It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was all supposed to happen back in April, planned at a time when none of us thought twice about popping to the shops without a mask or eating indoors at our favourite pizza place.
Like all of you, we had plans. Cosmopolitan had wanted to bring back our Home Made campaign, in association with NatWest, giving a new group of women the chance to live for reduced rent (or, in this case, almost no rent) in order to help them improve their financial stability and further their careers. We put the advert out. You responded. We interviewed a shortlist and found the Home Made class of 2020. Then, the world pressed pause.
But when government restrictions were eased slightly back in early summer, we could, like the rest of the UK, start to action some of those best-laid plans. Of course, things had to be different. Each of our five housemates had to quarantine for two weeks before moving in. We made sure each was tested for COVID-19, and government guidelines were followed every step of the way. Thankfully, five women who had previously been struggling with financial uncertainty while trying to climb their individual career ladders now had a safe (and stylish) apartment in one of Manchester’s most sought-after locations – all for just £1 a month in rent.
Over the next year, you’ll hear a lot more from these women as they make their way in the new world that we’re all trying to navigate. Who are they? Let’s find out…
Moyinoluwa S: 25, filmmaker and artist
"I’m from Stockport originally, but moved to London for university and then stayed for work. I had sometimes considered returning to Manchester, but with my career in London, I didn’t feel like I could afford to come back and rent – and although I love my family, I crave the independence living apart gives me.
My parents are both Nigerian, but my siblings and I were born here. My mum’s a nurse and my dad worked as an engineering lecturer. There were six of us living in the house in Stockport where I grew up, so it was very busy and I had to share a room with my older sister. We had two single beds and 5cm of space next to us. It was definitely cosy!
The thing I remember most about my upbringing is the cultural contrast of my first-generation Nigerian parents with their second-generation kids. We were born in Britain, but there was this backdrop of “Nigerian-ness” that our parents wanted us to adhere to. It was chaotic and beautiful at the same time, but there was friction between those two things.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by photography. In year nine, I used to sell Chewits to save money for my first DSLR camera. I’d buy a multipack of seven for £1, then sell each pack for 40p. I became the unofficial photographer of my friends and family. I loved documenting our lives.
In my final year of university, I took on internships, and eventually won one of 10 places on a leading documentary film programme, which helped me to develop my skills and form a network of like-minded people. I was able to work on numerous freelance, arts and film projects, and as a result, learned about issues of access, and how difficult it is for marginalised communities to get into these industries.
Lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic has been so bad for freelancers. You don’t have a safety net or furlough. My money just disappeared overnight. It did mean, however, that during all the BLM protests, I had time to coordinate some resource sharing. I was very aware that there were people in a similar position to me who didn’t know where to find funding or therapy – it was such an intense moment and people kept ignoring the mental toll it took.
Coming back to Manchester is a massive break for me. Renting in London is so expensive! The last few months have taught me that it’s crucial to try and build a financial safety net. Career-wise, it will also allow me to work on projects that I’ve not been able to give time to, get a studio space, see what initiatives and collectives there are for Black creatives and get involved in the art scene here. Having the space to invest in my own mental and physical health, for the first time really, is crucial."
Grace Taylor-White: 21, student midwife
"I have been fascinated by birth for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Sheffield, on the edge of the Peak District, and my dad would take us to the local farms to watch the lambs being born. I even got to help the farmers deliver them!
When I was in sixth-form college, an advert popped up on my computer screen offering experience with Gap Medics in maternity wards in Thailand. You go to a country and shadow a nurse or midwife over there, so I told my mum and she booked it for me that night. On my 18th birthday, I flew out to Thailand for the most eye-opening experience of my life. Two days in and I’d already witnessed my first birth. I knew then it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
You can’t be afraid of hard work as a student midwife. The hours are long, there are nightshifts and studying, and I worked part-time as a waitress to support myself through university, too. My parents taught me and my sister to be fearless – they’d work all the hours they could so we could take family holidays backpacking around Australia or driving a campervan around Europe. I have that same spirit.
When the rest of the UK went into lockdown as part of COVID-19, I started working full-time in the NHS. It was the first time I’d been paid for the hours I did, and I loved working on the maternity wards and supporting my colleagues. I’ve delivered 10 babies so far since March!
Living in the Home Made house has already changed my life in so many ways. I can now afford to have a car, meaning no 40-minute bus rides home at the end of a night shift. Our new flat is so central I can even cycle to work! Most importantly, it means I can save to go to Uganda next summer and work for a month in a maternity hospital there. It’s arranged through my university, but on this trip, I’ll be nearly qualified and be able to bring supplies out from the UK to those who need them most."
