Starts at Home - Sue's story

Bernicia is proud to support the National Housing Federation’s ‘Starts at Home’ campaign, celebrating the value of care and support services and how essential it is for people to have a place to call home.

Our Ashirk facility offers a range of services through our specialist team to support families facing homelessness and other crises. They help them get back on their feet, providing a temporary property until they have the skills and confidence to move into their own home.

Families can self-refer to Ashkirk or be referred by agencies such as health services, social care, police, probation or education – with referrals processed by Sunderland City Council.

Gavin Forsyth, Homeless Service Senior Support Worker at Bernicia, leads the team who often support people when their life is at its lowest ebb.

It’s not just about getting people a house, it’s often about helping them tackle the issues that left them without a place to call home.

Here’s Sue’s story – a 51-year-old grandmother bringing up her daughter’s three-year-old and ten-months-old sons, after a family crisis.

They have been living in a property at Ashkirk since last November.

They spent months in temporary accommodation being moved between hotels and Airbnbs across the North East while seeking a permanent home.

“I ended up in hotels, a Travelodge, lived there for six months and then I was put into a holiday let, temporary accommodation, through the council,” said Sue.

“When we lived in the Travelodge and there were big concerts on, we were just getting moved about all the time.

“I was losing days at work because we were being put in Newcastle and Gateshead. The one at Gateshead it was hard to get a bus for work.”

Sue was forced to give up her job as a production operative at blinds manufacturer Hillarys in Washington because of the difficulty of looking after her grandchildren and having no set address.

“My whole world fell apart, I kept the best part of it to myself, nobody really knew,” said Sue.

“I went to work as normal, had friends as normal. The kids just thought it was a big adventure.

“There was no accommodation where you could cook yourself a meal, there wasn’t a microwave. I would have to go out to do the washing.

“You lose everything, you lose your dignity, and I don’t think anyone should have to do that.”

Sue contacted Gavin Forsyth and the team at Ashkirk and after an interview they moved into a three-bedroom home.

“It felt magical, I could go out and do my shopping, cook a meal for everybody as a family sat around the table, instead of going to a kebab shop, McDonalds or noodle places,” said Sue.

“I feel safe in here which is a big deal where the kids are concerned.

“I can’t thank Gavin and the team enough for their support. It’s the same for anyone who comes in here. They are there regardless of who you are or what you are, or what you’ve been through – they don’t treat you any differently.

“Housing, money wise, even a thing like getting a cot for the little one, if the pram broke, I could go to them and I might have to wait a day or two but there will be a new one there.

“Money wise, they’ve helped me get back onto Universal Credit because I hadn’t had that for a lot of years. It was quite a daunting thing for me to claim because I always worked.”

Next step is for Sue to work with the Ashkirk team to get a tenancy in a place they can call home. They are aiming to start the new year with a new start.

Sue said: “I didn’t expect this, I never ever thought in my life I would be in somewhere like this.”

“I’ve fought and fought and fought to keep the kids with me – I don’t want them in foster care, I don’t want them adopted.

“But I’m in a good place at the moment and I do the best that I can – I wouldn’t do it any other way.”