When she first became a mum, Laura French described herself as ‘a depressed, angry, unorganised teen mum’. Laura didn’t ask for Home-Start support, nor did she particularly want it. But Helen, Laura’s Home-Start volunteer, found a way to not only connect with the self-described ‘angry mum’, but inspired her to become the best version of herself. A version that learnt to drive a forklift, get out of debt and take her children to Disneyland.

Laura tells us:

"Pregnant at 16, I was in an abusive relationship with little family support. I finally left that relationship and moved to Banbury to start a new life. A few months later I gave birth to my second son. Depressed, I found it hard to cope. I struggled getting my older son to school, there were days when I couldn’t draw the curtains, and soon social services were involved.

"Social services suggested Home-Start Banbury, Bicester and Chipping Norton might be able to help me. I said I’d give it a go, but my heart wasn’t in it. To me Home-Start was just an extension of social  services. I hated the thought of someone else coming into my home and judging me".

I was rude and untrusting

"The day Helen, a Home-Start volunteer came over I was in bed and didn’t want to answer the door. I was quite rude to her. My childhood and life up to this point had shown me not to trust people. I’d been let down so many times, I didn’t believe there was any other way.

"“Helen asked what I wanted to achieve. I said ‘right now, having a bath would be an achievement’. ‘Do it then’ she said, ‘I’ll look after the boys’. Even as I was walking upstairs to the bath, I couldn’t quite believe it. Maybe Home-Start support wouldn’t be so bad.

"Helen responded to my rudeness with warmth and friendship. Every week she’d come over and we would work on different things. We started with time management. She gave me a calendar and we wrote down all my appointments. Soon my son was at school on time every morning. And life felt a bit more organised. Next, we focused on getting the children to eat healthier. Once we had cracked that Helen showed me how to play with the boys. I’d never played with them before, but we fell into a happy routine of playing together".

Turning my life around

"All the support with budgeting, healthy eating and planning turned my life around, but most of all I gained companionship. I gained a friend and someone I could look up to. I’d never had someone so happy and so positive in my life before. I wanted Helen to be proud of me, and that made me aim higher than I’d ever done. I wanted to be better. I was determined to be better. Over time Helen helped me go from a depressed, angry, unorganised teen mum to the mum I wanted to be.

"Thanks to Home-Start we were able to enjoy days out, building up such lovely family moments. It opened my eyes to the joys of family life. I wanted lovely days out to be part of their childhood, so my next step was getting a job to improve our finances and standard of living. A few applications later I started my new job at Home Bargains during school hours.

"After a year I said goodbye to Helen. I was sorry to see her go but I knew I was able to stand on my own two feet now. With everything I’d learned, I continued to progress my life. I found the confidence to find a new job where I gained many new skills and moved up in the job to a managerial role. I did many courses in healthy eating, children’s first aid and an autism awareness course. That summer I took the children on holiday abroad by myself for the first time. It was scary, but I was so proud of myself for doing it.

"By the time I had my third son, my life was in a completely different place. Having gone to groups with Helen, I no longer saw them as scary places, but rather I saw them as an opportunity to make new friends. I got out of debt. Learnt to drive a forklift. Took the children to Disneyland".

Both children diagnosed with autism

"And just like that ten years had passed. Of course it wasn’t without its challenges. One of my children was diagnosed with autism, dyspraxia and ADHD, and another was diagnosed with autism. But, we managed and we got through it, thanks to the support all those years of support from Home-Start, I had the confidence, resilience and strength to do what I needed to do for my family. Home-Start helped me to grow both as a mum and a person.

"I always wondered about Helen, how she was and if she thought of me and the children. She had played such a massive role in my life that it left an impression on me forever. I didn’t know if I would ever get a chance to see Helen again, but I always wanted to.

"Then in the most wonderful surprise ever, I received a message on Facebook from Helen. I was elated. After many excited words, we finally arranged to meet and it did not disappoint. I was met with her warm comforting smile and a massive hug and now we often meet as friends and enjoy coffee together.

"I know I was incredibly lucky to have found such an amazing bond with my Home-Start volunteer. It has made me want to volunteer for Home-Start myself once my youngest is at school because I too believe I can make a difference in the way Helen did for me and my children. The life we have now is so different to what might have been. It was Helen who set my sights higher, who encouraged me to do more, to be more. And by doing this it has enabled me to give my children the childhood they deserve.”

Read next: Grace's story- Support for me and my autistic daughter 

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