Michelle Hetherington 1

For many people a housing association is nothing more than a landlord.

This isn’t the case with many housing associations though, with numerous additional, non-statutory services available for their residents.

South Northants Homes is one of those that provides not only a roof over a tenant’s head, but also gives them access to services such as tenancy support, money and benefit advice, employment training and advice, IT training and free training courses.

It’s these additional services that can be a lifeline for some and that’s exactly how SNH tenant Michele saw them.

Six years ago Michelle didn’t know they offered such services until a chance meeting with a Tenancy Support Officer.

“At that point I was a really bad drunk. I was a recovering alcoholic and addict. I overdosed that year. I was in a bad way. I was had just had my children removed and was close to losing my house too.”

“I had hit rock bottom. I had no gas, no electric and was struggling to pay my rent.”

The Tenant Support Officer (TSO) started to work with Michelle following a handover from another agency. Jointly they put practical boundaries in place, giving Michelle the emotional buy in and accountability that she hadn’t previously had from other services.

“Life with addiction or mental health issues is so up and down. I always had it in me that I knew I wanted to change but it takes a long, long time. It didn’t help that I felt that most people had written me off. Thankfully SNH hadn’t though.

“What I needed was consistency. I kept having agencies work with me then dump me. When my TSO came along I was meeting them regularly and they even helped me get into detox.

“Everyone else was telling me what to do, but SNH’s approach was different. Everyone else just saw me as a drunk and a bad parent, and obviously I’m never ever going to forgive myself for not doing anything sooner, but that’s why I hit rock bottom.  SNH asked my opinion rather than just telling me what I should do. They treated me as a human.”

Michelle and her TSO tackled the biggest concern which was her rent arrears. The property was unkempt, unaffordable and too big for Michelle to manage by herself.

She began turning things around by starting to take ownership and meet the targets and goals she had set herself.

“Thankfully I got moved to a one bedroom flat on the same street I lived on.  I just couldn’t keep up the old house as it was too big for just me and it was full of bad memories.

“It’s just the right size for me. I close my door at the end of the day and I’m happy.”

The move was just what Michelle needed and gave her the opportunity to start with a clean slate.

Her Tenancy Support Officer had since moved departments and was now working for Community Investment. She got in touch with Michelle and told her about the life skills courses SNH ran and how they could benefit her.

“The courses have made me believe in myself more. I still struggle with anxiety, but I’m so much better than I was before. Before I wouldn’t even want to leave the house, but now I look forward to the courses.

“All of SNH’s work showed that someone believed in me and saw something, so as time went on I went from crying in a life skills course to happily talking in them.”

SNH’s Skills4U life skills programme offer residents courses in wellbeing, mindfulness, confidence building, budgeting, cooking skills and IT skills.

“The mindfulness and wellbeing courses were the best because they help you to work on yourself.

“The courses give you confidence, it makes you socialise with people, helps you make friends and then realise that the world’s not so scary anymore.”

The relaxed and safe environment of the courses was also a huge factor in Michelle’s success moving forward.

“They were very respectful and you were never made to do anything. I think that kind of approach really helped me personally. They don’t judge you. They still value your opinion even if it’s not right. It’s all about respect.”

Michelle isn’t where she wants to be and still strives for something more, but says without the courses she doubts she’d be in as good a place as she is now.

Armed with a newfound sense of confidence, she has now joined SNH’s Stakeholder Panel, which meets up to make and discuss important decisions within SNH.

“I didn’t think I stood a chance of getting on the panel, but I was encouraged by my Tenancy Support Officer to go for it as I was an advocate of so many different services SNH provides.”

Having experienced first-hand what SNH offers stood her in good stead and allows her to give a unique insight into what can be improved or what can be lifesaving services.

On top of this, Michelle has also started working part time.

“I didn’t think I’d ever be confident enough to have a job. I’ve been there just over a month now and I’m really enjoying it. Without attending any of the life skills courses, I wouldn’t have been able to build myself up to get a job.”

From hitting rock bottom five years ago to being involved in important decision making for the Association – It’s been quite a journey for Michelle.

“I’m a different person now. I still get my days where I will probably cry because I wish I could have changed a lot sooner than I did. I still struggle now with addiction, but I am more in control. Drink and drugs don’t control me anymore.

“I’m hoping to get my kids back. That’s the only thing that’s holding me back now. It’s a hard situation but my focus is to do the best I can now and just be there for my kids.”

This change has allowed Michelle to have aspirations for the first time in a long time.

“Looking ahead I’d like to get some qualifications. I really would be interested in opening up a business. I currently work as a dog walker and I know it would cost a lot of money, but I really want to set up something like a doggy day care centre.

“I’d never have had these dreams before SNH helped me. Before all I thought about was ‘when is my next drink?’ That was my life. I couldn’t do anything without drink.

“SNH have helped me and pointed me in the direction of others that can help me try to achieve my goals.”

Having come so far since beginning to work with SNH, Michelle is now full of praise for all of the additional services that they offer, in particular the Skills4U courses.

“I have learnt so much. If it wasn’t for SNH’s help and their life skills courses, I don’t think I would have got the confidence I now have.

“Without a doubt I’d recommend people to go on the courses. I never thought I’d be here today, being as confident as I am with a job. It’s made me see things a lot more differently and made me appreciate things more.”

You can find out more about the Skills4U courses here.