Somerset Children in Care, Voice of the child awards 'Inspirational talk' 

I was asked to tell my life story to a room of teenagers in care and young care leavers. This was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but also one of the most rewarding. I have decided to share my talk with you. My wish is that you find hope in it and that also, perhaps, should the opportunity arise, you too will use your stories to inspire the stories of others.

Ange x 

Voice of The Child Awards Talk 

If you’d have told me at the age of 14, when I was in care, that one day, Somerset Child Care would be asking me to give an inspirational talk to you guys I’d have sparked up a spliff and laughed in their faces… 

You see, my future was already penned. I was going to go into a half-way house then eventually get a little flat off the council.

I’d claim job seekers and sell a bit of weed on the side.

I’d have a few mates, but only because they were using me.

I’d have another kid on the way. I’d probably not know the father.

That was societies portrait of me… somewhere between Vicky Pollard and Kerry Mucklowe… that was my future…. That was my story….

I don’t want to dwell too much on the negatives; life, for me, as a care leaver has turned out better than I would have ever imagined.

The point I want to make to you today is not that I’m a big deal, if you’re not into folk music then the things that I’ve achieved in life may not mean that much to you. 

The point I want to make standing here tonight is that as a care leaver, with no GCSE’s, who thought she had no future… that despite the lows – which were very low – I’m still standing shoulder to shoulder with all the other folk musicians who are chasing the same dreams. 

The point I want to make is that there is ALWAYS HOPE.

All those other people have their own stories; but very few of them had the start in life that we’ve had. That hasn’t stopped me from standing alongside them as an equal.

My story is my own, but the threads will be shared by so many of you.

My father was an alcoholic wife beater who left us all to stuggle. Then a man was introduced into my life who was far worse. Our family, already broken, was torn apart by the tragic death of my brother at the age of 15. I was 11 years old. Stevie was in care when he died. It wasn’t long before I was in the care system and fighting against everyone and everything. 

It wasn’t all bad. I'd had a few hard but wonderful early years when it was just me, my mum and my brothers. There were foster parents that tried, and case workers that did their best. But when I was your age I was just on survival mode.

At 14 years old I ended up running away from Trull Road childrens home and hitchhiking to Ireland. 

The four months that I slept in shop doorways and parks weren’t easy. I’ll tell you a bit more about that experience later. 

When I returned from Ireland I found myself in a women’s refuge in Exeter. At that point in my life I felt entirely alone. I had no one, and nothing. I was counting loose change to try and scrape together enough money to buy loo roll and rizla.

The limited family relationships I had were still strained. I wanted to deal with the past head on. Others in my family wanted to try and forget about it. My surviving brother remembered everything differently to me.

Years of feeling like I’d been rejected by everyone and everything had left me with no self-confidence, I had no belief I could ever be anything. 

I looked for relationships in the wrong places. I tried to find a father figure in the boyfriends I chose. I met the wrong man. I fell in with the wrong crowd. Life after care for me was full of rejection. Life after care was full of drug abuse. Life after care wasn’t really much of a life at all.

4 years after leaving care I had my daughter, with a man who was old enough to be my dad.

She was the start of realising I had something to live for… but I still didn’t think my life was worth anything. 

I existed for my daughter, because I hoped that through her my story would lead to a happier story. 

But I didn’t believe my own story could be happy. I’d written myself off. 

I was battling anorexia, agoraphobia, depression. These are real battles. They’re not easy. Life can be tough. 

For the first 25 years my life had been so hard, and as far as I was concerned it would always be hard. That was my story. 

That was who I was going to be.

Life was going to be shit.

But that story changed, and it’s still changing.

To give my daughter a better life – to improve her story – I left Exeter and moved back to Taunton on my own. My daughter deserved better than a home with fleas. She deserved better than to live in a home where no one went to work. Where the threat of violence was always hanging over us.

Those years were just about me trying to be the best mum that I could. 

Because I had to end the cycle. I was still on survival mode. I just had to get through life. 

But then, in the evenings after Amy went to bed, I had all the time in the world. I’d sit on the steps of my council house with a guitar, and I’d sing and I’d write songs… and something began to wake up inside me.

Very, very slowly. The idea that maybe, one day, I wouldn’t just be on survival mode started to grow. That idea one day, life might not be quite so hard…

We all have gifts. All of us. Every single person in this room. Some of you have started to learn what those gifts are. Some of you still have the joy ahead of finding out.                          

My gift was music… and a stubborn determination to succeed. Music was my counsellor. Music got me through. When I couldn’t cope with something, I wrote a song. When I needed to deal with something, I wrote a song.  When I needed to tell someone something, I wrote a song.

Those songs were for me… but my dream was to be a real musician.

Looking around this room, it’s amazing to think how many dreams there are in here. How many beautiful and world changing things could be starting right now, in this room?

I’m a care leaver. I had no GCSE’s. No self-belief. I honestly didn’t believe my life could ever lead anywhere. I could dabble in music, I could be an amateur, but I’d never really achieve anything.

I couldn’t be a real musician because I wasn’t really a real person. It was so easy to write myself off as a reject. 

But our stories can and do change.

That was the dream. To write and sing songs. To get paid for it? To make a living from it? That was beyond the dream.

