‘All I needed was a chance’: The former ‘speed’ addict who used lockdown to turn her life around
Reporter: Alice Richardson
Date published: 16 April 2021
Jessica used to inject amphetamines for a period of three years
A former addict from Oldham has described how she is seizing a second chance after losing three years of her life to ‘speed’.
Jessica Roberts’ life fell apart after she began injecting amphetamines in her teens.
But now, at 21, she is being helped to find her first-ever job.
She’s been on benefits for nearly five years, since leaving school at the of 16, and finding work will be a big step in securing the stable lifestyle she carved out for herself on lockdown, after years of moving between different addresses.
“I left home and went into a foster home in Middleton, then a youth hostel back in Oldham before I was evicted from there – I was at each for a couple of months,” Jessica said, looking back on her teenage years.
“I was using drugs all the time, amphetamines, but I was injecting it.
“Then I lived with my grandma for a few months, but got evicted from there too.
"I got evicted for having a drink and getting complaints.
“I did it to cope, I think I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I was in touch with my family and didn’t think they knew [about the drug use], but they did.
"I used to go missing for days at a time.”
At 17 Jessica fell pregnant, but had a miscarriage before she reached full term.
“I was totally on my own, of course I was upset,” she said.
"It happened when I’d moved into another hostel, like temporary accommodation.
"I don’t know what caused it, I didn’t ask the doctors, but I just got on with it.”
Jess secured her first flat in February 2018, but her addiction meant she couldn’t cope with the responsibility.
She said: “It was just a drug den, it was awful.”
She finally managed to give up drugs just before the country went into lockdown.
“I literally just woke up and thought I just don’t want to be like this anymore," said Jess.
“I went completely cold turkey the whole time.
"I did it all on my own, kept myself to myself, no doctors.
"That was 14 months ago.”
In August 2020, Jess got a new flat, which she loves.
“It’s lovely, it’s really nice,” she said.
"I just threw all my old stuff out, started again.
"I’ve even got a new bed, new sheets, everything.
"With my mum and grandma’s help I got it all finished by Christmas 2020.”
A couple of months ago, through her local JobCentre in Oldham, Jessica was assigned a new work coach, Nichole.
Nichole has helped Jessica to create her CV and start sending off job applications for the first time.
Jessica is also set to begin English and Maths courses to help her gain some qualifications.
“I didn’t have anything to put on my CV after I left school, but Nichole is dead helpful, she’s lovely. She talks to me like a friend and I don’t think she looks down on me, like the other work coaches I’ve had did,” Jessica said.
“I left school at 16 with no formal qualifications whatsoever, and have never worked or taken part in any work experience.
"Since working with Nichole for the past couple of months, I have been applying for jobs, looking at courses and trying to better myself.
“Nichole has helped me every step of the way.
"I now have a laptop and a CV, which has lifted barriers which were stopping me from being able to look and apply for work.
“If it wasn’t for the time Nichole has put in to helping me and motivating me, I don’t think I’d be where I am now.
"I have a new sense of self achievement and I know now I can do whatever I set my mind to.
"All I needed was a chance and Nichole gave me one. I am so thankful for people like her.”
The government’s Department for Work and Pensions recently pushed to employ 13,000 new work coaches across the country – 10,000 of which have already been employed.
These include specialist job coaches, of which Jess’ work coach Nichole is one.
These work coaches have been specially trained to support young jobseekers like Jess who are facing ‘significant barriers’ to get on the first rung of the jobs ladder.
The plan is for young adults to get six-month intensive employment support packages and work closely with these specialist coaches to get their first jobs.
Minister for Employment Mims Davies said: “Many young people just need a chance to show what they’re capable of, but a lack of qualifications and experience can make it tough to get started.
“These Youth Employability Work Coaches are vitally helping young people – setting them on track for a successful future.
"Our Plan for Jobs is getting people of all ages back into work as we push to build back better.”
Adam Sharp, work coach team leader at Oldham JobCentre, said: “Thanks to the recruitment of our new Youth Employability Coaches, we will be able to provide that intensive support to our vulnerable young people who need it most.
“No matter how complex the need, or significant the barrier, the Youth Employability Coaches will strive to support our most vulnerable, supporting them on every step of their journey into employment.”
If you or someone you know could benefit from this kind of support, contact your local JobCentre to ask about specialist work coach help.
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