I had hoped to visit Frances at home whilst she was still pregnant. It didn’t happen and so today is the first time I have been to her family home in a Moss Side cul-de-sac. ‘Please don’t let it be the house with the two Rottweilers,’ I say to myself as I cycle up, counting down the house numbers.
Thankfully Hassan comes into the front garden and removes the dogs, still barking, into a back room. “Bring your bike inside,” he says. I see Frances’ mum is in the corridor briefly and then she’s gone. Hassan leads me into the sitting room where he has just finished changing Mia. Frances comes in with a warmed bottle of milk and says hello. In the corner the presenters on an antiques show are talking about a find of old postcards but no one is taking any notice.
I need to sit Frances down and talk to her, and Hassan, about my project idea. I first photographed and interviewed Frances for a book about a youth mentoring project she had attended. Then she talked about the difficulties surrounding her childhood and the reasons why she’d lost touch with the Reclaim Project. With problems at home and little sympathy at school, she wasn’t having a great time, although she remained optimistic and was always engaging.
When I spoke with Frances on the phone last week she was keen on the idea of a documentary project but, until now, I haven’t been able to fully explain how it might develop. I’m still not sure myself but I talk about writing a blog; about it being a personal project and why I’m interested. It could last a few months, it could carry on for the first year… we’d have to see.
The tape recorder is on now, (“…so I don’t have to write anything down…”), and I ask how they met.
“We’ve known each other since I was about 13. We met… round the corner,” Frances laughs. “I used to hang with some friends and he was with a bunch of older ones… when I got older we got to know each other a bit better… and it grew from that.”
“When she turned 16,” says Hassan. “I said to her, ‘Let’s start a new life. Now you are 16, you are allowed to go anywhere with me’. And first, God gave us this… a lovely daughter.”
On Monday, Frances is moving to a supported housing scheme for single mothers, seven miles away in Wythenshawe, an overspill estate on the edge of the city boundary. She has an option to stay for up to two years but there’s no obligation.
“So, Frances, why don’t you stay here?” This house has been her home for the last 14 years. As far as I’m aware, only one of her six siblings still lives here. There would be room.
“Because Social Services won’t let me.”
“Because of the dogs,” says Hassan.
“Because social services would prefer me to move out,” continues Frances. “They think what happened between me and my mum is going to happen again. But they know I’ll be okay on my own.”
I know some of the family history from the previous interview, but decide not to ask for a clarification. How far do I go with this?
“I’ve made her happy,” Hassan is saying, “She asked for one baby and she’s got it.”
“I’ve always wanted one,” says Frances. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to have kids as I got older. Sometimes you can randomly not be able to have kids and I was scared that might happen to me. I’d always wanted one.”
“I was 13 when I first started thinking about having my own kids,” says Hassan.
“How old are you now,” I ask.
And after the supported housing? She and Hassan have their names on the housing list. “We’re taking it slowly because everything has gone so fast until now. I got pregnant not long after my 16th birthday.” Turns out Frances is two weeks older than my own daughter.
“You’ve got a daughter!”
“Yes, she’s 16 as well.”
“Really? Wow, check that one out.”