“My girlfriend recommended the programme to me. I’ve got a keen interest in astronomy, so I was very interested to get involved. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which leaves me disabled and unable to work. I was a body builder before I got ill, and took a gap year to work as a personal trainer before starting a degree in Human Nutrition at the University of Worcester. In October 2019 I got sick and had to drop out. In January 2020 I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

“After I was diagnosed, I was feeling deflated and uncertain. The recovery rate for my illness is just 5%, but I try to keep my head up and remain positive. I try to have some semblance of a normal life and that was a big reason why I wanted to enrol in the course. This illness can make you severely depressed – you’re stuck feeling ill all the time and it shatters all the dreams you once had.”

Joel started the programme in May, just a few months after his diagnosis. He was worried that because he had been out of education for a while, his brain wouldn’t work as well. Part of his illness is brain inflammation so emotions, responses and brain functions can be inhibited.

I was really nervous, I hadn’t been in a group scenario learning like that in a long time. Plus, having to do that online was quite daunting! But I wouldn’t have been able to do the course if it hadn’t been online as I wouldn’t have been able to travel to the Southwark office. So that was amazing.

“I really enjoyed the programme. It was very thought-provoking and it was amazing to speak to experts in the field. My favourite part was speaking to Tim Peake, that was amazing. Also, my group and I completed a project on the hypothetical Planet 9/X, which is (probably) a planet that is so far away in our immediate solar system that we cannot currently see it with our current telescopes. We can see a gravitational disturbance that must be caused by something out there. This planet is way, way beyond Pluto in an area called the Kuiper Belt.”

“I have read that we are planning to launch projectiles at the position of this supposed planet but it is likely we will have to wait possibly decades for them to reach Planet X. It is that far away! We are launching them to see what gravitational influence exists there. From these results, we can try and determine with better accuracy if Planet 9 is indeed a Planet, or something else’

Joel has been stargazing with his father since he was just 5 or 6 years old, and it is something that has always captured his mind. He says that the sheer expanse of space puts a lot of context into his own life and he enjoys thinking about how big the universe is.

For me, the programme eased me back into being in a group scenario. I’ve always been a confident person but with social skills, if you don’t use them, you lose them. It got me speaking to new people. Your ability to socialise is greatly reduced with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as it becomes very tiring. It was nice to meet new people and hear about their lives.

Joel was supported on the programme by Rachel from The Prince’s Trust and mentor Joanna from the Open University and Royal Astronomical Society.

The programme helped illuminate my boundaries. I have to be so careful about not pushing myself, but I enjoyed the programme even with 3 or 4 hours a day online. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is rare in young people but I hope that my story shows that young people with auto-immune conditions or disabilities shouldn’t be scared of coming to The Prince’s Trust. I never felt like an outsider on the course and everyone was positive and caring at all times.

Joel would recommend the course to other young people having enjoyed a new challenge and an opportunity to learn more about stars and space.

“You’ve got nothing to lose if you come to The Prince’s Trust. The staff are fantastic and you meet new people and gain new experiences, which will forge you into a better person, better able to take on challenges. For me, my own future is determined by my illness and how much, if at all, I recover. I hope to continue my education and look at taking another qualification in the future. That idea was kickstarted by how much I enjoyed the programme and working in a group setting to learn new things.”