“I am putting together my lived experience with my education,” explains Housing Support Worker Allison, proudly scrolling through photos of her recent graduation. “My education is really important for working together with other professionals and understanding the laws and things like that, but my lived experiences have taught me empathy and an understanding of where people might be at.”
Brought up in a household she herself describes as ‘chaotic’, seeing alcohol and drug misuse was a daily occurrence with both her parents battling with addiction. Her father would go on to pass away before Allison turned 11, and that lifestyle was something she felt she would never be able to escape.
Having had a daughter at a young age, Allison experienced years of domestic abuse from her partner and felt trapped in a vicious cycle, with no formal education leaving her unable to find employment.
“I was trapped really and I had never thought about where I was going. The domestic abuse reiterated that because I was told that I wasn’t going anywhere and this is who I was going to be. I believed that for a long time. I was trapped in the benefit trap because the cost of housing was too expensive. It was a circle for me and if I were to break away from that, I would become homeless and my daughter might not have shelter.”
The cycle continued, with alcohol and substance misuse becoming more and more problematic until, aged 29, Allison became pregnant for a second time and knew something had to change.
“My recovery started with a thought of wanting to do something different. It started when I was sat up on a night, having suicidal thoughts and I started to reassess my situation. I told myself that I had been dealt this card, but asked was there anything I could do about it?”
Allison checked into different recovery services, taking inspiration from those that had turned their lives around and becoming more determined than ever to make a fresh start for her and her young family.
She enrolled at Bradford College to study in 2014, starting a Level 2 Health and Social Care course whilst also gaining the basic education she had never received during her childhood, which included taking GCSEs.
“My spelling was around that of an eight year old,” she adds. “It was really hard and soul destroying doing that level when you’re older, but I tried really hard to make little steps at a time. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to study if I was still drinking because I couldn’t be reliable. I couldn’t wake up on a morning, I couldn’t attend appointments because it was still chaotic. I was always ill so I couldn’t maintain it. I was trying to find a balance but I couldn’t.”
Her recovery and studies intertwined with one another over the coming years as Allison continued to look ahead to the future. Fast forward to 2023 and the person once trapped in an abusive relationship, controlled by addiction and failed by the education system stood proudly at her graduation ceremony, having earned a degree in Youth and Community Development from Bradford College’s Higher Education Department.
“I had to put big will power and some real effort in. It didn’t get given to me and every day I had to tell myself I was going to do something different. I was looking back the other day and thought ‘goodness me, you were in a bad place’. I can’t believe that I managed to escape it. I feel young again!”
During her studies, Allison took a keen interest in social equality and human rights, expertise she now uses in her role supporting young people new to the country with their housing, training and employment needs.
“My role is to help them access the education and healthcare system, as well as making sure we are meeting the emotional and social needs of the young people so that can be challenging. That is why I wanted to work here, to help people and support people into independence. I can’t do it for them but I can help them with the tools that they need to move on.”
Along with her qualifications, she also believes that her experiences of trauma, addiction and recovery helps her to empathise with those she supports and be able to recognise the challenges they may be facing.
“I understand that their self-esteem and confidence might not be there,” she says. “People think that it is as easy as finding a job, but I know that before I could find a job, I needed confidence and belief. Coming from my background, you have a sense that your value is low. Imagine starting in a workplace feeling that you are lower than everyone else. That stays with you and you have to keep reminding yourself that is wrong. That is why education is so important for people like myself because it evens the playing field.”
Alongside her own achievements, Allison’s first daughter is now studying law. A world away from the life she thought her family and her were destined to live, Allison hopes her experiences prove that change is always possible.
“I thought I want to tell my story because there may be new starters or volunteers feeling that low self-esteem or imposter syndrome. I have got the emotional intelligence and resilience now. The trauma could come up at any time so it is about how we are able to talk about it and be able to communicate and say I am feeling a certain way. It is about identifying your feelings so you can act on them.”