From homeless to happy - the emotional story of how one Sunderland woman changed her life
Bullied, put into care, homeless and forced to give up her baby girl.
Zinnia Young has suffered for so much of her life but due to her determination she has turned things around and has the awards to prove it.
Now, the 23-year-old has shared her story in the hope she can one day make her daughter proud - and that it will also inspire others going through a difficult period in their own lives.
Growing up, social workers tried to put Zinnia and her sisters into care but every time they got close her family would move away - and at one point they were living in a tent.
Aged nine, Zinnia was taken into foster care - having never been to school before she was unable to read and write and suffered relentless bullying.
But the creative youngster always enjoyed art classes.
She found it difficult to socialise with others having spent so much time alone and at the age of 13 she started to self-harm.
Throughout her childhood she’d dream of having a normal life and becoming a mum.
At 16 she fell pregnant and when her daughter was born she suffered from post natal depression.
After three months, while struggling to cope, she decided on adoption to give her daughter a better start in life.
Zinnia said: “For the full nine months of my pregnancy I had to fought to keep her and they eventually said I could have her.
“After she was born, I was asking for help because I had post natal depression but they refused saying I had to do it by myself.
“When she turned three-months I decided to put her up for adoption. I just couldn’t cope I didn’t want her to have the life I had.
“As soon as I made that decision I had one last night with her and then they asked me to leave the next day - which was my 18th birthday.”
Zinnia found herself back in an unhealthy relationship but once she got her own flat she began to fight to get her daughter back.
Court proceedings went on for almost a year before it was decided her daughter would be adopted.
“During this time I had contact with her so the last contact with her was really hard,” said Zinnia, “After that day I locked myself away for nine months and wouldn’t leave the flat.”
Not wanting to see anyone she moved around a lot – first living with her ex, then his mum, then sofa surfing.
It was a dark time in Zinnia’s life where she says friends took advantage of her and she struggled with her mental health.
But thanks to the support of Jordan Watts, a close friend who later became her boyfriend, and charity Centrepoint, Zinnia to push for the life she wanted.
Zinnia, who now lives in her own flat in Sunderland, said: “Jordan tried really hard to gain my trust which then developed into a relationship and because of Centrepoint and because of him I’ve managed to get my job and my awards. “Now I’m trying to give back and I’m trying to help other young people. By sharing my story, which isn’t easy to talk about, I’m hoping it will inspire other young people to look and think ‘wow I can change my life.”
The 23-year-old is now in her second year of a painting and decorating apprenticeship with North East Autism Society, and is living in privately rented accommodation.
This year, Zinnia has won three awards including most recently the Youthbuild UK’s 2018 Young Builder of the Year.
At the awards she met Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South. She said: “It was a pleasure to meet Zinnia at the Young Builder of the Year Awards, and I am delighted that she was announced as the winner.”
“Zinnia’s story is inspirational. She has shown incredible strength and determination to overcome many obstacles in her life and achieve her dream job. Zinnia deserves every success.”
In February, Zinnia met The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, as she was presented with a Rising Star trophy at the Centrepoint Awards, held at Kensington Palace.
She said: “I think people would be surprised to see me now after everything I’ve gone through I’ve overcome and been able to get my dream job and be able to become a really strong independent woman.
“Throughout my whole life I’ve always been told that I’m not going to be successful in life, I’m just going to end up homeless on the street and turn to drugs and alcohol and I’ve done the complete opposite.
“I’m hoping my daughter would be proud, she’s the main reason I wanted to change my life around.
“A few years ago, my biological mam got in touch and I met up with her for the first time since I was nine and I was disappointed, She hadn’t changed her life it felt as if losing a daughter meant nothing to her - she hadn’t done anything to change.
“It made me realise that I don’t want my daughter to look at me like that and it was then I realised I need to change.”