Escaping a turbulent home life, Martha Hayward found herself homeless at the age of just 16.
Despite the poverty and drug addiction surrounding her, she defied all expectations to become a professional soprano. Now, as music teacher, she is determined to do what she can to help others.
“Education was the key for me escaping homelessness,” she said. “I don’t think I would have survived being in a hostel if I hadn’t been in school – it gave me my escape and an end goal of going to university. I still had that hope. Lots of people, when they become homeless, lose that. But if you keep trying, someone will help.”
Miss Hayward, brought up in Scotland, had a difficult childhood. Having lost her father, her ‘rock’ at 14, she was living in a toxic environment with a mother she did not get along with. At 16 she decided it was time to leave.
“I couldn’t cope,” she said. “I was constantly talking to teachers at school, trying to find out what to do. I had to leave. I knew that if I didn’t I wouldn’t survive.”
But her hopes for a new future weren’t as straightforward as she had hoped. There was no nowhere to go. Eventually, with the help of a friend’s mother, she was moved to a homeless shelter.
“The hostel was horrible,” she said. “People taking drugs, people who were suicidal. I stayed there for about a month, but they knew I didn’t belong. Even the others waiting for a home knew that, because I was still at school, they felt I deserved a flat.”
She was moved to supervised accommodation, cooking meals to prove she could look after herself. Then she was offered a council flat, and would work different jobs for £4 an hour to pay the rent. Eventually, she was accepted to university in Aberdeen, completing a masters degree at the Leeds College of Music.
She credits her teachers, a Mr Parkinson is particular, for seeing her through school and ensuring she went on to university.
“I’ll be asking him to walk me down the aisle, if ever I get married,” the now 29-year-old said. “I was lucky. Now, there’s no housing benefit for 16 to 24-year-olds.
“Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to pay the rent. I survived on £45 a week income support. I got free school meals, and I knew that if a sandwich was 55p, I could get two. University was free in Scotland, so I stayed. I was thrifty. It’s made me who I am. If I hadn’t left home, I wouldn’t be singing or teaching. It’s made me really determined, and strong.”
Miss Hayward is now a professional performer and a music teacher with pupils across South Yorkshire. She owns her own home, and is a confident businesswoman. And she is determined to do what she can to help others facing the same situation.
“Without the help of my school, the benefit system and the homeless shelter I finally managed to get into, I would have been on the streets and would never have been able to become who I am now,” she said. “I am now able to put back into the system that helped me grow and want to show to others what is possible with some help from others.”
Miss Hayward volunteers at a soup kitchen in Barnsley, and has helped to arrange fundraisers to support it, from raffles to cake bakes. But the funds coming in were small sums, so the group is today hosting a celebration event in the hope of attracting a crowd.
A concert is to be held at St Mary’s Church from 4pm, featuring Penistone Children’s Choir and Barnsley’s Got Talent finalist Ruby Lister, as well as music from opera to musical theatre and pop.
“With a big building, and a big audience, hopefully we can make a difference,” she said.