I’m Nicole, I live in Portglenone with my partner and I work as a cook at Corrymeela. I really love my job—life is pretty great right now…but it hasn’t always been like that.
I was born and raised in Craigavon. The estate was rough—always a lot of drinking, fighting and drugs misuse. The Police were in and out all the time. To me that was just normal. It was all I knew, really.
My mum was my hero, but she struggled with mental health issues, so I lived with my nanny. Mum was always there, but it was nanny who looked after me. But when I was 7 or 8 my nanny passed away, and I had to move back in with mum. I became her carer…it was really hard. I had to grow up a lot faster than most other 8 year olds.
My Godmother Mona was a real constant in my life. For years every summer, she faithfully brought me and mum to stay at Corrymeela with lots of other families from Craigavon. Mona is one in a million. She means so much to so many young people like me, I was just lucky enough be her Godchild. My aunt Caroline and uncle Gary played a really vital part in my childhood too, taking care of me and bringing me to Corrymeela along with my cousin Jay.
At Corrymeela, I got to properly be a child, to do fun stuff. I had my first ever trip to the beach and my first trip to Barry’s. I remember getting two free tokens to go on the rides. It was a proper day out as a family—me, my mum, and other families from Craigavon. It really lifted the weight off my shoulders.
I loved meeting so many people from all sorts of backgrounds—you learn so much from different people. I even began to volunteer myself eventually. I really enjoyed working with kids and family groups at the centre…it was so rewarding.
Over the years, Corrymeela became like a second home to me. It felt so safe compared to what I was used to. It also helped me see that there was a lot more to life, a lot more opportunities.
Corrymeela inspired me to do well at school and qualify as a cook. For 5 years, I worked in the Seagoe hotel in Portadown. And then last year I got my dream job as a cook at Corrymeela, where I get to provide delicious meals for so many guests who visit the Centre every week.
Our kitchen team are like family to me. Mel’s the big brother, Roisin is the Mummy and William is the uncle, the go to person for advice. They really look after me.
This Christmas is going to be a really special one for me—my partner and I are expecting our first child, a baby girl. I have so many dreams for her. I want her to have stories at bedtime, family dinners and trips to the park. Simple things that people might take for granted, but it’s so different to the world I grew up in…I didn’t have those things. I want her to have more opportunities than I did.
I may have had a difficult start in life but over the years Mona, the volunteers and staff at Corrymeela shone a light in my life that made such a huge difference—I don’t know where I would have ended up without them. Corrymeela was and is the best thing that happened to me.
And now life’s come full circle. In my work at Corrymeela, I get to use my skill as a cook to welcome people, to look after people. I get to help others the way others helped me back when I was a little girl who needed some extra support. It really does take a village…
Next year, we want to continue to shine a light for peace by welcoming hundreds more people like me to our Centre.
This Christmas, you can continue to shine a light for peace by giving a donation—find out how you can do that by clicking the link below.