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Zinnia’s Story

Youthbuilders’ Stories

Growing up was difficult for Zinnia. She was abused by her father, placed in foster care, was bullied, became pregnant at 16 and had to let her daughter be adopted. Now, Zinnia is a role model for other young people who have had a difficult start in life.

A Helping Hand

Growing up was difficult for 2018 Young Builder award winner Zinnia. Aged five, Zinnia’s mum threw her and her dad out. He was abusive to Zinnia and aged nine she and her sister were placed into foster care. Zinnia had never attended primary school and could not read or write.  

When Zinnia finally began secondary school, she struggled academically and was bullied. During this difficult time Zinnia discovered her love for art. She always looked forward to and enjoyed art lessons.

Aged sixteen Zinnia became pregnant and reluctantly gave her child up for adoption. Shortly after that Zinnia’s foster parents kicked her out. Zinnia moved around a lot—first living with her ex-partner, then his mum, then sofa surfing until she found a flat through a housing association.

Zinnia found it hard to cope on her own and struggled to manage the tenancy of her flat, almost becoming homeless again. She turned to Centrepoint for help.

The Road to Success

Centrepoint helped Zinnia with her mental health and gave her much needed emotional support, improving her confidence and self-esteem. They also helped with life skills around money management, tenancy related issues, employment and employability skills.

During that time Zinnia did casual work and work experience, supported by Centrepoint, and studied in her own time gaining FS Level 2 maths and English. It was while doing work experience that Zinnia realised what she wanted to do:

“I did work experience in painting and decorating and realised how much I love it. I kind of knew I always did because I liked art at school. Then I was encouraged to go for the apprenticeship.”

Zinnia landed an apprenticeship with North East Autism Society (NEAS), where she was the first female apprentice on their maintenance team—it was only then that Zinnia was diagnosed with dyslexia.

Zinnia worked maintaining homes, residential units and schools/colleges used by NEAS services. She attended Newcastle College where she studied for and gained her NVQ Diploma Levels 2 and 3 Painting and Decorating. She passed her first year in 2018, a milestone year for Zinnia.    

Kris Heskett from Centrepoint: “Zinnia is an amazing young person whose attitude and work ethic have been major contributing factors in turning her life around and the success in her work.”

Young Builder of the Year

Centrepoint nominated Zinnia for the Young Builder of the Year Awards in 2018. Through her hard work and determination, her commitment to her career in the construction industry, and her courage and achievements in her remarkable journey into adulthood, Zinnia made it as a finalist.

Zinnia attended the awards ceremony at the House of Commons, along with the other finalists, her mentor and friends from Centrepoint, as well as invited guests from the construction industry and MPs.

At the ceremony, Zinnia was announced the winner of the 18-24 year-old category and received £1,000 worth of professional tools as her prize.

Moving Forward—And Giving Back

Zinnia served her apprenticeship and passed her NVQ and is now a construction industry professional in her chosen trade as a painter and decorator. She is looking forward to a successful career. But Zinnia also wanted to give something back.

Working with Centrepoint, Zinnia helps other young people in difficulty and works as an ambassador for Centrepoint, speaking in front of MPs at Westminster, delivering awareness groups at charity events, and participating in delivering mental health groups for other young people.

We are also delighted to have part funded a study tour for Zinnia to the USA. Subsequently, Zinnia has become an ambassador for us at Youth Build UK, speaking passionately about our work and encouraging organisations to provide more opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We celebrate Zinnia’s remarkable achievements and wish her every success as she continues her life journey.

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