uses a ‘Stephen Hawking’ style computer to communicate, and he is quick to praise his little brother for all that he does.

Kit said: “Oliver is a pretty amazing brother, I love to play Xbox with him, we support Manchester City, and we go to matches together. He also makes me laugh.

“He is caring, cool and funny, and he makes a big difference to me. I feel like I have a best mate in him, and I rate him ten out of ten. He helps me when he can.” Flashing his signature cheeky grin, Kit added, “but we still argue.”

It is not only Kit’s care that Oliver offers support with, he is passionate about inclusivity and making sure that his brother can play just like everyone else. As Oliver says himself, “it’s really important to be kind to humans and animals, as we all have feelings.”

The boys’ proud mum Jo, said: “Oliver will naturally take Kit into consideration and will always ensure that Kit is included. When friends come over for a play date, Oliver will suggest that football is played on the drive and not on the grass so that Kit can take part, due to his walker not running easily on grass.

“Kindness comes naturally to Oliver as it should do to all of us, and we should all make an effort to be extra kind every day. It is not something that he consciously thinks about, it’s just such a natural thing for him because he knows no other life, that is just his life. I think kindness is the best currency that people should use.”

Oliver’s kindness has even won the attention of awards judges, scooping up the top award in the Young Carer category at the Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards last year - a prestigious accolade that still feels surreal for Oliver, who insists that he just does what anyone else would do, and his friendship with Kit brings just as much joy to him as it does to his brother.

Oliver said: “Kit is a good bro, he’s funny and we like the same things. He is loud and charming, and I know he loves me. I help my brother because he sometimes needs me and I don’t mind helping.

“I help Kit by being his mate and doing stuff. I help my mum with hoisting and loading Kit into his wheelchair accessible car. We share the same hobbies too - Xbox, football, swimming and skiing, and we love rollercoasters. I am proud to be Kit’s bro.”

Oliver is also a volunteer enabler for Harrogate’s Adversity United football club, a disability football team that Kit plays for, and Oliver helps his brother and other players to enjoy and access the sport.

When Oliver was a lot younger, he thought that Kit’s condition was called cerebral ‘pawsy,’ that something was wrong with his paws - an admission that still makes Oliver, his mum and Kit all smile and laugh at the memory.

But as the years have gone by, Oliver’s understanding of Kit and his needs has become profound and inspiring to those around him.

Jo said: “It’s wonderful to see how naturally Oliver communicates with Kit and how sometimes, when necessary, will speak on behalf of Kit and will help interpret. It’s like he has a deeper understanding of Kit than any of us.

“I am ridiculously proud of Oliver, he amazes me every day. I tell him often how proud I am, and how much I love being his mummy. I hope he will grow up knowing this.

“The boys have an exceptional relationship, and I’d also say it’s very unique because of the situation with the disability. Kit requires help with all aspects of life, so Oliver will often help with the care needs around the house, but it’s also their leisure time that they are very much together. Oliver will always take Kit into consideration. He doesn’t know any different, he does not see the disability.”

Despite a busy household with numerous care staff coming and going, and visits from therapists, Oliver just takes it all in his stride. Jo said: “Oliver quietly accepts that - although this is not the norm, it is our norm.

“Oliver will never complain that often Kit has to be the centre of attention due to his disability, but as parents, we put as much love and energy into our boys equally.”

Asking Oliver what he does for Kit, giving him sweets on car journeys is high up on his list, and Kit smiles just at the mention of this .

Both boys are pupils at Richard Taylor Primary School, and have two older brothers, Scott and Luke.

Oliver said: “I enjoy helping Kit and doing everything I can, it’s really fun to play together. It’s really easy to be kind and takes no effort. I am mindful to be as kind as possible.”

New endorsements of Salt of the Earth: Charities and community groups back campaign

Wellspring Therapy and Training, mental health charity in Starbeck

The executive director of Wellspring, Emily Fullarton, said: “It is great to hear about the Salt of the Earth campaign, and we are delighted to endorse the idea, as you can never have too much kindness. As a local charity we only exist through the kindness of our community - who give their time, support and money to our cause. Without this kindness we would not be able to provide the life-saving support to children and adults that we do.

As well as kindness being good for individuals and charities on the receiving end, there is evidence to show that giving and relating to others is positive for our mental health. When we do something kind for others it helps give us meaning and purpose as well as helping us be thankful for the world around us.

Time and time again we hear from our clients that small acts of kindness such as smiling at someone, offering to help carry bags or go out for coffee can be lifelines for those who are struggling. This is because through these actions we are being shown we are seen by someone, we are worth their time and care.”

Supporting Older People, a charity alleviating loneliness and isolation often experienced by older people living on their own

The director of Supporting Older People, Kate Rogata, said: “At SOP we are very fortunate to have 100 volunteers, all giving their time to visit people older people living alone. We see every day the difference that this makes to the life of someone who has been lonely. We have an extensive programme of group activities, bringing older people together, giving them the opportunity to make new friends and get out of the house.

Every month we phone many of our clients to see if they would like to attend our activities. They really appreciate the opportunity to chat and share their concerns. It’s so easy to make a difference to the quality of someone’s life with a simple act of kindness.”

The Harrogate Easier Living Project, a charity helping older or vulnerable people to live independently

Project Development Worker at the Harrogate Easier Living Project, Lizzie Hughes, said: “A thriving local community can only be built on kindness and goodwill, and the Salt of the Earth campaign is a great way of demonstrating how even the smallest acts of compassion can have such a significant impact on people’s lives. We have a team of 100 volunteers who carry out ‘formal’ volunteer roles such as befriending and driving, but we know that they also help their own community in more informal ways – picking up shopping for elderly neighbours or accompanying friends to medical appointments for example. It’s really very humbling to work with people for whom kindness and compassion is a way of life.”

Dementia Forward, district-wide charity offering support to people living with dementia and their families

The charity’s chief executive Jill Quinn, said: “We are backing the Harrogate Advertiser’s campaign because at Dementia Forward we also believe that little acts of kindness are hugely important in this busy modern world. It might be simple things that go unnoticed, but would be greatly missed were they to stop – such as wheeling a neighbours’ bins back, or keeping an eye on their house when they are away.

It could be a gesture that seems small to you – cooking one more portion of dinner, buying a few extras in your weekly shop – but is something big to someone who lives on their own or is living with a long-term condition.

We always say that what’s good for people with dementia is good for everybody. Allowing people to take a bit more time in the shop queue, chatting to someone on the bus or acknowledging them in the street – it might be the only human contact they have all day, or it might just bring a smile to their face.

These are all small acts of kindness that can make someone’s day, and help to create a world where we all feel included. And why do we do it? Not for the reward of thanks or expecting something in return, but seeing the happiness and the difference we can make. We are looking forward to hearing all the uplifting and inspiring stories of kindness over the coming weeks. How lucky we are to live in the Harrogate District, so let’s prove that it truly is the happiest place to live.”