By 2010, single parent and carer Leigh Walton was caring for her ill mother, her adult son with autism and her daughter.
Leigh had always suffered from depression and, when her mother sadly passed away in September 2011, she found it increasingly hard to cope. It was a massive loss, one that clearly still impacts on her almost seven years later, as we speak in a sunny room at Crawley Debt Centre, based at Elim Church. The debt centre is part of the national organisation Christians Against Poverty (CAP) and offers a debt counselling service by visiting clients in their own homes to assess clients’ financial situation, liaising with debtors to communicate a prepared budget and financial plan and working with clients to help them maintain these arrangements until they are debt-free. They work with all denominations and people with no religious faith.
“I developed a worsening spending habit, even though I was on a very low income,” says Leigh. “I was filling an emotional hole. I was defensive, bitter and angry.”
By May 2016 and with debts in the region of £16,000, she was virtually house-bound because of the six- seven visits per day she was getting from a variety of debt-collectors and bailiffs. “I was becoming agoraphobic and spent hours sitting on the stairs, pretending I wasn’t in, with people shouting through the letter box and banging on the windows…..”
Finally, a friend rang her to say she’d heard about the work of CAP on the radio in a piece by money-saving expert Martin Lewis. “She urged me to make an appointment,” says Leigh. “I was very reluctant but did it anyway.”
When debt adviser Michelle Frost appeared at Leigh’s door, she was at first cautious about admitting her, thinking she was another bailiff trying to get their foot in her door. Once that happens, their rights to access your house and seize your belongings increase. She took a chance and let Michelle in. “The first thing she did was hug me. If you’d asked me where a hug came on my list of priorities, I’d have said bottom. Turned out, it was top.” The face-to-face nature of the financial advice was key for Leigh. “I needed to feel like I was talking to a real person about me, not automated advice or advice on line or over the phone.” Leigh is now debt-free and volunteers at the debt centre, accompanying advisers on home visits to new clients.
Crawley Debt Centre received a grant from the Gatwick Foundation Fund at Sussex Community Foundation to fund the salaries of the two part-time debt coaches for the next three years. It will also support the ongoing skills development of the debt coaches and volunteer befrienders.
If you are struggling with debt, you can contact CAP here www.elim-church.org.uk/cap
The next deadline for applications to the Gatwick Foundation Fund is Friday 14th September. More information at www.sussexgiving.org.uk/apply