Using lived experience to become an apprentice at St Mungo’s

    This National Apprenticeship Week, Andrew a Support Worker at St Mungo’s shares his experience of recovery and being a part of our apprenticeship scheme.

    I moved to London late 1980s as a young gay man from Blackburn in Lancashire. My childhood had been very lonely, part of a large dysfunctional family in a town where I experienced homophobia. Once in London I found what had been missing from my life, I could be myself and be with others like me. But in the early 1990s, I contracted HIV. At this time, there was still a lot of stigma attached to it. I became outcast from the community I had found and my loneliness returned. A friend of mine introduced me to ecstasy, and a culture of extreme partying. I thought “why not?” as the diagnosis I had been given came with a life expectancy of two years.

    But with medication for HIV becoming more advanced and understood, the two years passed quickly. However I did not stop the partying. This consumed my life eventually leading to an addiction to stronger drugs. I felt there was no hope.

    Road to recovery

    Several years ago I started a long journey of recovery when I was fortunate enough to secure a place in a rehab centre. I then started a volunteering role at a local Community Centre in Westminster. During my time there, I was able to develop new skills, such as how to communicate properly in a world outside of what I had been used to and the importance of being reliable, punctual and accountable. Over time I gained the trust of the management and was given a lead role in providing the ‘Hot Meal Service’ at the centre. I was soon inducting new volunteers and started to see how my lived experience could be used positively to help others.

    I was being supported through my recovery by the Terrence Higgins Trust. My support worker there suggested that I try their ‘Back to Work scheme and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to move from volunteering into a full-time job.

    Whilst working with my mentor at Terrence Higgins Trust, I applied for the apprentice Drug & Alcohol Support Worker role at St Mungo’s. The news that I had been successful in my application was overwhelming, but very exciting. I was going to be able to sign off benefits for the first time in my life, I was becoming an active member of society. I was offered an opportunity to take a position within the team at a St Mungo’s mental health service in South Camden.

    Experience of my apprenticeship

    I had very little education as a child, always being reminded that I was thick and I would never amount to very much. This was a cause of some anxiety for me in regards to the studying part of my apprenticeship at St Mungo’s. But I had tutors that would support me throughout the apprenticeship, as well as in subjects such as Maths & English. At first, I thought there was no way I could manage this but I was given support, time, encouragement, and understanding.

    I remember at my first team meeting, being introduced as the new apprentice, I was so nervous. But the team were great, I was made to feel a part of the work straight away and I soon found my confidence.

    I even ended up enjoyed the studying part of the apprenticeship completing with a Pass. On completion of my apprenticeship, I was offered a full-time position at a St Mungo’s high support service in Westminster. I really enjoyed my experience there, helping residents with their mental health and substance abuse. This role allowed me to learn and grow, and when the service was being decommissioned, I worked with a great team and external parties to ensure that all the residents were appropriately rehomed.

    I was then offered my present position as Support Worker. I currently have ten clients that I’ve been supporting throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in different ways; moving on into independent living or helping them make their first steps into low support living away from the streets.

    My apprenticeship at St Mungo’s has allowed me to become the support worker I am today, using my lived experience to support others and better my own life. I am very thankful for the experience.

    Find out more about the St Mungo’s apprenticeship scheme here.

    “Everybody In” – working with vulnerable people sleeping rough during COVID-19

    Ed Addison, Manager of St Mungo’s City of London Outreach Team, shares his first-hand experience of supporting people sleeping rough during the outbreak of COVID-19. 

    It was 19 March when the gravity of the situation with COVID-19 hit home for me. I was out on an early shift at around 7am with a colleague and we went to meet George*, a well-informed, articulate man in his 50s who’s been sleeping rough for a couple of years but who is reluctant to accept offers of support for a number of reasons. The City of London had requested that we get everybody indoors due to the potential health risk of COVID-19, which meant us offering to support to anyone, plus we had a duty of care to welfare check and ensure George was safe and well.

