Client story – ‘I was actually able to access support’

BGET case story

British Gas Energy Trust fund our money and debt advice service across parts of Devon and Somerset. Without their support, none of the life-changing work we do would be possible.

It’s not just about the debt; it’s about the debt and how it feeds back into the rest of the family. Probably the last 6-8 months we’ve been quite relaxed with where I am with the finances. It’s allowed me to actually start to build my family back up. I can worry about what’s REALLY important. I feel like I’ve been literally able to say ‘Look, I can’t cope with life,’ and I’ve handed over parts of it to allow me to regain and fix what I’ve got left. Confidence is coming back. If anything, I’d go a stage further. I’m rebuilding who I am.

I’ve been in Devon ever since I was about 11/12. It wasn’t a choice. We moved into a refuge. It was more a case of ‘Get in the car, we’re going’. The biggest change was probably an element of relief. Because 50% of the abusive parent had gone. I always pushed myself to being the best I needed to be. I’ve always had to work upwards in my jobs.

During my exams, I was actually a witness in a court case so I missed a lot and didn’t do well. I’ve had to start from the bottom of everything and that’s what I did. I’ve always given 100%. Picked a job, started at the bottom and worked my way up. I moved into hotel management from being an apprentice, worked up to be a flambe chef in a restaurant; worked my way up to running a bar from the bottom; was assistant manager in a bank. I was a self-employed childminder for ten years. I worked in school as a Teaching Assistant (TA) – but I was teaching. I’ve always been on a low income from the jobs I’ve had. Life could have been very different.

By the time I was 17 I’d met my ex-husband, and we were together for 20yrs. I went from abuse into an abusive relationship. About 7 years ago we separated; I moved from owning my own home to renting. My mood started to drop then. We struggled to find a house that was big enough for us all. He was pressurising me because he wanted the equity in the house. We were going to take half the equity and half the debt. He earns about 4 times what I do, so his 50% debt is clear and gone. Mine, I’ve been carrying with me ever since. We both agreed any credit from the house we would pay off our joint debts; anything that was left split between us. But actually, we got left with debt not credit. I walked out with about £22k of debt which I put on a credit card cos it was the only way I could give him back the credit, just to get him out of the way. Me and the kids had to take the first house that came up that was big enough for the four of us. They promised about lots of work that needed doing – the boiler wasn’t working. I was told it’d be fixed; it wasn’t.

Covid, and I got sent home to shield, before the lockdown. While I was working from home, in the house with no heating, there was a major water leak in the bathroom. Two 10 gallon buckets to empty daily. But they just kept leaving it and said ‘We’ll put you up somewhere else and fix the work if you move out for a couple of weeks.’ We
took a couple of weeks’ worth of stuff. First day of lockdown I got an email saying they couldn’t afford to complete the work, the house was a building site and locked as it was a construction site. They’d put us up in a closed holiday camp for the two weeks; a 2 bedroomed very small holiday let accommodation. Four of us, and we weren’t allowed to take any animals. They said, ‘It’s your problem, just find yourself somewhere else to stay.’

There was no housing; the only thing available was to put us as homeless in Bristol. I was still working from home, teaching. Bristol wasn’t something I could do and I ended up moving in with my best friend temporarily, who was also a teacher at the school. We stayed there for nine months. The whole situation was very stressful. I was put on basic antidepressants.

When I moved in here, I just couldn’t pick up my mood. Everything just seemed to be fighting against us. And then my eldest daughter’s boyfriend was killed in a car crash. It broke the house. It broke whatever resolve we had left. She was very angry. At me; at life…she went off the rails. His family are very difficult, and at that point relied on me a lot. I went back to work. Kids went back to school. Covid hit again. Then my best friend died. We were sitting here and she said she wasn’t feeling right. She just fell into my arms and died. We did resuss; got the defib in…but nothing was enough. It was a very difficult time. She was the kids’ second mum. She was my soulmate. THE worst time I’ve ever had in my life.

I had been diagnosed with CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It tends to be about childhood and it’s more about repeated exposure to something as opposed to an experience, like if you go to battle. It’s repeated, so it’s more complex. My core beliefs are different to everybody else’s because mine are wrong. Before she died, my friend and I talked a long time about how shutting the door on my past wasn’t actually going to help it go away. I’ve always just distracted myself. I was put in for an HTP(Historic Trauma Programme). I was told it was going to be very, very difficult if you didn’t have a support network. But I did – my best friend said we’d do it together. Then she died, and then everything just got too much. Part of my CPTSD is that I don’t allow people in. I went into crisis.

I have a problem on the phone when I’m in a really bad place, but I phoned ‘Mindline’. That person kept me alive because that’s where I was at that point in time. If my children weren’t here, I wouldn’t be here now. I’ve always had to fight, and I’m exhausted.

When I was in a calmer place, and I knew support was coming, the referral was made to you guys. I think within a day or two I’d spoken to Aby (Wellbeing Adviser), and then the week after that I’d spoken to Maddi (Debt & Energy Adviser). One of my biggest triggers is not feeling safe. Whether it be financially, housing-wise; there was a huge amount of not feeling stable.

From a mental health point of view I have gradually withdrawn and withdrawn to the point I don’t leave the house. I’m more likely to open up and feel safe and secure in my own house. Once you’ve got that link it’s so much easier. So the difference to me, with you coming here, was actually being able to access support. When I had my last mental health appointment, I was asked where I felt my support came from and you guys were at the top of the list. I have got to the point now where I can phone up and say I’ve done something and I need to speak to you, and that is hugely going forward, for me. Trust, without a doubt. You’ve made it versatile and accessible. I don’t know whether it’s because we’ve managed to build a personal trust, as opposed to coming in and expecting everything outright…I mean some of
the stuff that we’ve done in terms of conversations or finances, if we’d have tried jumping in on those straightaway, I’d have been mind-blown.

It’s a support network I’ve never had. Everything we’ve done, we’ve done at my speed, my pace. I had absolutely minus income. I was constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul. It was getting to the point where it was almost being buried with my head in the sand. Because I knew ends weren’t meeting. They couldn’t meet. I wouldn’t say I’ve been done to at all. It feels like friendship – but these guys know what they’re doing. There’ve been sometimes when I’ve just needed to have a conversation with a human being. Cos I’m a single mum. Sometimes I don’t see adults for a very long time.

Everybody communicates with everybody. Most of my forms have been filled out for me – I’ve given the information, but then I get to view them. And I know if I said ‘Could you make a phone call for me…’, but to the same end, if there’s something I need to do, I don’t get to get away with it! It feels absolutely fine because it’s coming from people I respect. And I know I wouldn’t be pushed to be doing something now unless it needed to be done now. And I’d rather they did that than something didn’t work. Very honest! Having that reassurance there, knowing that I can make a text message or a phone call. They’ve respected my decisions; they’ve respected anything I’ve asked. They’ve given me back control in a way I can cope with, not just walked away and left me to it.

Financially, you’ve gone through everything. You probably know my finances better than I do now. Am I rolling in money? No. But I can live. I can afford to pay my bills, I can afford to eat. I’m rebuilding who I am. They (Maddi and Aby) are the biggest part of my rebuilding and Maddi steps in and keeps my support going if Aby isn’t available, so the support is always there. I genuinely think I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t had them onside. Genuinely. It’s invaluable. It saves lives. Not just saving money, and helping people get out of debt and feeling better about themselves. My kids wouldn’t have a mum, because that’s how low I was. They fixed that.
We fixed that.

In conversation with Julie Matthews, 20.Nov.23