To mark our 25th anniversary, Juliet, now 33, kindly shares her Red Balloon story. She describes how being at Red Balloon Cambridge helped her develop the resilience she needed as a child, as an adult.
Before Red Balloon
“I joined Red Balloon in 1998. Before then, I had progressively stopped going to school completely. I just got into a regular cycle of not going. At first, I was missing a couple of days a week, then I got to the stage when I wouldn’t go at all; I simply refused.
“Looking back, there was a combination of factors behind my growing absence. I had started a new secondary school where there were only a couple of other girls from my previous school; they ditched me when we got there. I was very overweight which obviously didn’t make you very popular in a private girls school. I had a difficult home life, and I ended up being quite isolated from everyone else. Everything was pretty miserable and I was looking for a way to get out of the entire situation.
Arriving at the Centre
“It became clear that I wasn’t able to continue, and I refused to go to any other secondary schools. Luckily, I got into Red Balloon. I remember it being based in Carrie’s house at the time, which was obviously a very different environment. I didn’t feel like a freak, and no-one was judging you.
Confidence and the social side
“The academic side was never my problem. It was all the social stuff that I found hard; not having the confidence to just deal with all the crap that being a teenager means. While me and the other students had a lot in common, we had wildly different experiences. I think there is a definite sense of solidarity.
“Red Balloon is a safe space where individuality is encouraged, and we had to treat people with respect. It was a good preparation for adult life. It equipped me with the knowledge of how to deal with people who are very different from you; that can sometimes be really easy and exciting, and sometimes can be quite challenging. Red Balloon taught me that we have to start from a baseline of mutual respect for each other, which I think is very positive.
“Red Balloon was good for developing my maturity, and helped me confront my own personal difficulties. I came to realise that everyone has their challenges, areas of concern or anxiety, but we can learn how to deal with them with the right support.
Leaving Red Balloon
“I stayed at Red Balloon for four years. I sat 10 GCSEs and went to sixth form college when I was 15 to do A levels. I went to University, worked in a commercial art gallery, did a Masters degree and progressed to work in London arts organisations.
“Red Balloon was like a break point for me, an opportunity to reflect and reconfigure and get myself back in the direction that I wanted to go. I don’t really know how it would have turned out without them. I’m hugely grateful for Red Balloon being the lifeline I needed at exactly that point in my life.”