Tammy Banks tells MAXINE GORDON about her journey from homelessness to Parliament

AFTER family breakdown, Tammy Banks became homeless at 15 and lived in a hostel for the rest of her teenage years.

Despite leaving school at 14 with no qualifications, today she works in the Houses of Parliament, as a lay member of the special committee that upholds MPs' standards. She is also the CEO of the charity re:shape which works to reduce levels of sexual abuse in society, and also runs TAYE, her own training business for people working with the most vulnerable members of society.

She lives in York with her husband Tim, who works at Nestle, and their two daughters, Charla, 13, and Katelyn, 11.

The contrast between her past and her present came into sharp focus recently when she bumped into an old friend Abbie*, who she hadn't seen for 20 years, since they were homeless together as teenagers. Abbie was still homeless, addicted to heroin and living on the streets near King's Cross. In contrast, Tammy was dressed in business attire, with heels and a smart suitcase – on her way to Parliament to do her job investigating complaints made about MPs.

They hugged, chatted, Tammy buying Abbie some food and drink. And most weeks since, they have met up, with Tammy making offers of help. Abbie, she said, was not ready to make any changes yet. But if and when she was, Tammy pledged she would be there for her.

Helping people is in Tammy's DNA. Much of her work is focussed on giving people skills to support the most vulnerable in society, or in trying to change the system, again so that those at risk can be better protected and thrive.

It all stems from her own story, where she was practically written off as a young teenager – until one person took a chance on her.

That person was Jane Hodges, a tutor at Peterborough Regional College, who agreed to let a "dishevelled and angry" 16-year-old Tammy sit in on her health and social care class.

"It was an extremely difficult time in my life," began Tammy. "I was living in a hostel that backed on to the college. She was the first person to have any belief in me. I turned up each day and sat at the back of the class. I completed the first year of the course in six weeks and they thought: 'Ok, she can do this'. So they let me on to the advanced A Level course and supported me to apply to university."

Tammy took psychology at Northampton University – moving out of the homeless hostel and into halls of residence. It was a revelation. "I saw parents fawning over their children and I never knew it was possible for parents to love a child that way."

She added: "For three years, I lived a completely different life that changed my direction. I changed my whole community. It showed me what possibility was."

Today she tries to replicate that for others through her work.

"I am attempting to make long-term change, but I never forget that people are suffering right now."

TAYE training, that she runs with her friend Faye Fox, offers coaching to front-line professionals such as police officers, social workers, and people who work with addicts and others with complex needs. The coaching focusses on safeguarding, equality and diversity, risk management and managing challenging behaviour.

The regular meet-ups with Albi in London are a stark reminder of how far Tammy has come in turning her life around. But she never forgets it was made possible by the support of her college tutor Jane.

Tammy said: "I had a complex and abusive childhood that led me to be homeless. In hindsight, I would never repeat that time in my life but I would never erase it either. It helped me become who I am, gave me resilience and helped me learn to survive.

"People, environment and opportunity are the things that change lives."

Tammy will be one of the speakers at York's first TEDx talk for women, taking place at The Mount School on Sunday.

The session, which is sold out, will be on the theme 'Incremental, Sustainable Change' – or how little steps can make a difference.

A range of inspirational women will be speaking, including award-winning business coach and speaker Taz Thornton; resilience expert Colleen Horne and Julia Unwin, former CEO of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Other York women speaking will be businesswoman Catherine Adamson and coach Andrea Morrison.

* Name has been changed to protect identity