    We find different ways to use our knowledge to encourage people to accept support – such as presenting facts around the dangers of rough sleeping. On this occasion I found myself turning the concern around the virus as a tool to encourage George to take up an offer of accommodation. He countered our initial offer of support stating that it was a choice he was making to live his life on the streets, and that he was prepared to die on the streets.

    George and I sat and talked, and he revealed his main concern was where he can access food. I told him that we were hearing about the possibility of a lockdown, that the City was likely to become emptier, shops were going to close, food and vital resources would become scarce, with commuter numbers vastly reduced. I listened to his concerns, and felt he was listening to me. I gave George my number and urged him again to consider coming indoors.

    Working for a homelessness charity it is impossible to distance yourself from the wider housing system. People who end up on the streets can be some of the most disconnected from the system, people who have fallen through a safety net that has become increasingly unsafe. Years of austerity has impacted on the shrinking of local authority budgets and reduced the number of services available to people in need.

    In a broken system is it any wonder that people are reluctant to trust us? One bad experience of being let down can set the tone for all future relationships. This is exacerbated among those who are sleeping rough who may have, throughout their lives, been let down by people in positions of trust. As outreach workers we are often the first point of contact for people such as George and often met with distrust.

    As the severity of the coronavirus public health emergency developed, it quickly became apparent that it was now essential to get everybody off the streets and into an environment where they could self-isolate to protect themselves and others. The UK government had written to every local authority outlining a plan to move all homeless people off the streets within a week. Open access day centres and night shelters were closed due to concerns over lack of ability for people to safely isolate. The situation was changing rapidly, and we knew many of our vulnerable clients would struggle to cope.

    Yet what we and others have achieved has been remarkable in a short space of time. Since the lockdown measures were announced, the St Mungo’s City outreach team has accommodated more than 100 people in hotel rooms, many of whom were people seen sleeping out for the first time. We have been able to support people to take up offers of accommodation where previously they have been sleeping outside for sometimes as much as 10, 15 or even 20 years. In the first week of the lockdown we were able to accommodate and support 12 people into drug treatment who, between them, have a cumulative rough sleeping history of 70 years.

    This shows what an unprecedented opportunity this has been to not only reduce the numbers of people who are living on the streets, but crucially to get to know these people, understand their situation and to put in place effective solutions to ideally prevent them from never going back on the streets again – as our No Going Back campaign calls for.

    This emergency response reinforces the need for a permanent accommodation pathway which is accessible, supportive and helps individuals progress with their lives.

    Street-based outreach workers continue to work tirelessly to find and support people who are living on the streets to find accommodation. All those who have accepted accommodation in the past few weeks should never have to return to these streets, and in the future our system must improve in its attitude towards the vulnerable. George has remained out as far as we’re aware. We continue to go out to find him to offer our help.

    People like George and others who remain on the streets of the City, despite the lockdown, remain the most resistant to support and the most traumatised. These are the individuals that need the most focus of our interest, our time and our care.

    *George’s name has been anonymised for his privacy.

    This blog was first commissioned by World Habitat, an international charity, which holds Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, reflecting its work in support of the goals of UN-HABITAT.

    St Mungo’s swimming group

    Image: swimming group

    From left: Amanda, Charlie and Jim

    Amanda, a keen swimmer and support worker at a St Mungo’s hostel decided to help set up a swimming club for residents. We spoke to the group about the benefits of swimming and how it has helped them in their recovery from homelessness.

    How did the swimming group start?

    Amanda: I announced in our project newsletter that I was swimming the English Channel as part of a relay team for ASPIRE. This led to a lot of conversations with clients about the challenge and how we should go swimming as a group.

    Charlie: Amanda thought it would be a good way of bringing our community together.

    Stella: It was also a good way for us to support Amanda with her training.

    How was the first session at Tooting Lido?

    Jim: It was good to get out.

    Charlie: It reminded me of when I was younger. When I was growing up I grew very close to my neighbour Marina, who got me into swimming.

    She wanted me to have fun and enjoy water. Swimming helped me come out of my shell. We used to go with her son Carl, it was a memorable time, rich with love.

    Amanda: We had a lot of fun. Swimming is very freeing and it was great for people who hadn’t been in such a long time. The swimmers here all have a history of homelessness, with varying levels of ability and confidence in the water.

