In summer 2019, Jo was running a successful burger van after a career change and was settled and happy renting a house near her two daughters. She had event bookings in the diary for over a year running up to October 2020, catering for various weekend events from birthdays to ploughing competitions.
“I was rebuilding my life from quite a few traumas. I used to work with horses, decided I didn’t want to anymore, so I bought a burger van.”
Due to quite a wet winter, a lot of events were cancelled. Bu Jo still had a lot of work so did not worry. She was taking her van into Daventry two days a week. But then Covid hit, and all of her events were cancelled. During Covid, Jo has sold her van and tried to start another business with her son, but it didn’t work out. She couldn’t secure any work, and the savings that she had dwindled to nothing, leaving her unable to afford rent.
“I tried getting work. I had always found work, but it was getting harder to exist and my mental health went downhill.”
From that point on, she spent two years sofa surfing between friends and her daughters, living out of a bag. Eventually it all took its toll on Jo, her mental health declined, and she started to feel like a burden on people. To avoid this, she started sleeping and living in her car.
“I was crashing where I could, living in my car and it got worse. I stopped caring. Not caring about my personal hygiene. I just existed. I couldn’t function, couldn’t think of a future.”
She spent three months during winter 2022 sleeping in a Land Rover with a leaking roof. She turned to alcohol to attempt to numb the pain, to numb the cold, to numb everything. She never let on to anyone how bad things had gotten for her. At her lowest point, she even contemplated suicide. Thankfully, she saw a gentleman walking his dog with his children, and this stopped her, as she thought of her own grandchildren.
“I didn’t want my grandchildren growing up thinking they weren’t worth it…that Grandma didn’t love them enough to want to live.”
She spent last Christmas alone in her car. Her friends invited her over, but she made excuses, as she’d gotten to a point where she couldn’t face the world. In January, a long-term friend of Jo’s, Ruth, found her in her car in a layby. She knocked on the window and asked Jo what she was doing, and quickly realised her friend needed help. Ruth took Jo to the doctors, demanding an appointment, then she made contact with the local council where she met Richard McIntyre, a housing options officer at West Northamptonshire Council.
“I was very numb. I remember sitting in the car and I didn’t even see Ruth. I don’t really remember, to be honest. I think that my brain had totally shut down. The next thing I knew I’m in the doctors. I stood behind her holding her coat like a 5-year-old child.”
She was given temporary accommodation, and slowly began to recover with the help of Richard and access to services like counselling and MIND. Ruth and Richard continued to help Jo and eventually began looking at housing options. A flat in Daventry became available, but Jo didn’t have enough money for a deposit, so Richard applied to the Vicar’s Relief Fund on her behalf. Within a matter of days, Jo had the keys and was moving in.
“Ruth and Richard were amazing. I just couldn’t have done it without them. And there is no way I would be here now without that financial help. It would not have happened if it hadn’t been for the Vicar’s Relief Fund”
Four months later, she has started to furnish her flat, her grandchildren have come to stay with her, and she is looking to get back into work. Christmas this year is looking like a much happier festive season for Jo.
“I want to get back to work. I’m not ready for the scrap heap. I’ve got lots to go in me. Lots of energy. It’s going to be good. Future is going to be good. My grandchildren, they’ll be proud of me.”