I’ve always had a passion for helping children. In fact, I’ve worked with children throughout my life, in special needs education and children’s homes. When my husband passed away in 1997, I felt that I needed a new direction in life but still had a passion for helping young people.
I lived in a 3-bedroom terraced house in Chelmsford and didn’t need all that space just for me. A house needs to be filled with people, laughter, and love!
That led to me offering supported lodgings. It gave me the flexibility I needed at the time around a full-time job and childcare for my grandchildren – it was a perfect solution.
Now, at the age of 77, I have been a supported lodgings provider with Essex County Council for 22 years – I can’t even count how many young people that I have helped support during that time!
I feel that my own life experiences have laid the foundations for being the best supported lodgings carer I can be. As a young person aged 16 coming over to England from Ireland on my own, I appreciate how overwhelming it can feel to be in a new country.
I’d never had to navigate crossing a busy road before and simply didn’t know how to deal with traffic. To most people, crossing the road is something we take for granted that any young person can do. Although this is an extreme example it’s taught me to take nothing for granted and not assume what someone in my care may know.
Many of the young people I support have had similar experiences, with adjusting to a new culture but also sadly with discrimination, so this really helps me resonate with them and understand how they might be feeling.
In addition, it’s helped from a practical point of view as some have little, or no understanding, of English. Learning Makaton sign language throughout my career has come in very handy.
For me, this is what providing supported lodgings is all about. It’s more than just giving a young person a spare room. It’s about fostering relationships with them, getting involved in their lives, supporting them to give them the best chance in life and treating them like your family.
I’ve always cared for one young person at a time, but when they are ready to move on, I ask for another young person so that they overlap slightly. I feel it’s important that they get to meet others in a similar situation to them. Not only does it help the young people coming to me feel more settled it’s incredible to see the peer-to-peer mentoring which is important for their own development.
I love having an extended family and seeing them treat each other like siblings. They have even grown up with my own grandchildren and I genuinely care about what happens to them.
Many of them keep in touch with each other and with me. We’ll often meet up for lunch or coffee and it’s utterly crazy at Christmas! I’ve been introduced to some amazing food over the years, and I love celebrating this diversity at any opportunity.
I get up every day and feel alive because of them. I’m never bored having these young people around and the house is always so full of energy! It has totally enriched my life.
If anyone has a spare room, I would strongly advocate they consider supported lodgings. You don’t know how much of a difference you can make to a young person’s life by simply opening your home to them. I can promise you that it will change their life – as well as yours.