“Come in, my first appointment has cancelled…”

Steph leads me into the small room that acts as an office and drop in centre for young people that Rooftop works with. “It’s alright,” she continues “they managed to make the last appointment, so that’s good”.

Steph, Financial Inclusion Officer

Steph explains that the person who was meant to come and to discuss their finances, and their situation, lives in another part of the county.

“It’s a devil getting a bus from there at the best of times, let alone when you’re on a limited income” I say.

“It’s not just that,” Steph replies, momentarily distracted by her emails, “it’s getting a bus when you don’t have much money, you have an anxiety disorder, you suffer from depression, and you’re worried about who you’ll see, how you’ll feel… but they came last time which is good, so I’m not too worried.”

I need to stop thinking that Steph’s role as Financial Inclusion Officer is about money, it’s not about money, it’s about helping young people to take charge of their own lives. You could probably take the ‘Financial’ away and get a better name for what she does; she’s an Inclusion Officer… helping people be included.

“Good heaven’s that’s not red!”

Whilst we’re talking the door opens and Kirk comes in. Kirk’s been to the hairdressers and he’s got pink hair. Seeing the reaction he shyly smiles and explains that they couldn’t do red so pink was the next best thing.

Kirk Financial Inclusion Edit

Kirk’s 23 and he’s just been accepted on a Film Production Course at Gloucester College. He loves film, and as we talk we get distracted by source material and favourite films, and whether Will Poulter is the best young actor ever.

“I did a film production course at college…” he tells me “I enjoyed it, and then I did some other courses because I wasn’t ready to go to Uni.” He’s very quietly spoken, he sits opposite me, interested in his subject, but not speaking with his hands, he’s almost immobile but his eyes sparkle as he tells me about his plans. I ask him how long he’s been interested in film stuff, “Years” he says, with more emotion in his voice, “absolute years. I watch films, I write films, I do my own fan fiction I’ve always done stuff.”

“So what sort of things do you watch?”

“Everything and anything”

I’m almost expecting a list of art house directors of ‘difficult’ films, but Steph bursts my bubble “Harry Potter” she says in a stage whisper.

“Oh yes, Harry Potter mostly”

Kirk Steph And The Deathly Hallows Listing (1)At that point he pulls down the collar of his t-shirt and shows me his Harry Potter tattoo; it’s a chain with the Deathly Hallows Pendant in the centre of his chest.

I give Steph a chance to deal with the other mountains of stuff whilst I talk to Kirk, she’s busy typing in the background as he tells me how he came to live with Rooftop.

“I… had trouble with finances…”

He looks away as he searches for the best words to describe his situation “…and dealing with money and things… like paperwork, I don’t do paperwork… I really don’t do paperwork” Steph laughs in recognition and they share a meaningful glance.

“Steph’s been helping me sort out my finances and the paperwork. I’ve got a plan in place now with all the debts I’ve got and I’m paying them off”.

We don’t really get taught about debt and money.

There’s no ‘dealing with credit’ classes at school, or at least there weren’t when I was there. You learn about budgets and money from your family.

How many of us can repeat the hackneyed old phrases that parents say? How many of us still keep to the rules our parents laid out… always pay off your debt, don’t borrow more than you can afford to pay back, always keep a reserve for a rainy day… We pick up money sense from the people around us.

What if there isn’t anyone around you that can teach you?

What if your support network is sporadic, what if you never had it in the first place?

“How does that feel?” I ask Kirk. I’m not expecting a great big heart rending moment, because Kirk isn’t that sort of man, but the sense of sighing relief in his voice is clear.

“Good” He says “it means that I can manage better and that I know what I’ve got and what I can spend”

“Is it something that you’re going to keep doing?”

“Yes” comes the emphatic reply.

“Or I will haunt you” Steph interjects chuckling, and the look on Kirk’s face suggests that that could be a possibility. “To be fair he’s come along way…” Steph turns to Kirk, “I have the distinct visual memory of first meeting you, I went round and I did a monthly flat check, because I wanted to engage with a few people I hadn’t met yet, and it was in a really bad state, you were lying down on a tiny 2 seater sofa, under a little crochet blanket… so it was an immediate ‘Right you need a bed’ amongst other things.” She laughs at the memory, reflecting how far Kirk has come. “So we applied for grants so he’s now got a bed… we’re sorting out the various bits of debt that he had.”

“And all the paperwork” Kirk adds.

“It’s been quite intensive” Steph says.

It has been.

When Steph had asked Kirk for his paperwork, he brought some along and he said that was all there was, until he found a suitcase full of paperwork that took some time to go through and put in folders, and make sense of…

“I can’t believe I got from there to here” Kirk’s voice does the same thing that it did earlier, it goes quiet, and as if it’s stopping in his throat; completely the opposite of when he talks about films. “I kind of buried my head in the sand… debts and debts and debts and debts, not being able to sleep…”.

“So where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I ask him.

“I’m going to create a youth production company in Gloucester, helping young people to get creative as well as teach film production at college.”

He doesn’t reply with “I want to” or “I hope to” he replies with “I am”.

He’s positive.

I let Steph do her job; Kirk is there to talk money, and issues, and sorting stuff out. As I listen to them I wonder what would have happened if Steph hadn’t been there to help. Kirk wouldn’t have a bed, he’d still have an overflowing suitcase of ignored paperwork, he’d be sinking further into debts that he’d never been shown how to handle, but now he’s looking to the future…

I hope he gets it sorted out, I hope he makes his first feature film, I hope it’ll star Will Poulter.

John For Facebook

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John is Head of Communications and Marketing at Rooftop Housing Group.