Maria Labrosse: 26, English teacher and aspiring journalist
"This year was supposed to be the year that I got into journalism properly. I studied it at university, but then, after a few months working in a department store in Manchester, I took a job teaching English in Barcelona with my (now ex) boyfriend and our best friends.
I’d had a difficult time at uni. I suffered with anxiety throughout my A-Levels and then it got really bad in my first year, developing into depression as time went on. I didn’t have the money to pay for counselling privately, and I didn’t want to take medication. Going abroad helped, first to Barcelona and then to Vietnam. But when my boyfriend and I broke up, I knew I needed to come back and start working on my career.
I flew home at Christmas and was applying for jobs and internships when COVID-19 happened. Being from a lower socio-economic background, it’s incredibly difficult to find opportunities and gain experience in journalism. They tend to be in London – I’m from Blackpool, and have never had the money to move south. My dad is Black and grew up in Kenya, moving here when he was 15 years old. I was one of only a few people from a BAME background in my year, and to this day, it’s something I struggle with. It’s a struggle with identifying myself, or other people struggling to identify me and where I’m from. I feel it has held me back.
One thing I lack is a portfolio. When I was depressed and anxious at university, working in retail and hating it, I couldn’t put myself out there when I needed to. But moving into this flat will allow me to do internships and take opportunities without the burden of rent hanging over my head. I know how lucky I am to have a home to come back to, but after years of being abroad, my independence is important to me. The year may have started badly, but things are looking up now."
Bethany Cookson: 26, stylist and art director
"I was living at home with my mum and dad, sleeping in the room I grew up in and scrapping for space in the kitchen, when I saw the Cosmopolitan Home Made scheme pop up on my Facebook page. 'Imagine if I won that,' I thought. Imagine.
I’d moved back home to Manchester following a few years living in London after university. I was having a great time. I’d set up a club night DJ-ing rockabilly music, which I love. Both my parents are really into vintage, so I grew up with it, and have always dressed in vintage clothes and styled my hair differently.
Visual and arty stuff has always come very easily to me, but I really struggled at school growing up. My teachers told me I was lazy, but it wasn’t until one of my dance teachers suggested I get tested for dyslexia that anyone realised why I found classes so difficult. Since then, I’ve sort of taught myself how to do things in a way I can understand.
In London, I had a boyfriend and loads of mates, but I was skint. I came back home and started working as a stylist and social media manager for Lindy Bop, a clothes label. I also started building up my freelance portfolio, doing more and more shoots outside of my job. Then the pandemic put Lindy Bop into administration and, at the same time, I lost all my freelance work.
I believe that everything happens for a reason. I was supposed to lose my job in order to push and hustle to make my freelance career take off. I don’t want to blow loads of money on rent – instead, I want to save for a house deposit. Lockdown changed everything for me. Before that, I didn’t have an afternoon free for about six months. Having nothing to do was the hardest thing, but things are starting to pick up again, and I can’t wait for the year to come."
Cheri Colverson: 29, secondary school teacher
"Growing up, my parents definitely shielded me and my sister from knowing how little money we had. They always made sure we didn’t go without, and my mum would save up for school trips. The first holiday we had abroad was in Spain. I was 11 years old, and I realised two things on that trip: what it felt like to tan (which I loved) and how amazing it was if you could speak another language.
Now I teach French and Spanish in a secondary school. I grew up in a small town in East Yorkshire, but quite a few people in my family are good at languages and I got to live in France as part of my university degree. I moved back there after my PGCE and worked two jobs to pay my (extortionate) Parisian rent. I taught English to French children, and also worked for a company that delivered English lessons in cool businesses across the city. I got to work at Paris Fashion Week for a designer, in an animation studio and in a fancy cosmetics company. I loved it.
But a year into my time in Paris, my mum fell ill and my sister had just had her first daughter. I wanted to come back to the UK and be closer to family, so I took a job teaching
at a school in London. After a couple of years, the cost of living got the better of me, and I had built up a load of credit card debt that I just wasn’t able to clear. I got offered a job back in Manchester and found a place to live by myself.
All my mates are married and have houses and kids. I am totally fine with the fact that that’s not my lifestyle right now, but I do want to be in the position where if I did want to buy a house or put a deposit down, I could. Having been a teacher for six years, credit cards have been the only way I’ve been able to afford my lifestyle. But the debt creeps up on you. Living as part of this scheme for a couple of months, I’ve already managed to pay off £1,000, which feels amazing!"
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