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Lynette's Life Experience

Lynette Webbe, from Smethwick in the West Midlands, struggled throughout her school life with reading and writing, often finding it difficult to concentrate in the classroom. She left secondary school with no qualifications and started her working career at just 15 years of age.......

Even though I was born here, my family have had to learn about me again.
Now I’m a woman with a backbone not a wishbone. I can encourage women – but it is hard. Here I am now with an underactive thyroid, cardiovascular disease, my third pacemaker and alopecia. At Pill Carnival last year I went without a hat – I just had a tag on me saying ‘raising awareness for alopecia’.

When I was young we lived in Pill. That was in 1955. My mother was married and my father came over from the West Indies and they lived in rooms in Tiger Bay. I know I was conceived in love, in the throes of passion, as they say. I know that I was a home birth – so I was born in Pill, in Mill Parade. But I remember growing up in Somerton and that was the happiest time. It was in Maple Avenue. It’s gone now, they’ve knocked it all down.

I went to Alway Infants School when I was five and you used to have to walk from Somerton to Alway. My childhood was very happy until I was about 12 – and I was abused by a family friend. It did have an effect but at the time I didn’t know. All those years, you put it on the shelf and put it down as life experience.
I went to St Julians. That was good. I learnt to mooch school there and only go to lessons you wanted to go to.

I was very creative and I couldn’t settle in school. I’d be the milk monitor; I’d go into the other class and watch another class. I wasn’t naughty but I was in my own world. I’d be sitting in the class and just start singing so they sent me to a child’s psychiatrist and they just said I was a happy child, that I was in my own world, that I had the brain of a butterfly.

I left school at 15 on the Friday. And my mother and father worked in the nail factory, which was in Somerton. That Monday morning I started work - and my sister was already there because she was a year older than me – as a nail sorter. And Lord God, I remember the nails would stick in you and all that. You would have to pick out the wrong shaped nails and I remember me saying to myself: I’m not staying here.

I got a job sewing army uniforms for soldiers. It was amazing. That was in the ‘70s. That was when I was introduced into going to Bristol. I was there a while and then I met these girls who had discovered Bristol – and we lived in a red light district. You would pay your money and go in blues and pay your money and it would be full of ganja smoke. I started doing drugs.

I knew that my mother was leaving my father when I saw her packing her stuff and she said: ‘come on, come on, get your stuff’. And I said: ‘I’m not coming.’ She said: ‘What do you mean, you’re not coming?’ I said I want to stay with dad because it’s not fair. I felt so sorry for him when he came home that night.
He came around and knocked the window and I remember the look on his face when he came back and things gone. And I cooked him lamb chops and tomatoes.

I was sewing army uniforms on this flat machine and I knew that I was frightened on the flat machine. There was a lady called Prudence and if you got chosen on her department you were made. You looked and thought: come on, let me get chosen by Prudence. One evening we were leaving work and Prudence’s husband and daughter were outside in the car. And that was the first meeting of Pat. She had this big red lipstick on.
I knew that I wanted to be this woman’s friend and there was about six of them who went to Cardiff or Bristol to blues. I wanted to know about them so to find out who they were so I met them at blues and I had taken some tablets and my mother and father were there and I remember being slumped in the gutter.
Someone in the group had given me the tablets – because that’s how it was back then – and I didn’t know how I would react and I she took me home.

I’m 17 and now I’m pregnant; the dad goes to borstal; I’m 18 and that was when everyone had gone to Cardiff and Bristol. I had been living with my daughter’s dad, which was like a different world – I would have hidings, he would beat me up, it was really terrible. And I thought that was life, that that was part of life because of the life I was leading in that circle.
My daughter was three months old when I first went out. We were all young and that was the lifestyle then – go to blues, get drunk, smoke ganja, meet men. And the first time I went I was 18, I had a three month old daughter but the girls were already established and had their men there. I went with the unruly ones.
I used to call it going to work. At 18 I did get caught and I got a suspended prison sentence for shoplifting and that was because of the life everyone else was leading. And I became a crutcher. So I would go into a shop and took it.
One time there was a gang of us and we ripped up the whole of Commercial Street. There were no tags, you would know when staff would go off to have their breaks. That was my business; I used to be a shoplifter. I used to take orders from people. I was getting caught.

I moved to Birmingham when I was 29. I gave up. My sister died. She didn’t used to do drugs, she liked a drink. But I was the pill popper, the smoker, LSD, everything – and all of those years lost knowing that if I’d done recovery and if I’d gone to a doctor and told them what was going on in my life.

But I discovered another life. Years later I organised an event and I was nominated for the Chamberlain Award in Birmingham. I did amazing things.

She is hoping through her own story of ill health and life experience that she can help you with your journey into well-being, for your heart and your mind as your wellness guide.

Lynette faced a turning point in her life in 2009 when, as well as facing a number of personal challenges, she was also made redundant from her role as Activity Co-ordinator at a charity. During this difficult time, Lynette decided to enrol at an adult education course at an Arts Centre, hoping this would give her a much-needed lift. Unfortunately, it only shook her confidence further as Lynette felt overwhelmed by the demands of the course, in particular with reading and writing.

It was then, at the age of 49, that Lynette found out she was dyslexic. Lynette had always been incredibly innovative and thrived in the mostly creative roles she held working for a number of charities – but now she realised why she had always struggled academically and in formal education.

Lynette decided to do something about this and took her first vital steps back into education, by enrolling onto short  Progression Pathway courses at Fircroft College. She described her experience at Fircroft as “absolutely life-changing”. Lynette has got her confidence back and can now read and write, thanks to the support and encouragement she received at Fircroft and her own hard work and dedication. She has gone onto deliver talks at the Black Workers Conference and at an event which was hosted by the Birmingham Carnival Youth and Art Development founder, Professor Black.

Lynette has now enrolled onto even more courses at Fircroft to further build on her skills, as she hopes to become a mentor for adults with dyslexia, to help others realise their full potential.