Family always comes first for foster carers of fifteen
FOR more than two decades Leslie and Bessie Foster have opened up their Audley home to youngsters in need of a family.
The couple, who have been married for 43 years, decided to become foster carers after they discovered they couldn't have children of their own.
They eventually adopted a child, Matthew, when he was aged seven, after he came to live with them when he was a one-year-old baby.
Bessie, who grew up in Audley and is now aged 76, met her future husband on a night out at Halmerend Workingmen's Club.
Leslie, a former park ranger, bet his friend that he wouldn't dare ask Bessie on a date.
But his friend lost the bet and Leslie took Bessie out instead.
It was a whirlwind romance.
Within months the pair married at St James's Church, in Audley, before a reception at the Gorsty Hall Hotel and a honeymoon in Llandudno.
Bessie, aged 33 at the time, wore a dress costing £25 from Bratt and Dykes, ordered specially from Ellis's in London.
"We met at Christmas, got engaged in Easter and were married by September," says Bessie, a former worker at Rists.
Sadly, within 12 months of their marriage in 1969, Bessie and Leslie were told they couldn't have the family they so longed for.
"We decided to go for fostering, got approved and never looked back," says Bessie.
Her first young charge was a 10-day old baby, who she cared for until he left them aged three months.
They have since looked after 15 more children, ranging in ages from newborns up to the age of eight or nine.
Some remained with the Fosters for years while others stayed just a short period until a more permanent home was found for them.
"We knew in our own minds that they always had to go back when they finished staying with us," continues Leslie, aged 74.
"But children make a family don't they? You can sometimes have a difficult child, but then again no child is perfect."
The couple only gave up fostering after Bessie's brother fell ill.
They still keep in contact with some of the children placed into their care although because others were formally adopted elsewhere, they haven't been able to stay in touch with every one.
Both now enjoy gardening and have even picked up awards for their horticultural prowess.
In 2011, Bessie won a prize for Aspire Housing's Conservation Garden of the Year thanks to her efforts at her Meadowside Avenue home.
Over the years, she and Leslie have helped their home town collect a string of trophies – including wins in the Britain In Bloom and World In Bloom contests.
"What Leslie likes, I like," says Bessie. "Married life is great.
"You work at a marriage though and if you don't work at it, you're in trouble."
"I can't understand people who say that they spend 60 years together and have never had an argument though – of course you have your ups and downs, but we do get on really well," adds Leslie.
They now have a six-month-old grandchild named Sophie, who is Matthew's daughter.
"I loved fostering and I'd do it all again now," says Bessie.
"I didn't want to go through life with no children. I'm a twin and Leslie is one of seven. If I'd had children of my own, I'd still want to foster. We have no regrets."
1 May 2012