I struggled with work so now I help others

Posted 3 October 2017

From redundancy to lack of flexible working, Sacha tells her tale of employment challenges and how it led her to set up a business to help other single parents into work.

Single parent SachaWhen I meet people as the owner and director of my business, they are sometimes shocked when I tell them I’m a single parent. Apparently, I don’t “look like a single mum”.

We can’t just blame it on the ignorance of people that don’t know what it’s like to raise a child alone, as we also seem to put ourselves in a box. When life takes that unexpected turn and we become a single parent, we tend to act like it’s the end of the line and dare I say, sometimes, we begin to see ourselves as a victim, a victim of circumstance, a victim of betrayal, bad luck even.

Once, I saw a lady for a candidate interview to see how I could help her find a job. She didn’t really know how to answer a lot of the questions but when she did, every sentence started with “I can’t” or “It’s impossible” and ended with “because I’m a single parent, I’m on my own”. Even though this woman knew that I was the owner of a company that had been created to help parents find employment, she didn’t consider that I could be a single parent myself. I’m a successful woman with my own company that must have come from a well-to-do supportive family that helped me get to where I am, or gave me the money to start this business. I’m not criticising her at all, far from it, we all make innocent assumptions. Anyway, as you can imagine she was very shocked to find out that I myself am a single parent. I couldn’t help but smile as I started to see the cogs turn as she walked out of that meeting with a little bounce in her step.

So I think now is a good time to tell you a bit about me, and the person I am today. I’m Sacha Atherton, 30 years old, mum to the lovely little firework Jaya who is five. I live in Nottingham in a nice house that I bought over four years ago, with Jaya and my 16 year old brother. I am the owner of Premier Parents Recruitment, a business that I launched in April this year (2016).
Now I’ll tell you about the Sacha’s that I’ve been before. At 14, I was sent to live with some relatives that didn’t really want me, by another relative that didn’t really want me. At 16, I came back but was kicked out again and went to live in a hostel for a few months. I took my GCSEs whilst living in this hostel and despite all that had happened, I did pretty well, even got a few As. I remember going back home to tell my mum my results and the first thing she said was “why did you get an E?”. When I told the workers at the hostel, they all started clapping and showered me with kind words and positivity.

Fast forward a couple of years and I started working as a receptionist for a property company. During this time I lived in a few different places, one of which was ‘supported housing’ where I had to share a house with alcoholics and drug addicts because I had nowhere else to go.

By 21 I was in a decent job working for a FTSE 100 company, living in a tiny one bedroom council flat, but it was OK because it was mine, well kind of. I stayed with that company for over six years, worked hard and got a couple of promotions along the way. Then I got pregnant, had a pretty challenging pregnancy but then the most amazing thing happened to me – Jaya. Up to then, my life was a long hard battle of survival but now I had a purpose. I don’t need to tell you how it feels to be blessed with a child because most of you reading this will know that already, but what I will tell you is that Jaya saved me.

I went back to work and around the same time I became a single mum when Jaya was 10 months old. Three months later, I bought my house looking forward to a fresh start and totally besotted with this little being that amazed me more every day. A month later, I was made redundant. That was one of the most challenging and significant periods of my life. All the things I’d gone through before didn’t compare to this because now, I was responsible for someone else. I nearly lost the house, didn’t know where money or food was going to come from, sometimes I wouldn’t eat so that Jaya could. I struggled to find a job – I was either over qualified or under qualified, not right for the job or had been out of work too long (which was only weeks/ months). Eight months later, I got a job in Derby with a massive pay cut and a commute, but I didn’t care because I’d been at rock bottom and this was the first bit of light I had seen in while.

At first the job was great. I did well and got a promotion within a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I soon realised it was probably the worst employer I had ever come across in all of my years.

I hung on for as long as I could, the fear of returning to that dark place I was in before, and Jaya’s photo on my desk kept me there much longer than I should have. A year later, I left after being subjected to workplace bullying. I got a new job much closer to my previous experience and salary and that went quite well. I was successful in the role, and it helped me start to rebuild some of the damage that had been done by the debt, quality of living and the multiple blows to my self-esteem.

The short version of this chapter is that Jaya was about to start school and they wouldn’t let me reduce my hours, so I resigned. I experience a lot of anxiety whenever I’m considering leaving a job because of what happened following my redundancy but I knew a change was needed, even though it was a risk. After a month or so looking for a flexible role and finding nothing, I was frustrated. It was then that I decided it would be a good idea to create a recruitment agency specifically for parents to help them find good jobs that don’t force parents to choose between family and a career, so I did it.

I spent six months developing a business plan, doing research and contacting the local media, all the while completely broke and worrying about ending up with no money and a mountain of new problems. But somehow I managed to survive and secured a start-up business loan to cover the costs of launching Premier Parents.

So here we are, four months in and I’ve done quite well so far. My finances are still rocky and will be for a while, but I’ve managed to give a lot of parents hope, not only by helping them find jobs but also by sharing my story. I’ve finally started to get buy-in from employers and I’m working all hours (literally) to create a successful, profitable business which offers parents opportunities and a fair recruitment process.

I have such a long way to go but I’ve also come a very long way. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what we have overcome and use that as fuel to achieve a lot more.

So, I guess the moral of the story is don’t let being a single parent be your weakness, turn it into your superpower.

See our advice if you’re thinking of becoming self-employed. You can also find out more about Premier Parents.