Friday, 30 September 2016

Supporting former foster kids - The Blackpool Pub Meet

We thought it might be useful to have another look at the Blackpool Pub Meetings as an example of the support structures both needed and wanted by former foster children (and former Children's Home survivors)

Blackpool depends heavily on tourism and conferences to support the local economy. This means that Blackpool has large numbers of hotels and guest houses all competing for employees. Many former foster children seem to end up in this sector - probably because many of the larger employers offer a room as part of the employment package. This gives the young person a base and the opportunity to work and job hunt at the same time.

The regular social gatherings that took place were a lifeline to many young people living away from home for the first time. It wasn't just the meetings it was also the gradual putting together of a social network of familiar names and faces that was important. Some gatherings seem to specialise in overseas workers, some seem to attract the sporting element (mainly lads) and the Blackpool Pub-Meet has been a regular feature of the Care-Kids scene in Blackpool for the last 5 years. November 2016 will be the 61st such gathering!

There wasn't some great master plan behind the Pub Meet. It just seemed to happen. Happily the attendance sheets for every meeting have survived intact and many of the names will be familiar to regular readers of this blog.

As an example the very first meeting had just 7 people present but three of them are still prominent in the former care kids scene five years later. These three were Didi, Charlotte and 38DD. Two other girls lasted for a few months before their circumstances changed and they, separately, left the area and the last two, both lads, only attended three meetings between them.

For the first couple of years the attendance varied between 7 and 17. There was a small group who almost always would turn up, a rather larger "sometimes attend" group and a whole mass of people who would only come once or twice before they would disappear never to be seen or heard from again.

The attendance sheets are quite sad in their own way. All those names and contact details of people that came into our lives for a short time and then left - who knows where? I expect that they are spread all over the world by now. 

Over the last month I (Didi that is) emailed a random selection of 20 of the people on the attendance sheets. It became an "interesting experiment".

6/20 - The email address was no longer recognised and an error message was the only thing I received back.

5/20 - The email appeared to get through but no reply was received.

4/20 - A short reply - a maximum of just 2 or 3 lines - was received. Usually the person was surprised to hear from a voice from their past. Three of the four were living outside the UK, mainly back in their country of birth.

3/20 - A lengthy update of what had been going on in their lives. All three seemed happy enough and offered to stay in touch.

2/20 - Were still in Blackpool, still in the hospitality sector and both said they would come to the next Pub Meet

By any fair measure the Pub Meet was a great success. Many long-term friendships were made and many problems solved via a listening ear.

Eve, Ella and I have made a lot of friends through the Blackpool Pub-meet. In no particular order there was -
  1. Charlotte - Her long-term foster parents live just down the coast and she sees them for Sunday lunch about once a month. She works for a catering company and shares a flat with 38DD.
  2. Dawn P who was adopted after being orphaned. She had a horrid falling out with them in 2009 and her only regular contact with them is a letter at Christmas.
  3. Di from Leeds - she now lives in Preston but decided to keep the same user name. She has been a monthly email correspondent with Ella and I for several years and we speak on the phone every few months.
  4. 38DD is a combination of a saint and a star. Within a week of moving to Blackpool she had three jobs and when most people would have grumbled like mad about living in a caravan until the worker she was replacing worked out his notice she just got on with it. Eventually she found a flat to share with Charlotte and they got married in 2016. 38DD always phones us at the same time, 10:30AM on a Sunday, so if the phone rings then we always know who is calling us.
  5. Northpier1 is something of a “man of mystery”. Didi first met him when she was on a course at the Blackpool and the Fylde College. He seems to have spells of looking affluent with a decent car and smart clothes and spells of riding a bike to work looking distinctly the worse for wear. He claims to have spent two years (15 to 17) in a Children’s Home and there is nothing to suggest that this isn’t true. When Didi and 38DD visited him, unexpectedly, at his bed-sit there were zero family photos on show and this is fairly typical of a young person from the background he claimed to have had.
  6. Northpier2 and Didi met not long after Didi arrived at the seaside. Like Didi she had been fostered so they had lots of things in common. At that stage Northpier2 was working just along the prom from Didi and they used to meet up most days. In June 2011 she moved to a job well south of the south pier rather than north of the north pier so Didi didn't bump into her nearly so often. She then disappeared for a while before unexpectedly emailing Didi from a cyber cafe in Berlin to say she was coming home. 
  7. Spiders Web comes along to a few meetings - it seems to depend on where she is in the relationship cycle with whoever is her current boyfriend!
  8. Wobbly is a long-time friend and work colleague of 38DD. She has a background in finance – via her foster Dad. 

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