When Aimee Gibson was at the lowest point in her life, she couldn’t imagine how things might one day change for the better.
A difficult home life and a lack of confidence had left her struggling to find where she belonged.
But signing up to take part in Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service’s Prince’s Trust programme led Aimee in a different direction.
And after a lot of hard work and dedication, she’s now found her place in life – as a firefighter at Southampton’s St Mary’s station.
“Joining the fire service saved my life,” says Aimee.
“It’s given me the security I needed, a job and a career for the next 40 years, and it has pushed me in the right direction and given me a focus.
“I got to a stage where I was suicidal, but I know that I’ve got a group of people I can talk to if I ever get to that stage again. It’s given me a family.”
HIWFRS’s Prince’s Trust programme is open to young people aged between 16 and 25 who are unemployed and are not in training or education.
The free 12-week course gives them a chance to build confidence, take part in team challenges, gain valuable work experience placements and complete a community project.
It also gives them an opportunity to break down personal barriers and overcome obstacles, so they are better prepared for work.
For Aimee, it also sparked an interest in becoming a firefighter.
She’d lost her job and hadn’t enjoyed college when she first applied to join the Prince’s Trust Southampton programme, based at Redbridge Fire Station.
“At first I didn’t think I’d want to get involved in a big group,” she explains.
“I wasn’t good at making friends and thought I’d just do it to start doing things with the fire service, even if I didn’t want to be in a team, but I loved the team.
“In the end, I didn’t want it to end. I fitted in with everyone really well and it became a second family.”
Aimee’s confidence blossomed during the 12 weeks, and she stayed in touch with her instructor, who was herself going through the firefighter recruitment process.
When the recruitment window opened, Aimee applied and was delighted to get in.
In January she celebrated completing her initial 20-week firefighter training course, graduating alongside 14 others.
Being on station has been everything she’d hoped it would be and Aimee’s now getting stuck into all that being a firefighter involves.
Riding the truck alongside her Watch mates is giving her the chance to help her community and she’s determined to provide others with the support she herself had needed.
“I never had much of a family unit, I moved from family to family,” she says.
“Just before I left school I was taken to social services and pretty much left on the doorstep. I was 14.
“My friend’s family let me sleep on the sofa and I did a bit of sofa surfing. I didn’t really have anywhere else to go so was going between people and after that I was declared homeless. I managed to get a place at a YMCA flat. I hated it but I had nowhere else to go.
“When I look at the fire service it is like a family for me. I have my friends and family right there when I need them and there’s also someone who needs me.
“There was a lot of time when I felt like I didn’t have the help I needed. I wish I could have changed all of that. If I can help someone and know that they can get what they need then that’s really important to me.
“We don’t just put out fires. The community safety work and the safe and well visits are so important.”
New Prince’s Trust team programmes start on May 9 in Southampton, Basingstoke and Sandown and Aimee urges anyone wanting to kick-start their life to give it a go.
“I would 100 per cent recommend joining a Prince’s Trust team,” she adds.
“Even if you don’t want to be a firefighter, do the Prince’s Trust anyway. It gave me something to look forward to, it will give you that encouragement to get up and do something.”
Text 07918 887897 for more information or go to: HIWFRS Prince’s Trust