Monthly Archives: November 2011

A NEET statistic


Frances is not happy when we get down to the main campus. There is some controversy about the car seat and how it slots into the buggy. It gets sorted though and we head off to find Fiona [not her real name].

As we are waiting – Mia is still asleep – I ask France about her career choice. She wants to re-do her GCSEs so we can study for Level 2 Beauty Therapy. She wants to eventually study spa therapy and, she says, own her own spa.“Have you been in a spa, seen what it’s like?” I ask.

“No, but I can imagine it’s very relaxing. Must be a nice job.”

We don’t have to wait long before Fiona is showing us to a pleasant enough interview room. She is very good at her job. She asks questions, listens to the responses and makes notes on carbonless paper but, unlike John at the last place, isn’t able to read between the lines. She’s younger, more professional (corporate even), but lacks the experience to know there is more to this young person than the answers she is giving to these standard questions.

Turns out there is a strong possibility there’ll be a beauty therapy course starting in January at a satellite campus on Frances’ side of town. She could do English and Maths alongside it.

“Can I apply?” she asks.

“I can put you forward,” says Fiona, “there isn’t an application as such. But if it’s running, I’m pretty sure you will get on.”

“So, I don’t need to fill in anything?” This seems too easy.

“You’re in the NEET category – not in education, employment or training – which means there are targeted opportunities for you,” explains Fiona.

Fiona has it all covered. It takes less than 15 minutes. Frances signs the carbonless form and is given a copy. Outside I explain NEET again to Frances: she’s a statistic and if she gets on the course she’ll still be a statistic but a positive one.

Mia is still asleep as we leave the college.

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College options

Today Frances is off to get some advice. She was knocked back the other week when she called the local further education college and the receptionist told her she couldn’t re-sit her GCSEs because ‘she would fail’.

Her ‘family nurse’, Jane, has set up a meeting with an educational project on the other side of town run, ironically, by outreach teachers from the same college. I had offered to drive them but Hassan’s car is now working so I’m to meet them there.

‘I think im here but dont no are you here’ says her text as I approach the community centre where the project is based. I pull over and call. They are in the wrong place – at the main college campus a mile or so down the road – and an argument is brewing between them. “Wait there,” I say. “I’ll come and find you.”

The argument is still going on when I get to them. “I’ve had it,” says Frances. “I’m ready to go home.” Mia is fast asleep in her car seat. I say hello to Hassan and suggest I take Frances in my car and let him follow. Time to cool down. We get to the right place only ten minutes late, not that it matters because it seems we aren’t expected.

We’re quickly directed to the right floor and sit down on comfy chairs with John, who, although he hasn’t had a referral sheet and (I think) has never heard of Jane, does his level best to help.

Do these professionals realise just how important these 10-minute consultations really are? Thankfully John gets it. He asks Frances about childcare (which she will need because Hassan is trying to get back to college too); he’s clearly peeved she has been given bad advice; invites her to come next week and sit an initial assessment and understands that their programme might not be the most convenient (9.15am start, three days a week).

“Give me five minutes,” he says, “let me see if I can ask one of the advisors on the main campus to see you and give you some more options.”

Frances isn’t sure.“What’s wrong?” I ask her. “It sounds like a good idea.”

“I don’t like the crowds,” she says, “all those people.”

John and I try to reassure her and he goes back into the office to make a call. “Right, all sorted,” he says on his return. “Just go down to the main reception and ask for Fiona.” So we make our way back to the cars – Mia is still asleep – and head back down the road to where we met up half an hour ago.

[to be continued…]

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Fairy Godmother

I’ve written before about how much Jane – Frances’ ‘family nurse’ – gets through in one of her visits. Yes, there is mother and baby’s wellbeing to think about, but her input goes way beyond the medical. Already Jane has advocated for Frances by challenging the support staff downstairs about the damp in the flat. She then gets on to the hospital and speaks to the nurses looking after Frances’ mum reminding them that Frances, as principal carer, is to be invited to the case meetings to discuss her mum’s after care.

Now, with mug of tea in hand, she is talking to both Frances and Hassan about their ‘dream sheets’. Marvellous.

“What do you want to be doing in three years time? Who will be important in your life? What job will you have? How many children will have?” she asks, reading off the sheet.

“I want to be in college,” says Frances.

“Good,” says Jane.

Frances tells of the brush-off she’s had at the local college. “They told me I can’t re-do my GCSEs because I’ll fail and it’ll be a waste of money.”

Jane is incensed. “Who told you that? The receptionist? That’s unbelievable.” Life chances shattered in a two-minute conversation.

“I want to do my GCSEs so I can go on and do other courses afterwards.”

Jane recalls a special project on the other side of town, an educational programme designed for young people who, for lots of reasons, are unwilling or unable to continue studying at school. And this is what I like about Jane. Within minutes she is making an appointment for Frances to see them next week, to discuss her options. She’s like a fairy godmother.

“How would you get there?” Jane asks. Hassan has a car but it’s off the road just now.

“I can take you,” I offer. At least then I can record another small step, another part of the journey.

That sorted, Jane turns to Hassan. “What do  you want to be doing in three years? Do you think you will have a job in three years?”

“He wants to be a trainee bus driver,” says Frances, on his behalf.

