Young mums’ support group aiming for brighter future

Robyn and Cortana have their sights set on a happy

Robyn and Cortana have their sights set on a happy

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THE cupcakes are piled high, pretty pastel coloured icing sitting in swirls on top of delicate sponges made just hours earlier by proud mum Robyn Connolly.

She’s stacked them on cake stands, carefully arranging chocolate icing alongside vanilla, pink buttery toppings alongside delicate green.

Lesley learns new skills while LJ can enjoy play time

Lesley learns new skills while LJ can enjoy play time

One day she’d like to run her own business selling her cupcakes. But right now, Robyn says with a dazzling smile, it’s enough to simply get out of the house to buy the ingredients.

For just a few months ago, walking through the door of her Fernieside Drive flat was simply too overwhelming to contemplate. And the notion that one day she’d be handing out her homemade cupcakes, considering using any money she might make from them as a launchpad to a career in occupational therapy, all that was the stuff of day dreams.

“I couldn’t go out the house,” she explains, recalling dark days of depression as she struggled to cope alone with her fractious baby daughter in a miserable flat in Wester Hailes.

“I had a breakdown, I couldn’t cope. I was sleep deprived and everything got on top of me.

“Coming here,” she adds, glancing around the airy common room at Goodtress Neighbourhood Centre in the shadow of Castleview high-rise flats, “gave me back a reason to go out of the house”.

Robyn, 25, is among a group of young mothers, mostly single, some from desperate and challenging backgrounds, others simply overwhelmed by the demands of parenthood, who have come together in a ground-breaking support and learning group which aims to free them from the benefits and childcare trap and ease them into further education and work.

From the hub of the small community centre in Craigour, they are using skills developed through the award-winning Sassy Mums project to pass on vital support to the next generation of lonely and stressed out young mums.

Yesterday they launched a revamped website, poster and leaflet campaign to encourage more young women like Robyn to seek out support and guidance – from health matters to parenting – and to make use of learning facilities to boost their confidence, self-esteem and job prospects.

Community learning development worker Heather Muchamore says the group has been invaluable in helping isolated young women claw their way from a hopeless benefits trap back into the workplace or simply gain vital support from their peers.

“Some of the girls involved have gone on to college,” she says. “All have improved their communication skills. They are all developing a lot of different skills. In Robyn’s case, she has had problems with stress and worry about whether she could leave the house or not. Now she is making her cupcakes and is talking about starting a business.

“The girls come from all kinds of situations,” she adds. “Some have left education early and didn’t get any qualifications, some of them have been in tje care system, some had drug problems in the past.

“Also, what affects a lot of young single mums are things like lack of family support, lack of facilities. They find it hard to get experience or information about working without access to childcare.

“It’s different because this is a learning group as well as a support group. The young women aren’t just sitting around talking about housing problems – although that’s important too – but they learn and that alone brings them new opportunities.”

Robyn’s prospects had seemed bright when she left Drummond High School with a clutch of Highers. “I left home when I was 19. I suppose I wanted my independence,” she recalls. “But I ended up homeless.

“I ended up in homeless accommodation in Wester Hailes. I didn’t know anyone, I was isolated and it was scary. I was unemployed, I fell pregnant and I couldn’t cope.”

Cortana was born four years ago, and although Robyn remains with her baby’s father, Brian Wilson, 28, she found herself struggling to cope with post-natal depression and suffered a breakdown.

When the family moved to Fernieside Drive in Craigour, Robyn struggled to make friends, until she found out about the group by chance. There she was encouraged to follow her long gone hopes of going to university and has now completed an access to nursing course at Jewel & Esk College, a platform towards eventually studying nursing which she hopes to help fund through the sale of her cakes.

“Having Cortana made me think I wanted to set a good example to her,” says Robyn.

For fellow young mum Sammie McEwen, 25, the idea that one day she’d be helping develop a website and offer words of support to other women like her had also seemed unthinkable.

As a teenager she was placed in council care, got pregnant at 17 years old, lost a baby at five and a half months and careered out of control as she wrestled with her grief.

Yet today she sits in the centre’s well-equipped computer suite, the PC screens locked on the homepage of www.sas-symums.co.uk, the website she helped set up to help other young mums.

“I got a bit rebellious,” she explains. “But I always wanted to be a mum. And a fitness instructor.”

Her home is a cramped two-bedroom high-rise Castleview flat with her four children, two of the youngest, Connor, 18 months, and Leland, six months, share her bedroom while Letisha, eight and Cornell, three, use the other. But Sammie says the project’s support is giving her hope that she can achieve her dream of one day becoming a fitness instructor.

“People look at single mums like me and they don’t understand how hard it is,” she says. “You’re stuck in the house, you’ve no money. It’s hard.

“I came here to get support and a boost to my confidence. I’m not good at understanding long words and I felt I had to shy away and not ask for help. But now I’ve got that confidence, I’ve been working on the website and doing things I’d never have otherwise done.”

The group meets once a week when the children are looked after at a free creche, enabling the young mums time to learn new skills, discuss problems and support each other.

“The group have become fully active learners, having shaped the direction and identity of their group and reached out to other young women, which they plan to extend,” adds Heather. “They have challenged themselves.”

Among them is Lesley Ruddy, 21, who travels to the centre from her home in Duddingston so son LJ Maloney, two, can enjoy playtime while she meets other mums and hones IT skills.

“Coming here has made a huge difference to me,” she says. “I can get out of the house and do something productive. I’d love to get a job but it’s not that easy when you have a kid. I don’t want to be on benefits all my life – I’d rather the council wasn’t having to pay my rent but there aren’t any jobs.”

And for another, the group has provided vital sanctuary and hope after a turbulent and frightening chapter.

Aisha Small, 26, had spent almost all her life in care in Essex while her violent mother self-destructed on drugs.

She worked hard and got childcare qualifications only to plunge into an abusive relationship.

She fled to Edinburgh in December with son JJ, three, only to discover she was pregnant. One abortion later, she lives in a Castleview high-rise flat, jobless, single, trapped by childcare problems and a dearth of suitable jobs.

“It’s not true that single mums don’t want to work,” she insists. “I’ll do anything. I want to do something with my life rather than just sit at home looking at the walls.

“So I come here and it’s been great to get to know people. Maybe now things will start to get better.”

• For more information about Sassy Mums, go to www.sas-symums.co.uk