WHEN pregnant mum Kim Kirkwood walks down the road with her children, she wonders if people look down on her.
She feels others may see her as a burden on society – a single mum with four children by different fathers, a woman of little value to society.
Writing this column every week, I know Kim’s feelings are common – many men and women believe they don’t have value because they don’t work or don’t have a successful career or wealth.
However, every person has a story and sometimes when it is heard, perceptions change.
Kim is a single mum with three children by three different fathers and soon she will have a fourth child by another man. She freely admits she’s not been a good judge of partners.
When she does walk down the street anticipating the birth of her fourth child in just a couple of weeks, she’s probably walking to the Rise Trust Children’s Centre in Chippenham.
Kim, who’s 30 and lives in the town, volunteers there every weekday. She supports other families and she has taken part in as many adult courses as possible – including a parenting course, Magic Money to help with budgeting and a cooking course.
Recently she’s started an NVQ in childcare, which she will continue once baby Olly is born.
“I want to have a career, I want my children to be proud of me and I know they will be.
“My aim is to qualify so that I can work here, with other families in the community.”
The fact Kim is so determined to improve her life is humbling when details of her own upbringing emerge. Her mum left when she was young and she was brought up by her father alongside her siblings.
“My dad looked after us and he had to give up his business to look after us full-time.
“Then one day while I was at secondary school, I had a telephone call and dad had gone to the police station saying he couldn’t cope with us.”
Kim’s life then became a mixture of foster care and moving between her dad and her mum, who did come back into her life later.
“I was a really difficult child. I was quiet but I would answer back and I was naughty. I also used to say that I’d never have children because I had this fear that I would do the same thing my mum had done and end up putting them into foster care.”
When she was 18, Kim started to pursue her dream of being in the Army, passing the initial courses and getting ready to start a new life, all the while holding down a factory job.
“I was trying, and succeeding in joining the Army to get away and to have a better life. I found out I was pregnant and I dreaded telling my dad but he was fine and when I had the scan at 12 weeks, I just fell in love with her and changed my mind instantly about being a mum.”
After her daughter Claire was born, Kim went to college to secure qualifications in English and maths and felt she was taking the first steps towards a better life. Then along came second daughter Sky.
“I tried to find a job which would fit around the children but it was impossible. One good thing which did happen is that my relationship with my dad improved and started to mend. He’d been so worried that I wouldn’t cope with a couple of kids and he started helping me and he’s now a great grandad.”
Then Christopher, now three, arrived. It was as Christopher grew that Kim’s relationship with the Rise Trust began in earnest. The centre provided classes and supported Christopher, whose speech was delayed. Now he’s back on track.
Within the trust, Kim met people like her. One was fellow single mum Debbie Lambert.
Debbie told me: “I saw the children’s centre in Chippenham being built and one day as I was standing in the playground of the nearby school, leaflets were being handed around for people to come in and have a cup of tea.
“I said my children were at school and not under five years old, and the lady said that was OK.
“When I went in we were given information about volunteering and I was looking for something because I was hoping to get off benefits as I wanted to do something with my life.”
That was five years ago. Today Debbie, now aged 42, is assistant chief executive officer of the Rise Trust. She has overall control of three pre-schools, an after school club and oversees many other services.
She’s taken various qualifications and is working towards a Masters’ degree, which should be completed this year. “When I was watching the children’s centre being built, at the time I wanted a job, I wanted some sort of belonging.
“I had no experience or qualifications in anything linked to childcare and I didn’t think there was any way I could get a job here. Volunteering was my way in and I’ve absolutely loved it.”
Debbie’s children are now older – Adam is 12 and Lauren 17. Lauren has started volunteering to give her life experience before she goes off to university next year. She said: “Mum’s journey has not only improved her life but it’s improved our family life.
“She’s shown us that if you believe in yourself you can achieve anything,”