“The Metrolink are looking to train drivers for their new line to Droylsden and Oldham… you should look on their website.” Hassan says he will. “Are you happy for Frances to fill it in for you?” asks Jane, holding up his dream sheet. “Aim high. Both of you.”

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Mia in hospital

Frances’ text reads:

mia has been in hosp with bronchilitus on wednesday til sat

What!? I had no idea. I text back and say I’ll be over in a couple of hours. So now I am being let into Dunbar Street by Frances who I gently berate for not telling me sooner.

“I would have come to the hospital,” I say, thinking less of Mia’s health but more of the missed photo opportunities. I am, after all, supposed to be documenting the ups and the downs.

“It wasn’t really on our minds,” says Frances.

“I know, I’m only kidding. How is she now?”

“Better,” she says, opening the door to her flat. “Jane’s here.”

In the living room Frances sits back down on one of the sofas next to Jane, the family nurse. Hassan is feeding Mia on the other sofa, listening partly to the consultation and partly to the TV that is still on across the room.

They were worried last week, and took Mia for an emergency appointment with their local GP who immediately referred them to hospital. Four days and three nights. Hassan stayed over two of the nights and Frances the other one. Hassan shows me pictures on his phone of Mia with her head in an oxygen goldfish bowl-type thing. “You must have been worried?”

“Yes,” he says.

Jane is congratulating them. “They did all the right things,” she says. “Bronchitis is very common at this age but very scary for mummies and daddies.”

“The boiler still isn’t working properly and there is damp on some of the walls,” Frances is telling Jane.


Dunbar Street is run by the local authority and is dedicated, supported accommodation for young mums. Jane is quite rightly concerned that the conditions here are not up to scratch and might actually have contributed to Mia’s recent illness. She tours the other room where Frances shows her damp patches on the ceilings and on the carpet in the smaller bedroom. Unimpressed, Jane goes down to the office with Frances to discuss the damp with the staff.

Hassan’s mobile rings. He tries to get up from the sofa but has Mia across his lap. I offer to hold her so he can take his call. It’s about his car which is being repaired. I put Mia on my shoulder and soon find myself regressing, humming that tune in her ear that all our kids would recognise. I push the thought of me as a grandad out of my mind as quickly as it comes in.

[to be continued…]

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College application

Frances writes:

mia has a chest infection also my mum has been to have more of her foot wots left of it amputated because of the infection apart and my money didnt come through today so i have to call tomorrow and i have filled my college aplication off i wanted to re sit my gcse`s but the college said i cant because im likly to fail so im aplying for introduction to hair and beauty also health and socail and horse care hopefully i will be able to do them they are all level one because thats all i can do with no gcse`s but then i can move to a higher level after a year i would like to become a spa therapist but i have to start with beauty therapy first and i love kids and animals so i will c were that takes me. apart from that we are well and planning for christmas and how will be joining us at christmas.

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“It’s a bit scary”

Hassan and Mia are still in bed. “Don’t get up,” I call as I put my bags down in the living room. “I want to photograph you in bed.” Frances laughs.

I cheat  and open the curtain a little. Mia ignores the parental cooing and looks straight into my lens. She’s not two months old but I’m convinced she knows what I’m doing. “Do you want a drink?” offers Frances after half a dozen frames.

We leave dad and baby in bed and stand in the kitchenette where we exchange stories of domestic grief. Their boiler is still on the blink and despite a visit from an engineer they only have tepid water. “And yesterday we had no electricity for over two hours as the meter key didn’t work and I was on the phone trying to get it sorted.” I tell of water dripping from the ceiling, burst central heating pipes and late night floorboard upheaval.

Chit-chat over, I ask how she is. “I’m okay,” she says. “Still a bit… I don’t know… it’s a bit scary.”

“What’s scary?”

“Like, when she cries. Like, last night she was screaming. She didn’t want a bottle, didn’t need her nappy changing. I didn’t have a clue what was wrong with her. I just had to nurse her to sleep and I don’t want to get into that habit.”

I think about the support we had when our children were babies. Two grandmothers to consult, a row of baby books on the shelf, friends and family to refer to. Frances has some of this and, of course, she has regular visits from Jane, from the Family Nurse Partnership, but I know she feels a bit isolated here in Wythenshawe. She has friends and family back in Moss Side.

I ask about her mum. “It’s gone bad now,” she says. “She can’t even get out of bed. She can’t walk, she can’t get down the stairs. She rang me the other day because the pharmacy had dropped off medication but she couldn’t get down the stairs to get it. I wasn’t around so I had to ring my sister.”

“Hasn’t she got a neighbour who can help?”

“There is neighbours but we don’t speak to them.”

It’s all quiet next door, not a sound from the bedroom. We both creep in. Mia has dropped back off to sleep and Hassan is asleep next to her. Two frames and then out again.

It’s unusual for me to have Frances to myself and I make the most of it, asking how her life has changed over the last twelve months. “So what would you be doing this time last year?”

“I’d be at school,” she says. “Or, I might not have been at school. Sometimes I’d go for a day; sometimes I’d go for a week; sometimes I wouldn’t go for six months.” Frances got grade E in English in the end of year GCSEs.

“How would you say your relationship has been with your mum?”

“It’s got better as I’ve got older. From Year 7 to Year 11 it’s got slowly better.”

“And how has it been since she’s been poorly?”

“We’re very close.”

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