'Never in a million years when I was desperate to get off benefits did I think I'd be running my own cleaning business'
Struggling to make ends meet and to cope with her son's diagnosis of ADHD, single mum Bobbie Carson (36), from east Belfast, had to give up her job. But now, two years later, she's the boss of a thriving company with a bright future now seemingly assured. She tells her inspiring story to Stephanie Bell
When the going gets tough the tough get going is a famous lyric that could have been written for inspirational east Belfast mum Bobbie Carson.
Fresh from launching her own cleaning company in Belfast last month, life couldn't be sweeter for the 36-year-old single mum to Iain (14) and Rachel (16).
As she enthuses about the future and her plans to own her own house before she is 40, it is hard to believe that just two years ago Bobbie had reached one of the lowest points in her life.
As a single parent struggling to come to terms with her son's diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Bobby found herself out of a job and on benefits.
Struggling to make ends meet, she started to clean the houses of friends and family. Word quickly spread and her business kept growing and growing.
Two years ago to the day when she took on her first cleaning job she moved the business out of her small Housing Executive home in east Belfast into new offices and officially launched Castlereagh Cleaning Company employing seven people with plans to take on four more in the coming weeks.
Bobbie's new business has also just branched out from cleaning private homes and offices to secure its first commercial contracts.
From being unemployed to running her own company in just two years is something she herself can't quite believe.
"I really had got to the point when I thought all there was for me was being a full-time carer to my son and unemployed," she says.
"I can't believe that cleaning to earn some money has led to this."
Her inspirational journey is all the more encouraging because she has coped with a demanding home life helping her young son Iain to manage his ADHD.
Bobbie worked as a cleaner but following Iain's diagnosis had to have so much time off work to bring her son to medical appointments that she eventually had to leave her job.
"There were so many appointments that I was constantly having to take time off work," she says.
"It was becoming a problem for my employers and now as an employer myself I can understand why. I also was letting the team that I worked with down.
"They were very patient with me but eventually it became too hard to manage my job with my child and I felt I had no choice but to leave.
"I had been on benefits before for short periods but that Christmas of 2015 after I left work was a real struggle."
Bobbie has been a single parent since her children were very young and so she was coping alone with Iain's condition. ADHD is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Iain's diagnosis when he was seven came as a relief to his anxious mum who worried about why her son was so hyper.
"At first I thought it was just boys being boys. I had this very placid, laid back daughter and then my son came along and you couldn't pacify him," she says.
"It was picked up very quickly in primary school and after his diagnosis I did a parent's course and Rachel did a siblings course to help us to understand and cope.
"Iain also learnt a lot about it and about how he could handle it better. Learning about it is one thing but living with it is very different.
"He is a child who doesn't sleep and can't sit at peace. He just doesn't get tired. If he had five hours of sleep that would be a brilliant night.
"When he was younger I was up and down all the time during the night and I still sleep with one eye open to keep an eye on him.
"He is very hyper and gets very excited and can't focus for too long. School can be very tough on him and sometimes he has to have a reduced timetable.
"I was told as he got older it would become easier, but that hasn't happened."
Coping with the challenges of her son's condition was bad enough, but having no money coming in made life unbearable for Bobbie which is why she decided two years ago to go self-employed. As a single mum she could work 16 hours and qualify for tax credits.
Thanks to family and friends she soon built up enough work cleaning their homes to fulfil her 16-hour week.
Now happily settled in a relationship, her partner gifted her money to pay for Public Liability Insurance and buy the cleaning equipment she needed to get started.
And once she was up and running there was no stopping her.
"I just thought at the start if I could do 16 hours that would be great and I would get my tax credits," says Bobbie.
"I started doing two hours here and there for friends and family and then they recommended me to their friends and, by March 16, 2016, after that bad Christmas, I was able to make the big leap from benefits to being self-employed."
By October she had so much work that she employed her first staff member and it just kept snowballing.
To mark two years in business on March 16 this year she moved the business out of her east Belfast home and into offices in the Four Winds area and officially launched her company Castlereagh Cleaning Services.
While she now spends a good part of her week in the office doing administration work, training and promoting her new company, she is not afraid to get her hands dirty and always turns up for work in her cleaning uniform ready to stand in for any staff member who is off or help out on bigger jobs.
"Never in a million years could I have thought when I was desperate to get off benefits two years ago that I would be running my own company," she says.
"I now have a team of seven and we are taking on two more staff next month and two more the month after that.
"I thought it was really appropriate to launch the business on the same day that I became self-employed two years ago.
"My wee Housing Executive house was bursting at the seams having to store all the cleaning equipment - the mops and vacuum cleaners and everything we need - and also having seven girls in my kitchen at the start of the day wasn't ideal, so it was time to have our own premises.
"We have also got our health and safety and risk assessments done so that we can do commercial work and we are dipping our toe in that market with our first contracts.
"I love cleaning. I find it very therapeutic. I always come into the office in my cleaning uniform prepared to go out. I still clean about 10-15 hours a week and the rest of the time would be in the office. I'm still one of the girls - I am now just a cleaner with overheads."
Quality service and determination is at the heart of Bobbie's success. While most of her work involves cleaning private houses, she says that her approach is to go the extra mile and she trains her staff to do the same.
"I think of it from my own point of view that if I was out at work all day and had cleaners in, what would I like to come home to?" she says.
"If there are dishes in the sink I hadn't time to do before work it would be great that they were done so we would wash them and dry them and put them away.
"If I had filled the dishwasher before I went to work, I know it would be great to come home and that is emptied and so we will empty that.
"If there is washing on the line and the rain comes on we will take it in so that the person doesn't have to do it again.
"We do these wee extras on top of the general cleaning that we have been asked to do. It is about offering that wee bit more and going the extra mile and people really appreciate it."
With her business thriving, her next goal is to buy her own home before she is 40.
"That's my dream now to get on the property ladder in the next few years which would be great," says Bobbie.
"Living with a child who has ADHD for a long time, I thought I had to be there for him constantly and being self-employed has given me the freedom to work and be there for Iain when he needs me.
"Since I started, two guys and two girls who worked for me have gone out on their own and I encouraged them all the way.
"There is loads of work out there for everybody and if I can do it anybody can. There is no reason in the world why anyone shouldn't go for it."
Castlereagh Cleaning Company, tel: 07738 007914