Wednesday, 12 November 2014

#HousingDay - Jemma's story

My name is Jemma Bere and I am a tenant and tenant board member of Wales & West Housing. I work for CREW Regeneration Wales, part of the CHC Group.

In 2001, my mother died in a car accident whilst in Andalucia, Spain. After the funeral in the UK, my brother and sister returned to Spain with their father where they began school. However, their father turned to drink and eventually became unable to care for them and in 2005, I was told that the children had been taken into the care of social services in Almeria. I went to Spain immediately to see them but there was very little I could do. After a couple of months, I received a phone call from the Spanish authorities who told me that unless someone in the family could take on the children, they would have to be put into foster care. They could give me no guarantees that they would be kept together or that I could visit them so I made the decision right there that I would look after them. I was 24 and had just graduated from university.

It took me two years to navigate the bureaucracy and go through the adoption process to get the children to the UK but I was determined and a few key friends and organisations took sympathy to my cause. On the 15th July 2008, I brought the children back to the UK and they were reunited with their nan and brother who they hadn't seen in 7 years. I had no house and no capital, just the conviction that it was the best decision I had ever made. We were given emergency housing at first but were offered a permanent house by Wales & West after a couple of months. I can't describe the feeling of security that that brought to us. Used to being shuffled around, the children only believed that they were here to stay when we got the house and the change in them from that point was amazing to see.

The children spoke little English at first and we lived on benefits whilst we were finding our feet. The rarity of the situation made the application process difficult and we lived on £90 a week child tax credit for the initial 6 months. I learnt to make everything from scratch, even shampoo! It was a hard time but the safety nets afforded to us through social housing and welfare gave us enough security to start to build a life together.

I'm very proud to be living in social housing and a tenant board member of my housing association. I am delighted at the opportunity to give back and help to make a difference in the sector.

I'm supporting Housing Day because it offered me a lifeline when I thought I had none. I don't want to think about where the children and I would have been without the opportunity for a affordable home. As a social housing tenant, I know my rent money goes toward others in need and providing them with the opportunity to build their lives just like it did with me. 

Jemma Bere
Regeneration Officer (CREW Regeneration Wales) and Wales & West Housing tenant

Read more about Jemma's story here.

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