31-year-old Lani* moved to YMCA Exeter when she was just 16, escaping an abusive home and looking for safety. Moved to action by the Council’s threats to cut YMCA Exeter’s funding, Lani shared her inspirational story of how the YMCA support team helped her overcome adversity and thrive.
“I came to YMCA Exeter in 2008 when I was 16, after months of instability and just finding the next place to stay. As a child I grew up in a house where I witnessed a lot of extreme domestic violence. As a result, I really found it difficult to trust people and had horrendous anxiety. I was always in protection mode. When I was 15, my younger brother died from sepsis which completely threw my whole family. My relationship with my mum broke down as a result. I ended up sofa-surfing at friends’ houses and leaning heavily on a young person’s homelessness service that put me in different people’s houses just for one night at a time. I felt like an inconvenience to people. I was starting to go down a bad road. I was starting to use drugs and drinking at every possible opportunity – but moving in to YMCA Exeter came at exactly the right time.
I instantly felt really at ease with YMCA support staff, we used to have 1-1 sessions and sometimes had to have difficult conversations. Because of my family background I always second-guessed everyone – but the staff helped me to build trust with people and it was clear they really cared about me.
I had three amazing Support Workers during my time at YMCA, who gave me advice that I should have been taught by my parents but never had been – things like how to save money and how to go food shopping. I remember I was absolutely terrified to go food shopping – so the first time I went, my support worker came with me. The support staff used to tell me “you’re so intelligent and bright Lani” but because of my family situation I didn’t believe it at first – but they helped me believe in myself and gave me the confidence I needed.
Eventually through YMCA Exeter’s employment support, I found myself my first job and started to feel more ready for independence. My Support Worker at the time helped me secure my first little flat in Whipton. Thanks to YMCA Exeter, I had the knowledge and confidence to pay my bills, take on more hours at work and save money. Without the support of YMCA staff, I would never have known anything about how to live or cope by myself.
Ultimately, living at the YMCA really felt like a family, which was so helpful for someone like me who had previously experienced an unstable, volatile family life. We did activities like cooking classes and the staff took us out for lunch on Christmas day with other residents who didn’t have family to spend the holidays with. But most of all – we were accepted for who we were.
The YMCA is such a vital part of Exeter. Without their support, I would never have become an independent person – in fact I probably would have ended up a completely different person. Where do all these young people go if the YMCA isn’t funded? Where would I have ended up? I wouldn’t be a functional human, let alone a successful one, if I didn’t receive the support that I did from YMCA Exeter.
After leaving YMCA Exeter and living independently, I went back to college and got my GCSEs. Now I’m studying a master’s degree in nursing. And I’ve done all this with two kids!! Coming full circle, I now live with my husband and children in St David’s, right down the road from where I used to live at the YMCA. Every day when I take my kids to nursery, I look back at my old room and see how far I’ve come.”
YMCA Exeter’s vital lifeline is under threat from Devon County Council’s proposed funding cuts to homelessness prevention support services. This means that for many young people, just like Lani, they will not be able to access the support they need to thrive in independence.
*name has been changed to protect identity.