Brett Green and Chelsea Stevens were the very first customers to use the new Housing Plus service and have found it invaluable.
Brett moved to Spain with his family in 2005 and quickly found work in the building trade. He met and set up home with girlfriend Chelsea Stevens whose family had made Spain their home in 2003.
However, the global economic slow down began to bite, work dried up and Brett found himself out of work. Their son Kaiden was born in September 2008 and the couple began plunging into debt.
Brett’s family had returned to the UK and set up home in Ashford and by February 2009 the couple realised they had no option but to return to the UK.
Brett (23) explains the stark reality of coming back to Ashford, “We knew nothing and almost no-one. My family were hard working people with all my brother and sisters in the armed forces.
“We’re not spongers. We have both always worked and had no intention living off the state so my Mum and Dad helped us find a house to rent to get us started, standing as guarantors, finding the deposit and even paying a month’s rent in advance.
“I found the jobcentre and went to ask what I should do – it was the worst day of my life, I’ve always been in work and felt completely worthless.
The couple had no idea what they could and couldn’t claim and were not sure where to start.
Brett explains, “There were so many different organisations doing different things it looked like we would be pushed from pillar to post. And to make things worse we didn’t have Internet access or a car.
“But my Dad told me about the Ashford Gateway where he thought we might be able to get some advice.
“We went along and told them our circumstances. They explained there was a new service called Housing Plus and made us an appointment to see an adviser.”
At the Gateway they met Colin Green, project co-ordinator and employment adviser and explained their circumstances and were impressed to discover Housing Plus could offer help and advice on most of their problems.
Colin was able to make a referral to a newly launched benefit advice service which has proved vital in resolving child -related benefit problems resulting from their child being born outside the UK. This has seen the couple receive backdated claims.
He showed the couple how to access the free Internet facilities at the Gateway which Brett now uses most days to look for work.
Colin also referred the couple to the Next Step careers advice service where they were given help to create new CVs.
Colin was also able to assist Brett to update his driving licence enabling him to look for driving work.
Brett was amazed how much help they received so quickly. “It’s brilliant.”
Housing Plus can also help address other issues including social isolation and child care.
Chelsea (18) felt isolated and was worried Kaiden had no other children to interact with as they had no friends in Ashford.
Colin was able to refer the family to a Sure Start children’s centre just a few minutes walk from their home.
Chelsea said, “It’s made such a difference to our lives to have somewhere to go where Kaiden can meet other children and where I can begin to find friends.”
Chelsea added, “I don’t know where we would have found all this information if it hadn’t have been for Housing Plus.”
“It seems like they have made sure they are in contact with all the local organisations a person might need and have found out how they can help you.
They look at the whole picture not just say, benefits, or job seeking and if Housing Plus can’t help you directly if seems they always know someone who can.
“We can’t thank them enough for all their help.