'How a businessman helped me rebuild my lifestyle'

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

Tomorrow last year’s Phoenix award winner, teenager Tasha Woods, will proudly present this year’s trophy to her Pride of Flintshire successor.

She will stand alongside the Children’s Commissioner for Wales at the prestigious ceremony.

The occasion reflects the remarkable turnaround that the 19-year-old has experienced over the past few years.

Five years ago, when she was 14, Tasha was in big trouble.

The self-confessed ‘tearaway’ was in care and spending her days drinking on the streets

As her self destructive lifestyle continued, she soon found herself in trouble with the authorities.

But then Tasha’s life changed completely.

Wrexham man George Powell is a builder by trade, running the successful firm that he and his brother started in the 1980s, Universal Builders.

Also, some 20 years ago, George became a foster parent for the first time.

Seeing the difference that his support could make to a youngster’s life, George decided to use his own success to try to help others find a house or flat, training – within his own business or with associated companies – or education, and to give them a start in life that they otherwise would not get.

He established a unique project, Universal Rentals and Support, which has benefited numerous young people in of care in the region.

Four years ago, George received a call from the local authority, asking if he could take on a troublesome teen named Natasha Woods on a short term placement.

He agreed, though he admits now that he “didn’t know what I was letting myself in for.”

Within a few days Tasha had got herself drunk, lost the key to the room she had been provided with and so kicked the door in.

“I’ve never seen a young girl do so much damage,” the 49-year-old laughs, sitting opposite Tasha in one of the houses he provides for youngsters.

“She was supposed to be with us for 28 days and at that point I couldn’t wait for that time to be up.”

However, just a few weeks later and George agreed to extend Tasha’s stay for a further 12 weeks.

Tasha, who is now studying business studies in college, recalls: “Things needed to change, otherwise I’d either be dead or locked up for the rest of my life. I don’t know at what point I changed, I suppose you could say lightbulb went off in my head. But I wouldn’t be anywhere without George’s help.

“He put me on the right path, he encouraged me to enroll in college which is something I’d never have thought about otherwise. He arranged my flat for me (George acts as guarantor for a number of youngsters as well as housing some in purpose built accommodation) and helped me to learn to drive.

“It’s given me more self confidence and self belief which I didn’t have before.”
George is very modest about the work he has done with young people but, from an outside perspective, it is quite incredible.

Youngsters like Tasha are being given a unique chance to thrive and they are taking it.

Some of them are in college, others are on apprenticeships or have gone on to find employment. One young man, who has a disability, is keen on cars so George has set up a car valeting business for him to run with the help of a member of staff.

The young people are given help and advice, the local PCSO is a regular visitor, helping to break down any barriers between them and the police. George makes sure that the youngsters themselves are directly involved in any project that will benefit them – the construction or refurbishment of accommodation, the creation of a purpose-built art room.

“If they’ve been involved in making it, they are more likely to look after it,” he says.
Tasha is determined to go on to further training and then on to employment. She has put her past behind her and is looking at a bright future.

As Tasha herself puts it: “It’s like gold dust, you don’t find it anywhere. But we’ve been lucky enough to find it here, there’s nobody like George around here.”

See full story in the Leader

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