Life was ticking along just fine for Debs Nott and husband Laurie when two unexpected life events left the couple homeless and struggling to make ends meet.
“I fell pregnant with my first child but was quickly diagnosed with hyperemesis, which is the same as Princess Kate had and is essentially extreme pregnancy sickness,” the 45-year-old said.
“I was three months pregnant and six and a half stone – I literally couldn’t keep water or food down and was in and out of hospital and hooked up to a drip just to give me the nutrition I needed.”
At the same time Debs was struck down with illness, her husband had been made redundant at the garage where he worked as a mechanic leaving the pair of them without a roof over their heads despite having a child on the way.
“We were a working couple and within a couple of months we were homeless – it was a crazy time in our lives that we just hadn’t anticipated. And because we’d been a working couple and probably had a sense of pride, we were reluctant to go onto benefits and it was a real struggle financially, we literally had nothing,” Debs explained.
In 2007 they moved into their family home but it wasn’t until four years later, when the couple had fallen on difficult times again, that they really started to develop a relationship with what was then Merlin, now Bromford.
The Wickwar resident explained: “We had built up some rent arrears and received a letter saying that they needed to speak to me about it. For some reason I had visions of a bailiff turning up at my front-door but instead a lovely lady came out and we had a great, in-depth conversation about everything and how we could put in simple and practical steps to enable us to start saving more each month.”
This conversation inspired Debs to join the housing association’s customer involvement programme back in 2012 and share her experiences of living in social housing to help Bromford shape and improve its services.
Fast-forward to today and she is now an active part of her community and hopes the expansion of the localities programme will help her and her friends shout about the positives of living in social housing even more when it rolls out across south Gloucestershire in 2019. She is also a member of Bromford’s newly-formed CCIN (Customer & Community Influence Network) group which will meet regularly throughout the year.
“Getting our home here really felt like the beginning of our lives as the rent was so much more affordable and then you have all the services offered which go so far beyond just providing you with a roof over your head,” Debs added.
“I am so excited about the localities programme and neighbourhood coaching because I’m really passionate about building and rebuilding communities and I think the potential is massive.
“We’ve already got a Wickwar village forum and one thing I’d be keen to do is expand that and train any older residents on technology and really bring the community together even further. Bromford comes across as an organisation with a family feel at its heart and that’s exactly what we’re trying to replicate here in our own village.”