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Kerry Hudson: It’s never too late to strive for better things

My dream of owning a home won't be easy but is one step closer now.
My dream of owning a home won't be easy but is one step closer now.

As my birthday season approaches (cash in an envelope is fine, thank you) I’ve been taking stock.

Mostly I am hugely grateful for everything life has offered me, so beyond what people expected of a scally from the wrong end of the worst council estates, but, like anyone, I still have one or two niggling regrets. One is being trapped in the ever-increasing precarity of the rental market now I’m a parent and the other is, though I’ve always loved learning, never going back to university.

Both doorways to social mobility felt bricked off to me in my mid-twenties. At the time, I was studying in my second year of an English Literature BA in London. Like a lot of first-generation academics from poor backgrounds, it was tough going.

I was working four jobs to make ends meet. In term-time as a skimpily dressed VIP events waitress – you knew it was going to be a grim gig full of handsy moneybags if they told you on your briefing to wear flesh-coloured underwear – and conducting market research asking people if they were willing to try a new cat food, or mystery shopping with a tiny camera hidden in an ugly handbag no 24-year-old would be seen dead with. Alongside those occupational gems, I worked the telephones at an animal welfare charity ‘cruelty report line’ and I finished the week collecting plastic pint glasses of lukewarm piss at Twickenham Rugby Stadium on Sundays.

Still, I might have managed to get my degree. I might have managed to get through university with just a ‘normal’ amount of astronomical debt to qualify for a starter mortgage. But my dad needed heart surgery. So, I gave up three of my four jobs, and moved in to care for him, two hours from my university.

Your insurmountable barriers could be surmountable

Within six months my studies and finances were a bit of a mess and by 12 months they could only be described as a bin fire. I accepted that my mountainous debt of ever-extended student overdrafts, credit and store cards would mean I’d never have a mortgage. I quit my degree resigned to the fact that, like my parents, and their parents and, well you get the gist, I too would not graduate university.

But two weeks ago, invigorated by our return to Scotland, I decided I was going to change what happened 15 years ago. First, I contacted Housing Options Scotland, who put me in touch with an excellent volunteer financial advisor. It only took a 30-minute telephone conversation with him – despite those 15 years believing it was impossible – for our family to find a clear path to buying somewhere.

It won’t be easy. We’ll have to scrape to save for a deposit during a cost-of-living crisis and being a creative freelancer doesn’t make securing a mortgage a walk in the park either. But for the first time in my life, I genuinely believe we will be able to buy a small home for our family. I’ll get to bring my son up in secure housing where we’re able to paint the walls, have our pets and not fear landlord visits, rent hikes or evictions. I’ll be able to give him the long-term home I never had growing up.

Galvanised by the idea that perhaps my insurmountable barriers were, in fact, surmountable, I decided, why not? I’d look into studying too.

My greatest hope on returning home was to try to contribute to our new community meaningfully. I assessed what I had to offer as a writer and someone with lived experience of poverty. I thought about what was important to me and came back with my unshakable belief that art can be transformative both politically and personally for those in the communities I grew up in.

Time to strive for better things

From there? I found a course that would give me the skills and knowledge on top of those that I already have to make positive change during this time of crisis. To empower young people like I was to inform our creative culture and shape outsiders’ perspective of communities they might not otherwise understand. Miraculously, the course is also funded through the Scottish Government’s ‘Upskilled’ scheme. So, while, again, it won’t be easy fitting it around my current work and parenting, I won’t be left with the fear of more crippling debt – only a lifelong dream come true to return to study.

Although I still run about in Dr Martens, I did wonder if I was getting a bit old for new things – but it’s never too late to make chages and there is support out there. Picture by Shutterstock

I’ll turn 42 soon enough and though I run about in Dr Martens and a giant plaid shirt with Nirvana spilling out of my headphones like I’m eternally 20, I did have a moment where I wondered if I was getting a bit old for these big new things. But being over 40 puts me in 10% of mature students and I’m a mere seven years older than the average post-Covid first-time house buyer. It seems I’m not the only one taking stock and deciding to keep striving for better things, perhaps especially post-pandemic, when it felt for so many like life simply pressed pause for years.

If you’re like me, know it’s not too late. We can undo the difficult times, even 15 years later. Though I don’t suggest waiting that long. If there’s a part of you that wishes you’d taken the leap, stayed the course, not simply just laid down when fate pointed it’s bony finger at you and denied you, now is the time. There’s support out there and this is the time when we need hope, resilience and action more than ever.

It took me two weeks to set myself on a path that I thought was blocked off to me forever. It’s never too late. Start today.

Kerry Hudson is an Aberdeen-born, award-winning writer of novels, memoirs and screenplays