Iesha – ‘Yes, you pronounce my first name the way it is spelt’ – was not the person I was expecting to meet. Well, what sort of person was I expecting to interview at the LIFE house in Crawley? All I was told was that she had, at some time in the past, benefitted from the house when she became a young unmarried mother and was now working for the charity as a Support Worker.
At the door to this un-prepossessing terrace house was Iesha, with a smile that would melt ice. She welcomed me in and quickly had the coffee on the go. We settled into a small, but neat office. The door was closed so we could talk without interruption and in private.
First-of-all I wanted to know how she came to be working at the LIFE house, which had given her support all those years ago ‘It is a bit of a strange story. I needed a job and I applied via an advertisement in the local paper to the local Social Services. I had to state that I had been a previous resident here although, at the time, I had no idea that the job was for this same house. Much to my delight I was successful and I started in March 2011.’
‘With my colleague, Jackie, we give support to the six mothers or mothers-to-be in a wide range of subjects, with a key being to teach life skills, practical parenting, health and safety, and general welfare. It might surprise your readers to know that one lady cracked her first egg in the kitchen next door! It gives us great pleasure to see these mothers get ready for life outside and to be able to support themselves.
Is there a typical profile of the ladies, I wondered? ‘No, they are though generally local and must be aged between 16 to 25 years old. Children are mostly born here, but ladies can move in with a young child, under the age of 5. The 16 year olds have to stay for at least 2 years as they cannot sign up for a property until they reach 18.’
‘You asked about a typical day in the house. Jackie and I look after the life skills programme between us and generally provide a listening ear for any of the ladies, who may have issues to discuss. Yes, we do get some upsets but we normally sort these out. I’m pleased to say that, for the most part, we all get on. Don’t forget, I was on the receiving end some years ago, so I can talk from a real life experience.’
It was time to explore Iesha’s own history.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad was it for you? We paused as Iesha reflected on that time of her life. ‘I guess I would put it at 8. Life could not have been much worse. I turned 17 in October 1994 and gave birth to Danielle two months later. I met the father of my child when we were 14 years old, but he just did not want to know. Home life was a bitter/sweet situation. My mother had taken a partner, who was quite controlling, and she eventually suffered a breakdown as a result of all this tension.’
Next came a revealing statement.
‘I purposely left telling my mother I was pregnant until a time when I was sure the baby could not be aborted.’ Iesha was only 16 when she made this life-changing decision. ‘I was very lonely and scared.’
‘We both went to the local council for help’ So your mother was supportive, I enquired? ‘She was to some extent, but she knew that I had to get out of the family home. Today we have little contact, although my Gran - who lives around the corner and who I see frequently - is very good to me.’
‘Danielle wanted to see her father when she reached 15 years, but he messed up the relationship – he has fathered 4 more children and has no interest in us. Fortunately, that is all in the past. Eleven years ago I met my partner and he accepted Danielle as his own. We now have a complete family, with the birth of our son.’
Although recovering from an illness, last year Iesha took part in the Walk for Life. ‘I had never done anything like this in the past and I wanted to give something back. You know, I had not been a good mother and I realise that, as a baby, I had put my daughter at risk. I thought the walk had a good message and my daughter came along with me. Did we enjoy the experience? We both loved it and now we are looking forward to the next one!
Iesah, this unusual lady, certainly has a story to tell - one which should give those in a similar position hope for the future. LIFE is dedicated to making this happen.
As a parting shot I asked Iesha what she would hope for in the future. Quick as a flash came the response. ‘Another LIFE house in Crawley! We cannot satisfy the demand for our services.’ This was a very fulfilling interview and one which should make readers realise that not all is what it might seem behind the door of an ordinary terraced house in Crawley.
For more information on LIFE and to donate visit http://www.lifecharity.org.uk/home/