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Finding my Home

Author: Shalini Abeyratna

You probably wouldn’t think a council flat in the Calton would be top of anybody’s list of favourite places. But it is mine. It’s the place I feel most myself, the place I’m happiest, and the place that recharges me. I’m saying this as someone who was born in England to Sri Lankan parents, and didn’t set foot in Scotland until I was 18, back in 2001. Not typical at all. But sometimes the very best of things come about unexpectedly.

I was made homeless on the 27th of December 2019. My daughter was 19 months old. We’d been living with her father. He ended the relationship and said we had to move out. Any money I had was long gone as I’d been a stay at home mum and given him all my savings. So on the 2nd of January 2020, my friend got a bus with me to the council offices in Easterhouse so I could register us as homeless. This was not my plan. I’m not sure this was anyones plan.

I’d spent that Christmas cooking. That’s what stuck with me as I sat waiting to beg for a home for me and my child. I’d roasted chestnuts to make my own stuffing from scratch. I’d made a cider reduction marinade for a parcel-wrapped turkey. I’d also paid for and wrapped all the presents for his family. I’d done everything I could. But that didn’t matter. I was terrified. He’d shouted at me that I was just going to become a benefits scrounge like my dead mother. Never mind the thousands of her inheritance he’d made me transfer to him, which was the reason I couldn’t get a flat myself now.

My friend, Samantha, took me to the appointment bought me a McDonald’s breakfast afterwards. I didn’t know where I’d end up. I told the lady about how I had no family. But I’d found a group of women in baby groups who supported me and knew my child. I said I didn’t mind walking up to an hour each way, but I just wanted to be able to get to them, wherever I ended up.

Thenue Housing saved me. In my initial appointment there and every encounter I’ve had since, I was treated with respect and dignity. They’ve repeatedly gone above and beyond for me, but this is just their norm. Good quality social housing saves, and also transforms lives.

I got the keys to my new home in the Calton on March 10th 2020. I walked along with Mia and took her to see where we’d live. It was bigger than I remembered from the viewing, which I look back on in a panicked daze, knowing I couldn’t turn it down or I wouldn’t be offered anywhere else.

I’d packed up my possessions but I had no furniture, just white goods I’d luckily paid for and was taking. A lady from my baby group put me in touch with another lady who didn’t know me, but who got me a sofa and armchair people were throwing out. I borrowed money from a friend to get everything moved in.

This was peak lockdown, so the painting party the women in my baby group had planned couldn’t happen. But friends drove us there one night and one was 6 months pregnant stripping wallpaper to help me. Then people volunteered to go in and paint for me. I was amazed by the way these women helped me.

The first night I spent there was after a day building Mia’s bed and shifting boxes. I collapsed onto my donated sofa and switched on my old laptop. I poured myself a mug full from a bottle of wine I’d been given, took a deep breath, and relaxed. I realised that for the first time in my entire life, I was truly safe. I had my own home. We’d be happy here.

This was the start. That council flat in the Calton gave me the strength to be the person I always knew I could be, and the mother my child deserves. Lockdown was brutal for many people. I was living in my flat with no carpets while I waited for someone to be allowed in to fit them. I had no internet for the same reason. I was sleeping on a borrowed air mattress while I tried to save up for a bed. But it was genuinely truly blissful. Because we were happy. We were together. We were safe.

The lady who had helped find me a sofa phoned me to ask if I needed some cabinets. She was helping a friend clear a flat after her mother’s sad passing. She offhandedly remarked there was a bed as well but I’d not need that. I told her I needed the bed too. I arranged a man and van. I’ve never been so grateful for strangers' kindness.

This was also how I realised that a drinks cabinet is a must have feature in any home!

Since that move, as well as a bit of repainting, I’ve been up on ladders, painting the coving in my living room gold. I’ve adorned my flat with beautiful, gifted curtains. I’ve travelled to Glasgow on the bus collecting free plants people were wanting rid of. It’s not how you’d typically think a dream home would be made. But it’s how mine was made. I’ve never been happier. And I’ve got the Calton to thank for it.

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