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Nominated by Springboard, Learning Pembrokeshire, Pembrokeshire County Council

Family learning has had a transformational impact on Natalie Lintern and her family. After several abusive relationships and battling drug addiction, she was bringing up three young children on her own. She says, “life was miserable”. She became isolated, a lack of confidence, low self-esteem and anxiety made her feel unable to leave the house.

For six months, Natalie didn’t open the curtains and saw nobody outside of the home, she had started taking drugs at the age of 16 and later began taking heroin. “That six months of my life was when I was at my lowest. Two of the children were at school and nursery so it was just me and my baby at home. I always looked after my kids, they were always fed and bathed but it was an existence, not a life. There was no routine, day was night and night was day.”

Now, Natalie is moving forward and is on her way to becoming a drugs support worker after signing up to a family learning programme. “My eldest had anger issues and would come home from school and stay up all night on the computer,” she said. “My toddler couldn’t speak or make a sound. We didn’t read, there were no books, I had no quality time with my children. Life was chaos, it was no way to be living. I was terrified that the kids would be taken off me but I never let anyone into the house, so nobody knew how bad it was.”

It was at this point that she decided to get help. Her mum moved in and she connected with a Flying Start support worker, she began counselling and contacted her children’s school for the first time in months.

Teachers told Natalie about Springboard family learning and suggested she join in one of its regular sessions running through the school. Springboard is delivered across nine schools by Learning Pembrokeshire. Natalie signed up to weekly sessions, she said, “I was terrified, I’d never engaged with other parents or staff, but every time I went, I felt better. I remember the very first school trip, on a freezing beach, it was minus 4 degrees and I was in total panic. But there was something about the way the kids responded to it that made me keep going back.”

Over the next few weeks, Natalie and her family made kites on the beach, went rock pooling, and cooked on an open fire. “We did things we’d never done as a family before. We learnt to do orienteering, pond dipping and wildlife art, walk barefoot on the muddy paths and make bread. It wasn’t always easy, but it became a reason for me to leave the house. I made friends, my confidence grew, the kids loved every second, by summer, we were eating cake on the beach for my little girl’s birthday.”

Family learning gave Natalie the confidence to complete a 12-week Recovery Toolkit for survivors of domestic violence delivered by Team Around the Family. Since then, she’s attended other Springboard family courses and two additional courses – a MPower programme for women with low self-esteem and a Primary Years Parenting programme.

She gets her children to school each day - both eldest children’s attendance has reached 100%. “My son’s doing well, he comes home happy and can’t wait to do his homework. My daughter’s speech is brilliant - in fact, she doesn’t stop talking. My youngest loves reading, I’m reading now, too, I can’t give up. My children shouldn’t have been through what they have, but it’s up to me to keep us on this path.”

With the help of Communities for Work, Natalie, who is now 18 months drugs-free, is about to start training to become a qualified drug support worker. She said: “I want to help other people who may see themselves in my story. I want people going through problems to see how I turned things around. The support network I’ve had has been amazing and I’d urge people to ask for help. I’m excited about the future.”

“We get up, we go to school, I pick them up and we’re a happy, united family. We go to the park and feed the ducks. We do homework around the table. We read bedtime stories every night. Learning has changed my family’s life entirely. It has brought us back together and learning will keep us together.”