“Its been the best year of my life”

Kevin Farrell

At the 2017 Skills for Care Accolades St Mungo’s has won Best Employer Support for Apprenticeships. As National Apprenticeships Week draws to a close, Kevin reflects on how his year as an apprentice has changed his life.

I see myself as a holistic therapeutic practitioner. I love art and yoga, I enjoy photography. I enjoy getting involved in projects, working in collaboration with other organisations and charities. I’ve done stuff with Café Art and HAGA.

I’m a people person, I enjoy seeing people move forward with their recovery. I am a person with lived experience of homelessness. Great fulfilment for me is when I see people climbing up the ladder and moving forward with their lives.

‘Surviving by any means possible’

Life was very chaotic for me from a young age. I come from a large Irish family. I lost my mum to cancer when I was 12. From then I was out of control.

I didn’t really have any discipline, I have five older brothers who were no angels. I wasn’t living in a good environment. It was not uncommon for a 12 year-old to smoke cannabis. That was just the environment we came from.

We weren’t a rich family but we survived by any means possible. I’m not proud of the things I did. I know a lot of it was done in survival mode. I never intentionally went out to hurt anyone, and I never did. I sold drugs for a number of years. I got caught and I did a prison sentence. I’m not ashamed of my past.

When I came out of prison in 2009, I was housed at a St Mungo’s hostel in Central London. I was there for six months.

I was not abstinent, still messing about in illegal activities. From there, I was rehoused through St Mungo’s rent deposit scheme.

‘Living in the fast lane’

I held it together for a couple of years. I went back to work in the catering field. I again became dependent on alcohol and started to use Class A drugs. Then I went to rehab again.

I used to work in management in the catering field. That kind of environment is fast paced. People tend to get involved in a lot of activities with drink and drugs. That’s just the way it was for me, for many, many years.

I’d been at it for quite a number of years in the fast lane, working for a high end catering company and working sometimes 60 or 70 hours a week. It took its toll. My only means [of coping] was indulging in bad behaviour, which had an impact on my mental health – not surprisingly.

‘Out of the darkness’

In 2012 I came out of the darkness. I’ve not had a drink or drug since. I remain abstinent.

When the opportunity for the Apprenticeship came up, I was told by the people I was volunteering for, “Kevin, it’s about time you got a job. You’ve done everything you need to do now”. I’d done a lot of volunteering for St Mungo’s for two years, in hostels and as the lead service user representative. I had completed a psychology qualification, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Smart Facilitative training. I’d also had a number of years of sobriety under my belt.

I was really primed, I came for the interview and it happened all in a flash. Then I was offered the role.

Being an apprentice gave me an opportunity to gain experience in the drug and alcohol recovery field, which is what I’m specialising in. Over the year, I was running groups and holding one to one sessions with clients. I held a client caseload of up to 15 people, it’s been really full on.

‘More than I expected’

The St Mungo’s Apprentice Scheme is the best thing to have ever happened to me. It’s been a lot more than I expected. The amount of support I received from St Mungo’s is massive. Massive!

I work with other people in the same field from other organisations, they don’t get the same level of support. Here you get line managed very well.

As an apprentice, you attend ‘Reflective Practice’ – an opportunity for a group of apprentices to get together, sometimes with a therapist, to ‘offload’.

You get rid of the good, the bad and the ugly in a confidential environment. It is an opportunity to soak and air views, especially when I had been struggling and needed help.

In the early days I was struggling with some of the IT. I took that to reflective practice and some of the apprentices helped me out. They pointed out that I was not silly.

‘I’ve had a positive impact’

I’ve not reverted back to my old life because of connecting to people; socially, spiritually and physically. I started a relationship with my partner, which is very special to me.

There’s also fear – fear of going back because I know where it took me – to a really dark place but I know my biggest asset is my lived experience.

I use that experience to empower other people that I work with. I couldn’t envisage going back to that life again. I enjoy being me. I enjoy my life too much now.

I feel a lot of serenity around my life now. I still have my bad days, don’t get me wrong. I still swear and bark every now and again but in general I try to lead a peaceful life and empower people.

I’ve just finished the year’s apprenticeship with St Mungo’s Haringey Recovery Service. It’s been the best year of my life. I’ve had a positive impact. Now I’m going to help run Shine, a social enterprise in Haringey.