I had this dream ever since I was 12 years old that by the time I retire, I want to move to Hawaii and build my own house. Yes, I’m going to build my house in Hawaii!

Before I got into my current job I was working in door-to-door sales and for a little while I was working as a clinical technical apprentice in King’s College Hospital. I know from experience that the gap between leaving employment and going onto benefits, and then trying to look for a job whilst being on benefits is crazy. Paying for travel, or even just trying to pay for clothes to get into an interview so that you look the part as well as know what you’re talking about; all of this can be really challenging at times.

When I left care and moved into my new flat, there was a period of about three weeks, when I was all by myself and I had no income whatsoever, not even from benefits. I hadn’t got my Leaving Care Grant (an allowance of up to £2,000 to help young people set up their first home) yet and no savings either. I was just trying to find out how to budget as I had never been taught how to do this properly. Some weeks would be a lot harder than others.

I remember one time when I went out shopping and I had only £10 left in my wallet to last for a week. I was also running low on toiletries, but I also had no more cigarettes. It may seem absurd to some people, but for me it was a quite challenging decision to make at the time. I needed to tell myself “No, you can’t smoke this week; you have to buy something that’s going to last!” I managed to make the right choice and bought what I really needed. I’m happy about that.

Closing the Gap made a huge difference to my life. When I started my current job, there was a period of three weeks where I hadn’t been paid anything. Obviously, I’m expected to get to work, which costs money, and Universal Credit told me “You’re working now, so we don’t have anything to do with you anymore.” That’s where Closing the Gap has really helped me, covering my travel as well as other things like food and clothes.

At a moment where I was feeling alone, for someone to then turn around and actually help me to get employed, and not only help me through the employment process, but then continue to support me with getting to work and making sure that I’m mentally stable and that I don’t lose track of anything is simply amazing. My mind’s there and I haven’t got to worry about anything and can fully concentrate on my work.

For young people, budgeting is very challenging. I have to pay for my rent, my electric, water, my phone bill, council tax, but I also have to buy food and toiletries. If I want to go out I need some money to pay for my travel. I have to get clothes as well.

Travel is a big factor. Getting to and from work seems to be so easy and everyone does it every day, but to be a young person living on your own and having bills to pay, then thinking about how you’re going to get to work the next day is a lot harder for young care leavers than most people might think.

Asking for help is often not an option. What happens a lot is that whilst you’re in care you’re isolated from your family. So, by the time you get to the stage where you’re allowed to leave, you don’t know your family well enough to ask them for help with figuring things out. You feel more comfortable asking your friends, when really, they’re in the same situation as you are.

When I’m older I want to have my own business in multi trade. I want to be able to do brick laying, plastering, electrics, plumbing… I had this dream ever since I was 12 years old that by the time I retire, I want to move to Hawaii and build my own house. Yes, I’m going to build my house in Hawaii!