Hidden Talent: Behind Closed Doors

Zoe Rooney
35
Single mum 2 kids, one who has special needs. Live in Yeovil Somerset. Have mental health issues.

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When we are little we all dream of owning a big house, married to the perfect man, with beautiful kids and perhaps a dog. The hard truth of life is that this is unlikely to happen. I would never have thought that I would one day be on benefits as a single mum in a housing association house. Suddenly I am faced with the ‘council house’ label. On every form, we tick the ‘council box’ like it is some measure of who we are and what we are all about.

While many do conform to the stereotypical image of a council house tenant, the majority do not. I am typical of the stereo type. Two kids, single, benefits… but does anyone really look past that and see the person behind the label? I had the perfect life. I had everything. I looked down on others as if I was superior to them because I had the 2.4 family. Then one day my world came crashing down and life as I knew it would never be the same.

Luckily we do live in a country where there is a safety net, although this is far too often abused. Like a performing dolphin, I jumped through the hoops, endless form filling and many temporary accommodations and finally got my Holy Grail… my own little 2 bed for my children and me. Life was hard and I settled into an existence of housework and coffee mornings. As my children grew, I realised that I was existing and not living. Many people fall into this trap. Looking around at the people I mixed with, it shocked me to discover that I had now become a stereotype. The bi-weekly Costa mornings, being the highlight of my week. But at 30 with two pre-teens, could I change my life? Could I teach my children that anything was possible if you tried hard enough? The biggest challenge is having the confidence to start your journey.

Today, most housing associations are not just landlords. They have many departments to aid with training, employment and even starting your own business. I have only ever been with Yarlington Housing Group and until 2 years ago had never interacted with them. If I saw my housing officer coming, I would take a superman dive into the nearest bush just to avoid them. I had no interest in engaging with them… I mean why would I? My rent was being paid, the house was in a good state, so like the weird uncle at Christmas, you put up with them but avoid at all costs.

Yarlington look past the label and actually want to help the residents, which I found to be an alien concept. From benefit advice to a well-being officer, they seemed to have it all covered. Perhaps the label assigned to housing association residents is soon to be a thing of the past. But does social standing and employment responsibility lie with housing associations? With so many government cuts and hope at an all time low, maybe the social landlords could challenge the future for those who are resigned to council homes. Could improving the options for today’s generation significantly change those of the future? All the research shows that children with at least one working parent, vastly improves their chances of succeeding life. I cannot work. I have significant mental health issues that restrict employment. For years I accepted that the future was sitting down with a cuppa, watching Jeremy Kyle and letting the money enter my bank account with no effort from me. What was this teaching my children? With employment being seemingly impossible, my options were limited. Then came the light bulb moment. I was getting a ‘wage’ but I was doing nothing to earn it. The community around me was paying me to do nothing. I decided that it was payback time. I had skills. If no one would employ me then I would ‘earn’ the benefits I was receiving in any way that I could.

I joined forces with my landlord, Yarlington, and threw myself into improving my community and helping other residents. Two years on, I am now heavily involved with a large cross section of not only residents but all in my home town. I am still not employed but I work harder than ever. Everyone needs a helping hand out of the rut they are in. Showing someone the way forward and holding their hand to do so, can give them the confidence to achieve beyond their dreams. Mental health may still carry a stigma and limit life options but it is not the barrier it once was. For those who look down on council house residents, I feel pity. Everyone has a skill and some of the poorest people on earth are the most caring and give more back then they can ever expect to receive for themselves. The old saying ‘You never know what goes on behind closed doors’ is never more true than now. A wealth of talent and skills are lying dormant behind council house doors and is just waiting to be tapped… and perhaps our social housing landlords are the key to doing this?

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2 thoughts on “Hidden Talent: Behind Closed Doors

  1. Lisa Fleming says:

    Very very well said. An inspirational, well written blog that attempts to overcome the unfair and irrational stigma that, for some reason, still attaches itself to HA renting. Yarlington is very lucky to have such valuable insight into their business development.

  2. what a fantastic post! as a fellow yarlington resident (and never been in social housing since before leaving home many moons ago) i have to agree that they certainly do take a lot on to reduce the stigma of social housing as well as many other things. i’ve seen you work hard in the chat group and interact a lot with people, you are a great leader and motivator.

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