Posted 17 February 2020
Jemma lives in Linlithgow with her 8-year-old son Archie and when not trying to juggle childcare, housework and writing, works part-time as a web editor for the University of Edinburgh. Jemma won Gingerbread’s ‘One in...
Posted 14 December 2018
At Gingerbread, we’re really proud to have been empowering single parents to lead secure, happy and fulfilling lives for one hundred years. As we celebrate our Centenary Year, former single parent Sue writes about the ways joining the Gingerbread community changed her life.
In September this year, my husband and I found ourselves standing on a beach in Tenby, Southwest Wales, where we had last stood forty years before. Back then, we had no idea how it was going to change our lives.
It was September 1978 when a friend and I, both single mums with small children, took what was known then as ‘Gingerbread Holiday’. In those days, some caravan parks in the UK offered special rates on holidays for single parents at the beginning of September, and after much discussion about whether we could cope with three young children and the long drive to Kiln Farm Holiday Park, we decided to go for it.
On our first full day there, I met Bryn. His first wife had passed away a few months earlier, and friends had persuaded him to join them on their holiday bus trip to Tenby. As a born organiser, he immediately took on the role of Entertainments Manager and after running the bingo on the journey there, he was sorting out the beach games.
There was an immediate spark, and we arranged to meet in the bar later that evening. It was love at first sight! The hardest thing was parting at the end of the week – me to go home to Bletchley and Bryn to go back to Nottingham.
It was difficult to be apart and each weekend, either I would make the trip north with my sons, Martin and Stuart, aged seven and four, or Bryn would come down to Bletchley with six year old Charlotte. In the days before the internet and mobile phones, the weekly separations were unbearable, and on the 1st January 1979, we drove up to Nottingham to start our new life together.
Most of our friends and family were horrified that we had made such a major decision after knowing each other for such a short while and secretly said it would never last. However, we have proved them wrong and next year, we will celebrate our Ruby Wedding Anniversary.
Life has not always been easy. When we first met, we were all struggling to cope with the upheavals in our lives. Charlotte had lost her mum, and Martin and Stuart were feeling abandoned by their dad. The children all had to get used to have a stranger as part of their lives.
When I moved to Nottingham, it was into Bryn’s house and I was very uncomfortable living in a home made by another woman. I felt that we needed a fresh start in a new area and fortunately Bryn agreed, so three months later we moved to Wollaton, a suburb of Nottingham. The children went to the local school and I settled down to life in a new town. Three years later, our son Tim was born, making our family complete. The move to Wollaton was a good one, and Bryn and I still live in the same house. The local schools were good, and the children all did well.
I had always felt that my own education had been cut short, as my parents had no expectations of a girl having a career and I left school at sixteen. However, when I announced to Bryn that I wanted to go to college to gain the qualifications to apply to university he readily agreed and a year later, at the age of forty-two, I started an English degree at the University of Nottingham. It was three of the best and most fulfilling years of my life and I finally felt that I had achieved what I was capable of.
I wanted to go on and support young people with their career aims, so a year after getting my degree, I returned to university to study for my careers adviser qualifications. Until my retirement, three years ago, I worked as a full-time careers adviser, helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their career goals.
Bringing two young families together is not easy, and I am pretty sure that we got as many things wrong as right. However, I am very proud of what we and our children have achieved. Martin and Stuart both went on to take science degrees followed by PhDs, and have good careers in the UK and America. After twenty years as a paramedic, Charlotte left the NHS and now has a new and successful career as a sales executive for a house builder, while Tim is an actor, teacher and film maker. They are all married, and we have four wonderful grandchildren.
The holiday in Tenby changed five lives, and in many ways, gave us all opportunities that we might never have had. I may have gone on to marry someone else and had other children and grandchildren, but life has been good to me and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Without Gingerbread, I wouldn’t have met my soul-mate, who has given me so many happy years. So, thank you Gingerbread, and congratulations on reaching your centenary. I hope you will be around to carry on the wonderful work you do for many years more.
If you’d like to meet other single parents and share your experiences, why not join a Gingerbread group? Run by single parent and practitioner volunteers, they’re a space for single parents to support each other and share the highs and lows of parenting, or just to have a cup of tea and chat while your children play. Find out more about how you can get involved.