I’m from Sunderland. My father has been put in prison for life, but he was absent when I was little and we really only ever saw him in prison. My background is pretty chaotic. My Nan was lovely and my main carer – she brought up me, my sister and brother and a cousin. My mum has been there throughout my life. She wasn’t a drug user or drinker but she just couldn’t cope with kids. When I look back I realise she was just so young and my dad was no support as he was in and out of jail. When you’re a bairn and you go to visit prison, they search you – even your nappies and they use sniffer dogs on you. I visited him in Durham and in Stockton where they put Category A, murderers etc.
Nan was brilliant, she signed us up for Performing Arts, dancing and singing classes to keep us out of trouble. At mainstream school I was badly behaved and non-academic. At one point, mum moved nearby with a boyfriend but relations deteriorated – it was like Eastenders. She said it was because I was so badly behaved. People tried to bully me at school but I would retaliate. I spent a lot of time in isolation. They put you in a room all day with a teacher – you have to arrive after the other kids and you leave before them – I did that for a year. You didn’t have anything to do – they gave you a load of old exam papers to look at. I still managed to get a C for English GCSE – I did ‘Of Mice and Men’ which I thought was brilliant and Romeo and Juliet.
I left school and worked for Sunderland Council as an apprentice carer for adults with learning difficulties. I got Apprentice of the Year and I was taken on as a full-time employee and did it for two and a half years. The job was very stressful, caring for adults with really challenging behaviour. I nearly had my face bitten off – I was assaulted on a daily basis. The men we looked after had been institutionalised for a long time and we were trying to help them integrate back into the community. I was well trained and qualified, but the service was just so understaffed and underfunded – sometimes we had to do back to back shifts.
I left Nan’s to get my own place and I went off the rails a bit – lots of partying. I was earning £1,500 a month, the sort of money I’d never had in my life. I surrounded myself with the wrong people. I was really chaotic – didn’t know what on earth I was doing with myself. My Nana was getting too old to look after me and my problems and I was falling apart. I’d had enough and I left my job and I lost my home.
I was 18, homeless with no family around, so I packed a small suitcase and took the coach to Victoria. A charity put us in a backpacker, but only for a couple of nights. Then someone told us about New Horizon day centre and they made referral for Shelter from the Storm. I was really lucky to get a bed and only had to spend a few nights on the streets.
I it was a massive relief when I first arrived at the shelter, the people made me feel so safe and welcome. It was lovely to have a proper cooked meal like my Nan used to make. Cookie was amazing, helped me a lot, made loads of referrals for me. The YMCA knocked me back because of my troubled past. I felt really low, I would just burst into tears. Cookie got me into the Islington Crisis House for a couple of weeks because my mental health was so bad. She finally helped me get my own place and I love it. I’m working with the Prince’s Trust on Music and Art, I’ve become a rapper and people tell me I’m good, I’ve done YouTubes.
The shelter has helped me change my life. My mental health has improved massively. I’ve got friends and the shelter still supports me, I enjoy coming back to visit, it feels like a second home. When I first arrived in London, I went to the Notting Hill Carnival with a friend from the shelter and I just loved it – the life, the music, the energy – I felt at home in a way I didn’t in Sunderland. I’m 20, my whole life is ahead of me and I’m going to make my dreams come true.