-Michael Fernandes and Cheryl Holden have since added two more children to their family
-Determined to support themselves, they have only ever claimed benefits for one week
By James Tozer
It was an announcement that carried with it all the depressing hallmarks of a feckless broken family in the making.
After a relationship at school teenagers Michael Fernandes, 13, and his 15-year-old girlfriend Cheryl Holden revealed they were expecting a child. Their families were horrified.
Yet, almost a decade on, the couple have defied the nay-sayers and turned the negative stereotypes on their head.
Setting an example: Cheryl Holden, 24, and Michael Fernandes, 22, with children Archie, 11 months, Liam, eight, and Bryan, three
Not only are they still together, they have added to their family and now plan to marry.
And, shunning a life on benefits, after staying at school to pass his exams, Michael has worked full-time to support his family.
When little Liam arrived in 2003, Cheryl, by then aged 16, left school but attended council-run classes for teenage mothers while living at home in Rochdale, which has an above average teenage pregnancy rate.
Michael, who was then 14 and also lived with his parents, stayed on to pass six GCSEs, including one at A grade.
He began working as soon as he was able, first washing dishes at a restaurant after his classes.
'He'd come home from school, spend time with me and Liam, change out of his school uniform and go to work as a dishwasher,' Cheryl, now 24, said yesterday.
Cheryl, aged 16, and Michael, aged 14, outside his mother's house with their son Liam, aged two months, in 2003
Since then he has never spent more than a week on Jobseeker's Allowance, and for the past three years has been getting up at dawn to work as a landscape gardener.
Cheryl has been a full-time mother since sons Bryan - now three - and 11-month-old Archie arrived.
In 2009, Michael, now 22, proposed and the couple are taking part in a competition with a local radio station to win an all-expenses-paid wedding next month.
'Obviously we've done things backwards - it would be better to start a relationship, get married, buy a house and have children,' said Michael.
'Liam's eight now, it won't be long before he's the age I was when we had him. When he is I'll tell him he needs to wait, get a good education, go to university, and then when he has a family he'll be able to provide for them better than we've been able to.'
The couple put their success down to their supportive families.
‘Everybody said, “You’ll never last with a young child”,’ Michael added. ‘We showed everyone.’
And the pair have been determined to get by without hand-outs. ‘You should be able to support your own children and not rely on other people,’ said Michael. ‘I always thought, “They’re my children, I should take care of them”.’
The couple have been shortlisted for the wedding prize by Rock Radio.
‘We’re more inclined to spend money on the kids than save up for the wedding,’ said Cheryl. ‘That’s why winning would be so great.’
Despite friends and family telling the young couple, pictured in Spain in 2007, their relationship would not last, nine years on - and after two more children - the couple are still together and ready to tie the knot