John Tait, or JJ, was in care at the age of seven and experienced ten years of homelessness. But nowadays he’s an entrepreneur, founder of the business JJ’s Cakes and Desserts. Here he tells his story…

From the age of seven years old, I was placed in care due to severe family problems. I first started in a Bolton foster home where they fostered around five other children. My brothers and I were separated – I’m the eldest of three. I became a very naughty boy at primary school; I think this was due to my family problems and the reason why I came into care.
 
Then I was placed with another foster family who had only two other kids there. I was a right little terror. After this I was taken to Manchester where an Italian family fostered me for three years.
 
This family treated me like one of their own. I became a Roman Catholic and was baptised and had my Holy Communion – even travelled to Italy three times.
 
After three years, I was taken to Peterborough to an adoptive family but I didn’t want to leave my foster family and cried all the way. I spent only a few months there – I didn’t like it. Then I travelled back to Bolton and was placed in a children’s home called Woodlands, full of other children aged 11 to 16.
 
I stayed there for a few years and was then taken to another kids’ home in Derby. It was going to be my final move as I was starting to become very stressed moving around all the time.
 
I was determined that this would work and that I would need to grow up.
 
At first I was bullied by the older ones as the new kid. Then I  started at a secondary school called Ecclesbourne and was placed a year behind so I could start in Year 7 and finish my learning.
 
After three years, in Year 10, I started to become better behaved. I passed all my exams at the end of Year 11.
 
It was time to choose my next path.
 
I decided to go to catering college to do a food course as I’d got a B in Home Economics GCSE and really loved baking – it gave me such a joyful feeling.
 
But I quit after a few months because I was struggling with life after the care system. I went into shared accommodation with one other person; it was OK to start with but then my mental health started suffering and I began self-harming. My girlfriend became pregnant, the relationship ended, and that had a big impact.
 
My real mum got in touch just before my eighteenth birthday. I went to stay with her for a couple of months in Scotland but the relationship broke down again and I returned to Derby.
That was when I became homeless. I was 19 with no job and I felt angry and frustrated.
 
I was homeless for a good ten years and in that time I slept on the streets, in hostels and sofa surfed.
 
It was very hard and temperatures sometimes got below zero. I walked around in the day and sat in libraries where it was warm. I found it hard to concentrate but I enjoyed reading cookbooks.
 
Still, I was getting into trouble and was arrested several times. I didn’t know where to go for help or support. I thought, this it is, this is my life.
 
Eventually I was placed into my own flat and got work as a chef. But my place in my flat broke down and I was homeless again. I was in some hostels for a few months.
 
2018 came. I had left the hostels and was in shared accommodation, which was OK to start with but problems started with the person I was sharing with. After a year, it was time to move on again. I wasn’t happy.
 
I became employed as a chef at a call centre. I had to leave the shared accommodation due to being employed; the rent would be expensive. In the summer of 2019, I moved into cost-effective, private rented accommodation.
 
I had a job, my own flat and a girlfriend. Life couldn’t get any better.
 
But then came the end of 2019 and the darkest period of my life. I lost my job, girlfriend and my flat all in one go. This had a very serious impact on my mental health.
 
I was referred to a mental health crisis team where I was assessed and admitted to a mental health unit. I was a serious risk to myself and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. I was emotionally unstable, couldn’t eat anything at first and refused help.
 
After a few weeks in hospital, I acknowledged that I definitely needed medication and support.
 
Christmas 2019. I was in hospital, soon to be discharged, but I was worried that I’d be sent right back into the hostels, which I didn’t want.
 
My worker on the crisis team got in touch with a housing charity called P3.
 
I was interviewed in hospital and offered a shared placement. I stressed my concern about sharing due to past experiences, but I would give it a go. So at the start of 2020, I moved into a P3 flat in Ilkeston, Derby.
 
My Support Worker made sure I was up to date with bills and managing my mental health. I engaged with P3 groups and started working at a test centre for the NHS.
With P3’s help, I bid on a council property at the end of 2020 and got a one-bedroom, unfurnished flat. My Support Worker helped me to get white goods and rent upfront. I had no problem with furnishing, as I had stuff from the P3 flat.
 
I became more confident and my self-esteem got better thanks to P3.
 
At the end of 2021 I moved in. The flat had been fully decorated and furnished and made very homely. In October I started my own baking business: JJ’s Cakes and Desserts.
 
Even though I have left P3, I still attend the groups where I bring some samples from my cake business. I’ve applied for an allotment so that I can run a project with P3. I’m also interested in becoming a volunteer; with my experiences, I feel I’d suit it.
 
My mental health is becoming better as I am on regular medication.
 
I have learned a lot about myself from being in care, becoming homeless, being in a mental health unit and having some very dark days.
 
My life has made me tough from what I’ve been through. Every day now, I wake up in the morning and think, yeah, go man! I’ve come a long way.
 
So as the saying goes: don’t judge a book by its cover until you fully understand the story.