IT was perhaps inevitable that someone who had such a difficult start in life as Tracy Fenton would devote a large part of her own existence to helping other damaged souls.

What was not so predictable was that Tracy, now 50, would be able to extend that influence more than 2,000 miles and a different culture away from her Bolton home to Kurdistan. Now, she is working with students and others there, offering support and advice, and her work has resulted in the first-ever holistic art centre in the whole of the Middle East.

Tracy’s turbulent childhood began when she was first fostered at just six weeks old; her mother was 17. She spent a childhood in and out of care and by the time she was 16 had been in 40 different homes and been abused physically, sexually and emotionally.

At 13 and living in Leeds, she ran away, back to her Bolton home, and was fostered by someone to whom she could finally relate. Judith Martin changed Tracy’s life but by then, the youngster had already found that she could always find a refuge in art.

The creative child grew up into a creative teenager but she left school at 16 and took a variety of dead-end jobs. Relationships were equally transient.

She was married and divorced twice by the time she was 34 but consoles herself that she also has “three wonderful daughters” as a result. Today, she also has three grand-daughters on whom she dotes.

In spite of her fractured early education, Tracy discovered to her surprise that she loved education – “I loved to learn”. In her 30s, she took an art foundation course and then a fine arts’ degree at the University of Bolton.

Interestingly, she found that the theme of “home” recurred in much of her work – “I suppose because of my own experiences just trying to find a home,” she said.

Her love of learning also prompted her to take a teaching certificate at night school in Bury while studying by day in Bolton. More recently, she has taken a Masters in Creative Education.

In her final degree year at Bolton, she created an installation which encapsulated much of the frightened youngster she had once been. This caught the eye of social workers who felt it would be useful in working with abused children. Tracy was also asked to put on a workshop – her first.

This introduction to using her art positively to help others changed her direction but not before an even more powerful force had proved a major life influence.

“I was walking in Moss Bank Park and saw all these people gathered. I thought it was a wedding,” she recalled. “It wasn’t, it was a Christian meeting.

“One of the women there asked me if I was all right. That opened the floodgates: I just burst into tears. But it felt right to be there.”

She started attending what is now Kings Church in Bolton and is very open that “none of the things I’ve achieved in my life have been without His power.” Tracy felt she had found a new family, a new community and purpose: a home.

She founded her own charity, Art Fantastic, using her skills to support others. She also worked for Manchester Social Services Department “helping very troubled youngsters on a one-to-one basis”.

At the end of 2016, she had another pivotal moment. “I heard God’s voice talking to me and saying ‘University of Kurdistan.’ I had no idea where that came from,” she said, “but I felt I wanted to find out more.”

Tracy contacted the vice-chancellor of the University of Kurdistan and the result was that she was offered a post in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, as the university’s first Artist in Residence.

“Initially, they didn’t know what to make of me”, she recalled. But, soon, they obviously realised that this determined Western woman was prepared to help and involve herself with students and staff. Tracy used her artwork, her language and her great capacity for genuine caring in a support centre.

In a Muslim, Middle Eastern country where a woman’s role is very curtailed, Tracy has somehow earned acceptance and acknowledgement that her work is effective.

“We work with anyone – including women captured by ISIS,” she explained. “We’re there to listen, to help, to encourage positivity, to give everyone a voice.”

She arranged a modern art exhibition in Erbil last year and plans to open another support centre soon.

Back in Bolton for a brief holiday, Tracy said that she recognises that her job has been “to open doors.”

Life is changing, very slowly, in Kurdistan but Tracy will try – with the help of her strong faith – to influence that change.

“I think,” she said, nodding, “that’s what I was always meant to do.”