AS a centre that provides emergency care for homeless young mothers and their children, Maryvale is a unique service in the North West.

Concentrating on helping young girls between 16 and 25, this Mother and Baby Unit is often a last chance saloon for new mum’s in East Lancashire.

As the welfare system is overhauled and families plunged further into despair by shrinking benefits, Lancashire Telegraph reporter Vanessa Cornall visited the centre to see just how much it is depended upon.

“My ex-partner used to hit out at me whenever we had an argument,” said Leanne, a single mother forced into the Maryvale Centre after becoming a victim of domestic violence.

“I just hadn’t realised how bad things had got. He would have a drink and then lash out at me.

“Then one day I decided I was not going to take it anymore and I started fighting back. The police got involved until eventually they gave me an ultimatum, either I leave the relationship or my young son goes into cares,” Leanne added.

The 21-year-old former nursery nurse has been at Maryvale for six months and is now planning a future for herself and her son.

She said: “Being a nursery nurse I never believed I would have anything to do with social services. My little boy was put on the ‘at risk’ register because of the threat of emotional abuse by having to watch the violence.

“When I came to Maryvale I had no confidence at all. I knew I wanted to sort my life out for me and my child so I did everything I could to get him off the social services radar in three months.

“I want to use my experience here to help others. When I am ready to leave I want to go to university and train to be a counsellor so I can come back and work here.”

The Maryvale centre, in Blackburn, is run by Caritas, the official charity of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford.

A dedicated team of staff are available 24 hours a day and provide individual support for each of the seven girls and their children who live in their own designated bedsit.

Each girl that arrives at Maryvale is offered practical support on life skills including budgeting and managing money, sorting benefits, help on caring for baby, housing advice and a friendly person to talk to.

An average resident stays at the centre for six months, but they can stay for up to two years depending upon their situation.

The deputy manager of Mary Vale, Karen Duffy, said she had helped support young mothers from across East Lancashire for 10 years.

She said: “As a survivor of domestic violence myself I can really relate to what the girls are going through. Sometimes we are the very last chance for young girls to get their babies out of care.

“We all sometimes need that extra bit of help for all sorts of different reasons.

“Twenty plus years ago I fled Scotland with my two children.

“I jumped on a train and came to Blackburn. As I got back on my feet I started helping out at Women's Aid before going back to university to become a counsellor.

“A unit like Maryvale is imperative. Without it where would all these children go?

“With the shake up coming to the welfare system I am convinced it is only going to get worse. Over the years we have seen the need for units like this increase tenfold.”

Maryvale has helped 362 teenage mums from across the North West since it opened in June 1987.

Another resident at Maryvale is 17-year-old Nicole and her 15-month-old daughter Darcie.

Nicole said: “When I found out I was pregnant I was just 15.

“Despite only being young I wanted to be independent and my mum helped me get in touch with Maryvale.

“It’s being great living here as it has really helped me and my daughter.”

Funding for the unit comes from the government programme for funding, Supporting People and staff fundraising.

Referrals are made by a variety of partner agencies including local authorities and housing bodies.

As each residents gets ready to leave the centre the staff help them acquire their own home through Twin Valley Homes.

A mystery benefactor recently provided the children at the unit with Christmas present after walking from Blackpool Tower to Blackburn Cathedral.

Anyone wanting to make a donation should visit or text MUMS12 £5 to 70070.