Having a young baby is a daunting experience for all new mums, regardless of their home situation. But imagine what it would be like for a teenage girl, escaping from a violent and abusive relationship with the fear of bringing up their child on the streets.
This shocking situation becomes reality for young girls all over the North West more often than we would like to think. But fortunately, they are not forgotten and there is hope, thanks to a very unique charity based in Salford.
Caritas is the official charity of the Diocese of Salford, which works to build solidarity, justice and peace in areas all over Lancashire, from Manchester to Clitheroe.
Their latest project focused on a supported accommodation home in Blackburn, specifically set up to deal with the needs of young, lone mothers and get them back on their feet.
The project was based at Maryvale Mother and Baby Home in Blackburn. It is one-of-a-kind because it is the only home in the town exclusively opened to help vulnerable 16 to 25-year-old women at risk of domestic violence and homelessness.
The home has been open for almost 25 years and can take up to seven girls at any time, who are usually referred by social services, although young women in exceptional circumstances can refer themselves by contacting Maryvale directly.
There is currently a waiting list for the home but the girls can stay there for as long as they need to – some can be there for up to three years, depending on how long they need to use the services on offer.
“The goal is that when they leave here they are well-equipped to live individually,” said temporary unit manager Lindsey Patterson.
Lucie, 18, has an eight-month-old son and came to Maryvale after problems with her ex-boyfriend.
She got help from the staff at the home and Caritas to find her own flat and now lives there with her baby.
“I am a completely different person now,” she said.
“They help you realise the positive things in life and being a parent.
“I am really confident now and they have helped me prepare for my own life.”
Mark Wiggan, Chief Executive of Caritas, said the charity’s philosophy was to support each individual at the home depending on their needs.
“We support them in contacting crèches and developing skills and resilience,” he said.
“They learn how to get going with a young family and we work with the families and the girls and encourage more independent living.
“We would also like to help young dads to be good young dads – that is an important part of the role we have.”
He added that the charity continues to support young families once they have left the home but worries that the government’s austerity measures might negatively affect future projects.
“At the moment, the country and local government are going through a difficult time with cuts and we want to make sure these cuts don’t disproportionately fall on these services,” he said.
The young women who come to Maryvale often have low self esteem and confidence issues and it is for this reason that Caritas decided to get involved with a creative arts project at the home.
Mark had found out that girls in these situations often find it easier to express how they are feeling through creative arts and so the charity teamed up with the Virtual College in Leeds to commission freelance project worker, Jill Burgess, to deliver classes.
The girls took part in photography and sewing sessions and also had makeovers which culminated in photo shoots with their babies.
All of the women who took part were awarded with certificates and received beautiful portraits with their children so that they would have a permanent memento of how far they had come.
Sophie, 17, is 21-weeks pregnant and has been at the centre for three months.
She was living rough and found out she was pregnant after falling down the stairs and being taken to hospital.
She was then referred to the centre and said that her life has now been completely turned around.
“I will stay here as long as I can,” she said.
Sophie said that she was sceptical about taking part in the project to start with because she was not used to being pampered and hated having her photograph taken.
“I didn’t want to do it at first but then everyone persuaded me,” she said.
“I now have memories as well as just pictures.”
Jill said that such projects are so important especially for young people as they are still creating their own images and how they want others to see them.
“Image isn’t just about what you see, it’s also about confidence and self esteem and how you feel about how you are,” she said.
She added that having a positive self image gives the young women the ability to achieve things as well as helping them to challenge others’ assumptions.
“The programme was not only to help young people look good and be happy with how they look but to feel good inside,” she said.
After the success of this project, Caritas is hoping to continue working with Maryvale on creative ventures which help people express their emotions.