Ola first started with St Mungo’s as a volunteer, inspired by his mum. Now he’s a Team Leader at St Mungo’s Criminal Justice Housing Information Advice Service, managing important support work across five prisons. Ola helps people leaving the criminal justice system find a place to live and works with them to make sure they keep their home. This is his story.
I got into St Mungo’s through volunteering with St Mungo’s Islington Mental Health team. It’s my sixth year here now. I first heard about St Mungo’s from my mum, who started working part time at St Mungo’s over ten years ago as a cook at Barnsbury Road.
I studied English Literature at university and, after that, I worked for a project management company based in Piccadilly, London. That didn’t work out. I really didn’t enjoy the work. I found it too corporate for me, not a very friendly environment, disposable in the sense that everyone was living a very hard and fast life, working really long hours, playing hard, working hard, and then doing it all over again with no fulfilment.
There just wasn’t enough reward in that lifestyle for me. I realised I wanted to work in a more compassionate environment, making a real difference. That’s when I started volunteering for St Mungo’s in 2013.
I applied and did an induction, which was really inspiring and then started running film and games activities, talking to people three times a week.
From there, I realised I wanted to work for St Mungo’s full time so I applied and got the job as a project worker for the Islington Mental Health team.
Now I go into prisons and talk to people who have been sentenced and are worried about keeping their housing or where they are going to live when they are released, if it’s not possible to go back to where they used to be.
I feel more in touch with what I am doing. The work I am doing is meaningful and multi-faceted. I feel joy when I go home and I’m making a difference to someone’s life. I am happy. I’m improving the quality of people’s lives. You are helping them go from a place where they are not so happy, to a place where they can feel confident and you are part of that process.
The job is all consuming at times so you need to have a full tank of energy. It’s an engaging role, more so because a lot of your time is spent in the community and that needs to be balanced with getting the paperwork and admin done too.
The main issue I see for the clients we work with is the housing supply and demand issue. We need more social housing. The other challenge is empowering and supporting colleagues with more skills based training, specific things like understanding the psychological factors that impact on many of our clients.
We work with people who are often tackling three or more problems at the same time, for example, substance use, risk of offending, and or physical and mental health problems.
Welfare is another major issue at the moment. With Universal Credit we are finding many people are having to go without money while their applications are being processed for six to eight weeks, or sometimes more. We have helped people, for example, by offering food vouchers and directing them to emergency support.
Hopes, fulfilling ambition
I’ve met many different people over the years and so many people stand out. But I have one memory of a client who said to me, “Once you start doing this job you won’t look back.” She wasn’t wrong!
It can be such a tough job some days. But what keeps me going is knowing I am working to improve the quality and opportunities in people’s lives.
Find out more about our offender services.
Our 50 year history is filled with some extraordinary people. To mark our anniversary, we will be profiling 50 Lives throughout 2019 – a snapshot of those who have played their part in our story. You can read the stories on our website at www.mungos.org/50-lives.