Mum-of-two Victoria Stretton, who became pregnant at 15 and was sent to a young offenders’ institution at 16 for dealing drugs, has turned her life around with the help of a charity that encourages people to volunteer.
Miss Stretton, 26, of Neeld Crescent, Chippenham, said: “I was a bad girl when I was a teenager. I went around with a lot of the wrong people and got myself into a lot of dangerous situations. But my life has completely turned around now and my family are very proud of me.”
She got in touch with the Volunteer Centre Wiltshire two years ago when she was part of the way through a book-keeping course and her younger daughter Daryella was still at nursery.
She said: “I went to the Job Centre to see what might be available to me and they put me in touch with the volunteering centre.
“I thought it was a great idea as I didn’t just want to sit around at home claiming benefits until my younger daughter went to school.”
It put her in touch with Wiltshire Credit Union in Chippenham and she was able to put her book-keeping skills to use as an assistant to the office manager and learned a number of different skills. A year after she joined the credit union as a volunteer, a paid position came up for a similar role.
She said: “I got the job, which was amazing. They had more than 20 applications and there is no way I would have been even considered if I had not been volunteering there already and they knew me.
“I was offered a huge amount of support from when I first started. They knew about my background and really encouraged me to succeed. My mum and daughters are so proud of me. My life is completely different to what it might have been.”
Miss Stretton was recently confirmed at St Peter’s Church, Chippenham, and the church plays a big part in her life and those of daughters Daryella, six and Alisha, 11.
“My girls’ lives are completely different to mine when I was young. Alisha is only couple of years younger than I was when I started getting into trouble. I started selling drugs when I was 15. I had dropped out of Sheldon School as I was pregnant and had no money to buy things for my baby.”
Miss Stretton admits she took drugs but not the crack and heroin that she sold.
“I took ecstasy and I used to drink quite heavily. I thought I was an adult and it was a grown up thing to do. Now I look back and realise how dangerous it was.”
After she was given a six-month custodial sentence she began to get her life together. She said: “In a weird way going inside was the best thing to happen to me as for the first time I had rules that I had to obey.”
It also brought her closer to her mum, who looked after Alisha while she was in custody.
The Volunteer Centre Wiltshire has launched a volunteering website that makes it even easier for people looking for unpaid work to find the right placement.
Volunteer Centre manager Simone Lord said: “The driving force for the website came from a desire to give volunteers a clear and simple means of accessing information about volunteering.”
Groups can register for free. To find out more go to volunteercentrewiltshire.org.uk or call 0845 521 6224