Things didn’t change overnight, but eventually that self-belief started to grow. The more I surrounded myself with good people, people who encouraged me. Inspired me. Believed in me. People like my husband who wanted me to succeed, who saw that I clung onto the belief that my life would always be hard and challenged it. Good people who said “you can be more”. Good people who said “your life doesn’t have to be hard”. 

Surrounding myself with those people, and leaving behind the people and habits that held me down, was the beginning of the next chapter.

I kept myself busy, I always worked. I always filled my time with trying to make the lives of the people around me a little bit better… and they filled their time trying to make my life a little bit better…

And now? I’m the director of my own record label (and the majority shareholder in a web design company too!).

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a folk musician. No one’s in folk music for the money. But I’m living my dream. 

I’ve sung my songs live in session on BBC Radio 2 to over a million listeners.

I’ve performed countless sessions live on BBC Radio 3; most recently I was asked to represent Female Composers on their Drive Time show for International Women’s day. 

Me. Chosen by BBC Radio 3, out of all the female singer songwriters in the country, to represent ‘female composers’.  

I’ve had music on BBC One, and been interviewed for national telly. Last month, I was even on Sky TV! 

I’ve recorded 84 tracks in professional recording studio’s spanning 6 studio albums.

I’ve had five-star reviews in national newspapers.

I’ve even been funded by the National Lottery.

No one else made this happen. I’m not being swept along in the wave of some huge record label… I’m making this work for myself.

I’m making these things happen… because if you want something, and you work for that thing, and you’re willing to graft and wait and graft and wait and graft and wait…. you can make that thing happen.

You have to take the rejection, learn from it, and try again. You have to take the life experiences, learn from them, apply them, and try again.

It’s the only way we can reconcile the world. We have to take the bad. Take all the crap, and find some good in it.

Always moving forwards. And the only person that can do that… is you. No one can do that for you. You have to want it. You have to take control of it. And you can.

I’ve sung to a room with Glastonbury Festival’s Michael Eavis sitting in the front row. A man who gets to sit and listen to the greatest live acts in the world… sitting 6 feet in front of me listening to me singing my songs.

When I was sleeping rough in Ireland, when I was so low that having my cardboard stolen – my CARDBOARD – would reduce me to tears… when I was in that place where I would wake up in the morning and have to spend the day coping with the realisation that I’d been pissed on by strangers during the night while I slept…

would I ever have believed that I’d one day tour around the country in a tour van, singing my songs to rooms full of people who wanted to hear them. When I had no one, would I ever have believed I’d one day have friends that include Britain’s Got Talent finalists and Mercury Prize nominees?

I’ve been nominated for BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards… if you’re a folk musician that’s a really big deal. And it means you get to hang out with people like Matt Berry and Nessa from Gavin and Stacey.

Me. Little old me, with no GCSE’s under my belt because I was too busy surviving.

Jeremy Corbyn – Jeremy bloody Corbyn – rocked up my last album launch and sat through two 45 minute halves of me nervously singing because Jeremy bloody Corbyn was in the audience… and then the next day the tabloids laid into him for being at my gig when he should’ve been worrying about a snap-election….

Me. A care leaver from Somerset who thought she had no future but wanted to be a musician… destabilising the government because the leaders would rather come to hear me sing than worry about politics.

I’ve stood bare footed inside Parliament, inside the House of Commons, and sung Amazing Graze at the top of my lungs at midnight.

When I was in Trull Road, who would have thought that there would be a time when I’d be invited to the House of Commons? Or the Royal Albert Hall?

I was aware of that at the time. I went to the House of Commons with no shoes on because I had no shoes on my feet when I was in Ireland. 

You have to remember your past, you can’t bury it – because it’s only by stopping to occasionally look backwards that you’ll see how far you’ve come.                                                                        

When I was on the streets I had a guitar. I was given it. It’s where it all began. I used to imagine what it would be like to own a really nice guitar. There’s three hanging on my wall. Next to my fiddle, my piano, and my whistles. I’ve spent the whole year bouncing from recording studio to gig… all whilst raising my daughter (who’s now 15!) and my son (who’s just 6). 

Saying all of this out loud it feels unbelievable to think of how far removed my life is from the life that I thought it would be.

Me. A care leaver from Somerset.

I also have a family. I have a new family, my husband, my children, my in-laws… but I’ve also re-built bridges with my own family. My mum, and my brother Richard. 

We’re still building those bridge and repairing those relationships. But they are stronger now than I would have ever believed they could be. 

I had to swallow some pride, and learn to forgive. 

I had to take some responsibility for my own actions. When I ran away from care I was reacting to the scenarios… I was on survival mode… but I still have to take responsibility for the way I acted and re-acted.

Over time my relationship with my mum has grown to the point where she’s now my best friend. 

I’m not saying that life is going to be easy. I’m not saying that everything will be okay. I still don’t have a relationship with my Dad. Nothing will ever make losing a brother any easier. I’m still fighting the demons of my childhood today.

But your story, your journey, your life, can be a glorious and amazing thing.

You can, and will, achieve things you wouldn’t imagine in your wildest dreams.

That achievement has already started. You’re here tonight.

Posted by Ange Hardy on July 21st 2018

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