OUR STORY 2008 - 2023

Jess Cocker

Listen to Jess story with Podcast Kings here

Favourite moment: Being Tinkerbell in Peter Pan, wearing a green leotard and green tights. “It was hilarious.”
(Please note: Jess couldn’t stop smiling when she was asked this question.)

The greatest lesson learned from Freedom Road: “I’ll always be loved. No matter what choice I make.”

Freedoms gained: “It’s given me opportunities and made me realise I can make my own chances. You can never look back when you know you can make opportunities for yourself.”

Jess’s story:
On her twelfth birthday Jess arrived at Freedom Road for the first time. Like hand-me-downs, bullying had passed from her sister to her brother and then to her. The kids at Jess’s school, in the Greatfield area of Hull, targeted the family because they were poor.
She says: “It was a generational thing. Because my older brother and sister got bullied, I got bullied. I think one of the main reasons we got bullied was that as a family we couldn’t afford to have the named clothes, the mobile phones and so on. I remember my first mobile phone I got, it wasn’t even a Nokia. I think it was a Motorola and everyone used to laugh at me because of that. The name-calling was just awful.”

Luckily, Jess lived near a community centre that put her in touch with the Rights and Participation Project (RAPP) in Hull and from there she was introduced to Freedom Road because of her love of singing.
Jess never expected much for her birthday and when was handed a box of chocolates and birthday card by the staff at Freedom Road on her first day she couldn’t believe they had noticed her date of birth and bought her something. She said: “I was just amazed. It was just so lovely.”

Now 29, Jess has good reason to see that FRCA changed the course of her life. She is the middle one of five children. She was raised by her mum, who was unemployed and struggled to make ends meet. Jess’s two older siblings have struggled to find a route through life in the way that Jess has. However, the doors that Jess opened also opened to her younger siblings and they have built stable lives. The contrast between the siblings is stark and something which Jess feels uneasy about, because she knows life could have been different for them. She is also grateful she grabbed the opportunity she was given.
Jess says: “I could have taken such a darker path. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way at all, but I could have been another single mum on benefits. I could have no aspirations, but because of Freedom Road I have always worked as hard as I can, to get as far as I can.
“I can say for definite that my confidence as a person came from Freedom Road, 100 percent. I would not have ever felt confident going for a job interview or so many other things.”
Jess was motivated to join Freedom Road by her love of singing and she says that performing was a key to gaining confidence, and that learning how to write songs helped her deal with difficult emotions as she grew up.

Transformed by the support she got at FRCA and the drama and song workshops she went to every week, Jess found friends at school. Driven by a desire to fit in, she then embarked on a spiral of behaviour that jeopardised her. She says: “I fell in with the wrong crowd at school. A lot of my school years were spent twagging lessons, getting into trouble, drinking underage, smoking underage, staying out on fields past 12 o’clock. I think once I had the opportunity to have friends that was how I had to act. I put myself in risky situations.”

Jess’s identity hinged on being accepted as a teenager at school. She says: “I needed to be liked and loved, and getting that from people at school was so important to me, because I never had it before. I grasped hold of it and didn’t let go of it, even if I was being a complete tool and I was putting myself in danger and I was upsetting my family and the people who were my true friends.”
Throughout this, Freedom Road remained Jess’s crutch. She remembers how Ian Bolton encouraged her to see the charity as the “constant” in her life.

“He knew I needed to be engaged in the Freedom Road stuff to keep me safe and keep me balanced because that was safe and the other stuff I was doing probably wasn’t.”

Today Jess is a teacher at a pupil referral unit. She says teaching the young people is like looking in a mirror and she is conscious of how she got where she did. Set back by her behaviour, she left school with one GCSE in art, she didn’t even pass her beloved drama. She says that as always the staff at Freedom Road were there to help her pick up the pieces. She went on to complete a youth work apprenticeship and has been collecting qualifications ever since. The Freedom Road Staff were there to see her graduate with a certificate in education from the University of Huddersfield in 2017.
It is nearly 15 years since Jess arrived on the doorstep of Freedom Road and when she puts herself in the shoes of the troubled child she was, she says: “I don’t think 12-year-old me would believe I am where I am. I don’t think 12-year-old me would think I would be married. I think 12-year-old me would think she would definitely have kids and she’d live on a council estate. I don’t think I’d have ever thought I’d be in a respectable position as a teacher.”

She is a mum. She has two children: Cole and Gracie. Jess says her children will benefit from the strength of character she gained from Freedom Road. She says her mum has also benefitted from the charity. She explained, “Mum loves Freedom Road. She knows that without Freedom Road our family as a whole would have been different.
"As a family I don’t think we would have got through certain things. I don’t think we would have been as strong as we are without the charity. Mum knows that our relationship would be different without it. She’s the best mum and grandma. I don’t know what I would have done without her since having my son, she’s fantastic.”

Jess has lived through extremes and despite her age she already has a vast life experience to draw on. She says she will never forget the hardship of her childhood, things like being without heat and light when the electricity meter ran out every month, and the stigma that brought is impossible to erase. But she will also cherish memories like going to Australia as a 14-year-old with Freedom Road.
“I had never been on holiday before. The furthest that we’d gone was to Bridlington for days out with Sure Start. We had to make sure we didn’t miss the bus home or we’d be left behind. That was my perception of going on a holiday. Being able to go to Australia was mind-blowing. I was 14. It changed my aspirations. Freedom Road changed my aspirations.” For this and many other reasons Jess is now the Vice Chair of the charity and she says she will always be involved in Freedom Road in some capacity.

She explains: “Freedom Road is my family. I feel I’d miss out if I wasn’t involved. I still want to hear those stories Ian and Iain tell about what’s happening. I still want to be a part of it. I know that this charity makes such a difference to people’s lives and it makes me so proud to know I was one of the first kids in the charity. Not being involved just isn’t an option.”

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