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April, 08, 2014

The bright poor: escaping the council estate

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Name: Katrina Holmes
Member of: Graduate Panellist
Joined: March, 2014
Katrina's Full Profile

I’m a council estate kid. A kid that grew up around tower blocks, police raids and fights. A kid that ate little and saw a lot. I’m a twenty one year old that still feels like that council estate kid. There’s this feeling that I’m a poorer breed; a breed that should be kept in the estate and only let out after dark. After all, no one would be able to see us then. When us kids from the estate converse, there’s a quiet acknowledgement. We know hardship; it’s settled in our bones like it’s the strength waking us up every morning. We’ve seen things that other people ignore or disbelieve in; we see life in its raw, truthful state. Broken homes, broken windows, broken bones. Does that make us less worthwhile?

Photo by Cassie Stewart

Photo by Cassie Stewart

I went to a grammar school; it was Ofsted’s idea of perfection and my idea of prejudice. There’s no tell-tale sign of being from ‘that council estate’ but they’ll see things and hear things and eventually know you in a way you didn’t want them to. Your deepest secrets laid bare through Chinese whispers and playground chit chat. Other parents will be warning their children to stay away from you as though you’re a disease spreading at the rate of the bubonic plague. I’d never bunked until sixth form. The issue is, if you tell someone often enough that they’re nothing; they’ll behave like that. I would bunk so I had control over something when I had no control over anything else and for a small moment, I felt free.

Photo by Harsha K R

Photo by Harsha K R

When a council estate kid has the opportunity to go to university, it’s a tough situation. No one thinks you can do it; you don’t think you can do it. It’s a live or let die moment where you make a choice that will change your life. Teachers refuse to help you and the few that do patronise you to within an inch of your life. This was my situation. My head of year 13 said ‘you have mammoth amounts of work to do if you have the slightest hope.’ I made a choice two weeks before my International Baccalaureate exams to actually try. I knew if I didn’t and failed, there would never be a way out of the estate. There’d be babies, drugs and survival of the fittest and I was at my weakest.

Photo By HoxtonChina

Photo By HoxtonChina

I passed all seven subjects with an A* in English. When you’re studying for a degree, you feel as though you’re part of an underground revolution that’s going to rise up and take over the world with words and new-found respect. It doesn’t work out like that. I graduated last July and have been working non-stop since. There’s rent to pay, food to buy and bills that venomously stack up yet I’m closer to Mars than to a graduate job. There’s a huge, fundamental catch 22 that so many people are failing to see. Companies nod along to your degree as though it’s as easy as reciting the ABC and ask ‘what experience do you have?’ I ponder this. They want you full time unpaid; how will we survive with no parents and no help?

Photo by Mateus Felipe C.

Photo by Mateus Felipe C.

When I reluctantly say I have no internship experience, I know they’re questioning my dedication to the craft that I love. I ask, doesn’t my work ethic that continuously pushes me to a workplace that offers me nothing show more than a couple of internships? If I was to go for the same job as someone who has three internships under their literature belt, does that make them a better writer than me or does it simply show their social class? It’s a wonderful thing to get out there and grow from internships but what if you’re on the other side?

Middle-class children from middle-class families will continue to be middle-class and us council estate kids, degree or no degree, will always be second best. The catch 22 is that some people are born with the love of both parents and some people aren’t. That is the way of the world and clearly, we’re still much more privileged than a lot of other people in a lot of other places. But how can we stop being poor if companies are continuously choosing those with the greatest experience but not the greatest skill? Council estate kids aren’t envious of middle-class people; the only thing we are, some of us, is motivated not to go back to the place that took so much from us. Staff and pupils from my past said I may as well not bother. They said a council estate kid will get nowhere and I wonder now where exactly my nowhere will be?

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