Nicola 1

I moved out of my family home into a bedsit at 17 years old. I had a part time job and was still in college. In 1993 I became pregnant and was evicted from my bedsit as it was no longer suitable for me. I was therefore classed as homeless and had to go through the system to be rehoused. Moving into a house from a bedsit I had very little to go in it, so I used credit to furnish it. I wasn’t good with money, at all! I had never been taught how to budget and in hindsight I was far too irresponsible to be allowed credit of any kind. With the responsibility of a child and a home to run things began to spiral out of control and my mental health took a turn for the worst.

In order to keep myself sane over the years I studied various college courses and kept voluntary jobs, which helped keep me busy but obviously didn’t address the financial issues. I first became aware of Bristol Debt Advice Centre in 1999. I remember seeing the small dodgy looking building along Stapleton Road as I was on my way home to where I lived, in Fishponds at the time. I remember feeling nervous and ashamed when I walked through the door but was quickly made to feel at ease when introduced to Frank Band, who was to be my caseworker.

Frank worked with me four times over a ten-year period throughout many life changes. I gave birth to another child in 2001 and my eldest was going through many issues with education in the same year. We went through lots of traumatic situations including having to fight the LEA for education for my eldest son, who was later diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and suffered serious racial harassment which lead to us becoming homeless for a second time. Over this time BDAC also went through changes including address, but Frank continued to work hard to try and help me get back on my feet. He never ever judged me for “failing” despite all the work he had put in.

Being a single parent carer with limited family support I found I was unable to cope mentally and started suffering with panic attacks, anxiety and depression. I felt worthless and like I was going to amount to nothing. In 2009 we moved into our current home. Things started to piece back together but my finances were still a mess. Once we had settled in our new home, I decided it was time to sort my life out once and for all. I was terrified when I arrived in the BDAC office and found out that Frank had left but the staff there quickly reassured me, and I was introduced to Yvonne – she would be the one to change my finances forever.

In October 2010 my Debt Relief Order was finalised. It lifted such a huge weight off my shoulders that I was able to concentrate on the future. A future I was convinced I would never have. I studied a Law course and felt it was time to find a voluntary job which would be more challenging and rewarding for me. My first instinct was to ask BDAC. I wasn’t sure how useful I would be as my confidence levels were extremely low, but I had a genuine heartfelt interest in helping others like myself.

I was offered a voluntary position in April 2012 and was given Yvonne as my mentor. At first, I was not too sure of myself and needed quite a lot of reassurance, support and feedback. I asked a lot of questions, but nobody got fed up with me (or at least didn’t show it!) My undertakings varied from applying to charities for clients in need, bankruptcy & DRO applications to attending court to support Yvonne on possible eviction cases. Over time I became more and more confident and started to make new friends. I found that getting a positive outcome from my applications felt good and even on a day that was difficult at home, it gave me the strength to find a way through.

I have now been involved for 7 years and have seen lots of changes. The name has changed, the building has changed, people have come and gone but the support has always remained the same. Even though I still suffer with anxiety, I am much more able to manage this. I am no longer isolated but am part of a team. I feel a sense of worth which I was seriously lacking, and I am more able to focus on my strengths as well as being less critical but still mindful of my weaknesses. I am still debt free almost ten years on!

When I initially wrote this my circumstances at home had recently started to change. I had started to work towards returning to paid employment and I was hoping to return. I am really pleased to be able to say that this has now happened. I have started on my journey as a Money Advice Assistant here with Talking Money.

I am very thankful to everyone here and know that this is only possible as a direct result of being supported by all at BDAC/Talking Money for almost 20 years as a client and volunteer.