In 2001, Tanya MacGregor was a domestic abuse victim and homeless mother-of three. However, today, she is living proof of how the social housing sector can transform lives for the better.
Tanya has gone full circle from being homeless and in the depths of domestic abuse despair to gaining a degree and winning numerous awards. She is now giving back and providing life-changing help to others via the Your Benefits Are Changing (YBAC) campaign run by Community Housing Cymru (CHC).
She said: “It’s amazing the opportunities that social housing has provided for me and my family. I went from being homeless with a young family to finding my way to getting a home, which in turn allowed me to access services, health, a degree, a job. None of this would have been possible without social housing.
“The effect on my family has been transformational. I now work full time helping others to get their houses in order as a money adviser with YBAC. My eldest son completed a degree, my daughter went to college and now works full time, and my youngest is now doing his GCSEs. I couldn’t have even imagined all this a decade ago.
“Without a home, you can’t get access to anything - you don’t exist. Social housing has given me and my family the chance to lay down roots and better ourselves.
“Social housing is a comfort blanket – it allows people access to affordable rents and the chance to re-train and go out to work. We would not have achieved what we have as a family without social housing; we would have been pushed from pillar to post. Social housing has been our safety net and I hope as many people can benefit from it in the same ways that my family and I have.”
More than a decade ago, the married mother became homeless after deciding she could no longer put up with the beatings she was enduring from her then husband.
Overnight, she went from being a homeowner to homeless, with nothing more than a full carrier bag to her name. With her three young children - aged nine, six and five-months old - she took refuge in a women’s hostel.
Tanya spent a year classed as homeless in the hostel run by Cardiff Women’s Aid and owned by United Welsh. During this time she was able to re-build her confidence and take stock of her situation, all the while making friends with fellow victims of domestic abuse staying at the hostel.
Tanya's time in the hostel also started her journey into adult learning with her undertaking a basic skills and IT course along with a Maths course, initially so that she ‘could help her young son with his homework’.
Shortly afterwards, she joined the Board of Management as a committee member/service user and got involved in a Tenant Empowerment Grant scheme. In doing this, Tanya began her ‘giving back’ - using her own experiences to help others suffering as a result of pre or post domestic abuse issues. The tenant service user group offered friendship, craft and DIY classes. It also gave women mental support and well as technical and practical skills, advice, help and, just like Tanya - hope for the future.
Tanya remained a board member for four years, her own experience being a remedy to help others and herself on the road to recovery.
Tanya and the group’s efforts were praised and the model won an award for Good Practice by the Welsh Assembly.
Around this time, Tanya’s confidence and circumstances had improved greatly. She and her young family were rehoused by Cardiff Council and she enrolled on a Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and Policy Degree at UWIC. During her first day she spotted two other familiar faces in the class. Recalling that time, she said: “Two of my classmates were ladies from the refuge and now they both work in the housing sector, like me.”
On the back of her adult learning success, Tanya won the All Wales Housing Manager Local Council Academic Achievement Award, the 2008 CIH Welsh Student of the Year and the 2008 CIH National Student of the Year Award, which lead to her taking part in the prestigious Tri-Countries Conference in Canada.
In 2008-2009, Tanya worked at Rhondda Housing Association as Tenancy Support Officer. Her housing degree dissertation was about Older People in Extra Care which she did for another housing association - Linc Cymru. The subject theme became particularly poignant in 2009 when Tanya decided to take a break from work to care for her parents who were both suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.
Tanya aged 48, said: “It was a difficult time, but as my dissertation was about the same issues I felt I was equipped to fight for the rights of my parents and sort everything out. I was juggling the care of my parents and the care of my young family.”
In 2010 Tanya decided she wanted to get back into work on a part time basis and gained a six month position with Cadwyn Housing through the job centre scheme, Go Wales, doing admin for the HA Tenant Participation and Financial Inclusion arm.
Tanya said: “I was feeling down about my circumstances with my parents’ illness and going back to work gave me renewed confidence. This was down to the organisation's managers and staff and support for my situation. They had fundraising events for Alzheimer’s society.”
From 2011 until today, Tanya has been employed as one of the YBAC Money Advisors at CHC, set up to help distribute information about Welfare Reform.
Courtesy of CHC, she gained a MA qualification from Staffordshire University.
Tanya completed an evaluation for Rhondda Housing Association on the Financial Inclusion project. Also, as part of YBAC, Tanya has provided advice sessions for a number of housing associations and attended CHC’s YBAC campaigning events on behalf of tenants.
Tanya said: “Housing Associations are not in the business of evicting people so the work I do is helping people to get their house/home finances in order. I know only too well how hard it can be. I’ve been there and the advice I was given was invaluable, so I hope I can repay the favour by helping others.”
Money Adviser, CHC