When I was 13 years old, I ended up in care. My mum chose her boyfriend over me basically. I think because I thought no-one loved me, I ended up self-harming. It was just taking the pain away from me. I know it sounds mad that self-harming takes away the pain, but it did at that time.
When I was 16, I got pregnant. I ended up having a baby boy but he died of cot death two days before my 18th birthday.
So I think that just affected me, I got into bad relationships, I didn’t know any different to tell you the truth. I ended up going into a 16+ unit and I met a lad in there. We never should have gone out with each other but I thought he was really nice. The aftercare team was encouraging us, saying we’ll get a rented house if we move in together. So we moved in together. It was the worst mistake of my life. He ended up battering me, beating me up, he used to lock me in the house, things like that.
One day I came home, he’d smashed the house up and then set fire to it. It was like, where’s the aftercare team now? They were nowhere to be seen. I got lost in the system really. The care system stinks.
I ended up going into a hostel in Salford where I met another guy who was abusive. He battered me in the hostel. He ended up getting kicked out and I got a 28 day notice to get out. It’s so daft. He should have got kicked out but I should have been allowed to stay or they should have moved me somewhere else – I was fleeing from violence.
Because I didn’t want to be on the street, I ended up staying with him and moving in with him and his dad. He started telling me what to wear, and if I looked at anyone he would say you’re sleeping with them, you’re doing this or you’re doing that.
When he met me I was a bubbly girl but I just went into myself. I started drinking really bad, because it just blocked everything out. I ended up turning into an alcoholic basically and I tried to kill myself.
One day he proper battered me, he had a knife, he was slashing me. I had to run out in my dressing gown and shoes. I ran into town and that’s how I became homeless.
I was lost in the system then, I didn’t even know how to go to the town hall. So basically I was on the street for like five months, and then sofa surfing too. I ended up living with this girl who I thought was my mate but she was controlling too. I think now to myself how stupid I was, but when you’ve got nothing and nobody… I didn’t have my family, I didn’t have nothing really.
I ended up getting into trouble and being on warrants and all that. I was an angry person, I fought a lot because I was angry against the world. I think it is harder for women, we’re scared and we’re ashamed. But it wasn’t until finally I got into trouble that I was able to get help. It shouldn’t have been like that. I shouldn’t have been forgotten about.
Eventually, I got a top probation officer. I cannot deny it, she was amazing. No one worked extra like her. Even when she should’ve probably took me back to court, she knew I was involved in domestic violence so she didn’t, as long as I kept in contact with her on the phone or something. She got me in contact with Nacro, an organisation working with homeless women and men who have been in the criminal justice system.
Then I started doing voluntary work with them and I loved it. I was going to London sitting on panels, making decisions on the policies and the monies and everything like that. There was no bloody stopping me really.
I ended up meeting a guy, but I was very closed in, I wouldn’t let him near me at first because obviously I was scared, thinking what if he turns out to be the same? I have been with him for nine years now. He’s never cheated on me and he’s never hit me.
I have done loads of good stuff. I volunteered for Women MATTA, where I had been a service user before, after I tried to kill myself. I was talking to women who’s been through similar situations and because I understood and shared my experience, they opened up more. Then I started supporting young people at the Roundhouse, working with kids who get kicked out of school. Then I worked as a mentor for Manchester Probation. That was the best, because obviously I had been in the criminal justice system myself.
There was a young girl who reminded me so much of me. She drank, she smoked weed, she was fighting, like I did. One day, we did a little story thing and she turned around and said, and this really makes me a bit tearful, ‘I want to be like Alison one day – if she can do it I can do it’. I haven’t worked with her for ages, but I know she’s doing dead well, she’s got a job now, she’s got a kid, she’s got a fella. It was great that I inspired her.
When I heard about Inspiring Change’s GROW traineeship, I was like ‘I can I do this’. But when I first started, I was doubting myself, thinking, ‘Have I done this or that right?’. And they’re like, ‘Alison, of every choice you make, have you ever made a wrong choice for your clients?’. I went ‘no’. They went, ‘Right, well there you go then’. They have also supported me with my dyslexia.
I think Inspiring Change is so important. Many services you go to, not a lot of people have lived experience. We make a difference. I feel like if you share a little bit of your experience, like me being on the street, they open up more. Half of the women have gone through situations I’ve gone through, so I can do it in a professional way but understand what they’re going through in a way. But I will never say to them ‘I understand’ because we all deal with it in a different way.
Since I have been here I have grown and grown and grown and I’m so more confident with things I do. I’ve done systems change work, telling the Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham my story and being in his manifesto. I am not a GROW anymore, I have got a job. I am a woman assistant engagement worker. I’ve got a name for myself now, everyone’s like, ‘I’m referring this woman to Alison’. I just wish they had something like this when I was younger.
Alison (not her real name) works at Inspiring Change Manchester.
If you or someone you know have been affected by any of the issues raised in this piece, find out more about where you can access help here.