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From homeless to full of hope

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It's two years ago that teenager Tianna James became homeless. With a young baby on the way, it was a dark, depressing and scary experience.

The problems were basic and yet so hard to sort out. Lack of money. No place to call your own. Sorting out the day-to-day essentials that most people take for granted but seem like luxuries when you are sleeping on someone else's sofa or - worse - on the streets.

Tianna went through it all - from finding herself pregnant when she was barely 16 and then homeless with a baby to settling into her own flat at a community for young families managed by Bromford Support, part of one of the leading social housing groups in central England.

"It took a long time but I'm so glad to be here at last," says a smiling Tianna a few months after getting the keys to her two-bed Bromford Support flat at Emily Gardens, Cheltenham.

"Life feels so different now - so much more positive. I don't know what will happen in the future. It's too soon to think about that much now. But I know that we can now look forward to the future in a way we couldn't do before."

It's taken her two years to get this solid foothold on the path to independent living - and one of the few constants through the ups and downs has been the help and advice offered by Bromford Support in the form of support worker Sarah Stephenson.

"I have known Sarah since Reo was about two weeks old - and she has supported me all the way from where I was then to where I am now," says Tianna, now aged 18.

"It makes such a difference knowing that Sarah is there to support me when I need it. All I have to do is ask and she knows what to do or where to go. She is a lovely, really lovely person. We couldn't manage without her."

Family life now centres around a warm, comfortable and surprisingly roomy home. There is plenty of space in the living room and back garden for little Reo to roam about and play. The kitchen is modern and well-equipped.

Just as important, perhaps, is the strong sense of community.

"Everyone knows each other here. There is always someone who you can chat with or maybe share a problem. And we help each other out where we can in lots of different ways," says Tianna during a break from preparing roasties and other veg for a communal lunch on Children in Need's big fundraising Friday.

The lunch and a generous helping of fun and games for the parents and their children were organised in the communal room by support worker Sarah - climaxing with a visit by two belly dancers.

Sarah describes Emily Gardens as a great place for young mothers to find their feet and gain some important life skills, to maintain a tenancy and to build their confidence, access education, training or employment.

The facts back up what she says. More than 40 families have moved on since the scheme opened in November 2003, most of them taking on independent tenancies after living in one of the seven flats at Emily Gardens for between six months - a typical time -and two years.

"We are delighted that we can support couples and lone parents -both mums and dads - here in Cheltenham with such positive results," says Sarah.

"I love my job - and love the fact that we can make such a difference to young lives. We have many young mothers like Tianna who have been homeless and gone through very difficult times -often in their early teens.

"The young people offer each other peer support and we support many activities such as a weekly stay and playgroup run by the local children's centre, giving all the young people valuable advice about basic parenting skills.

"The great thing is that, with the right help and support, these young people can get the knowledge and life skills they need to make a go of it and eventually to take on their own tenancy and to live truly independent lives in the wider community.

"As part of that support, we encourage the mothers to take up education and training opportunities - and, where possible, to find employment. In one case, a young mother has become the first member of her family to begin studying for a university degree."

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