    The knock on effects were massive. One client used to be an accomplished swimmer but had lost her confidence. However, when we got to the pool she rediscovered her love of swimming and even demonstrated the butterfly stroke for us!

    Charlie: She was mesmerising and looked like she was in complete bliss.

    How would you persuade other clients to get involved in the swimming group?

    Charlie: I was in a dark place when I first lived in this hostel. However, after swimming we all talked about what a positive experience it had been.

    I would just encourage other clients to try it. For a lot of residents here, getting them out of their room is one step. The second is trying to get them to do something constructive with their time. Amanda gave us an opportunity and with a little bit of encouragement I decided to do it.

    Amanda: We wanted to ensure that all the potential barriers were reduced before we got to the pool. We organised a taxi to pick us up and made sure everyone had the right swimwear.

    Are you planning another visit?

    Amanda: We intend to continue this regularly once schools are back.

    However, money is a big barrier for us. We get a certain amount for welfare but this often doesn’t cover activities such as swimming. We rely a lot on donations from local businesses.

    Our client swimming group is taking part in our Make A Splash winter swimming campaign this December. We are challenging our supporters to brave the open water this winter and raise £50 for St Mungo’s. Your donations help us offer more activities for our clients that help build confidence, gain new skills and improve mental health. 

    “I will remember it forever”

    Image: Naz during training walk for Ben Nevis

    Tomorrow a group of St Mungo’s staff, supporters, volunteers and clients are hiking up Ben Nevis. We spoke to Naz, who has been living in St Mungo’s accommodation for four years. He tells us why he wanted to climb Ben Nevis.

    What made you want to climb Ben Nevis?

    My support worker asked if I wanted to climb Ben Nevis, he said it was brilliant so I agreed to do it.

    I think the idea behind it is amazing. It is a big achievement, climbing a mountain.

    Hiking is something that people do as a kid and a lot of people here have missed experiencing in their younger lives due to different circumstances. It is what people need for their morale.

    I will remember it forever as I have never climbed a mountain before.

    Do you think it will help your recovery?

    It already has, even during the training walks I feel better.

    Why did you want to do it?

    For one, it is a change of environment. Secondly, it makes you feel like you are actually doing something for St Mungo’s instead of just using it as a housing association. It is rebuilding your life, and now I have recovered I want to take every step to rebuild my life.

    I also want to network as I like the team at St Mungo’s. I want to get into the sector. I have helped myself but I don’t really feel like I have achieved much until I help other people.

    What are you looking forward to at Ben Nevis?

    The sense of achievement and the need for encouragement of other people. I want to help people during the climb, even if it’s just by talking to them.

    I also look forward to the effect of it after; being able to say that I have climbed a mountain with St Mungo’s.

    I haven’t really been conscious about things St Mungo’s do. I have been distracted by my lifestyle. When you change your life, you want to meet new people. St Mungo’s slogan is rebuilding lives, and I am one of those people who have.

    In September to mark our 50th year 50 clients, staff members and volunteers join staff from our sponsor Tokio Marine to take on the highest peak in Britain. Find out more about our Ben Nevis hiking challenge. 

    Why I think everyone deserves a Home for Good

    Kevin, a former client of St Mungo’s, has been championing our Home for Good campaign and last week handed in an open letter to the Government signed by over 21,300 people. He explains what changes are needed to help people who have slept rough have a home for good.

    Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010. That’s a shocking fact. Why? Years of cuts to essential support services, spiralling housing costs and increasing insecurity for private renters.

    Something needs to give. That’s why I am championing St Mungo’s Home for Good campaign. Last week, I handed in my letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, James Brokenshire, with the signatures of over 21,300 campaigners who agree with me that the Government should be doing more to end rough sleeping permanently.

    I’m a former client of St Mungo’s

    Following the death of my mum when I was 12, I struggled with mental health and substance use. For years I didn’t have a stable home and stayed with partners or friends. I burnt a lot of bridges and became street homeless. It was a very dark time of my life.

    I was so far away from my authentic ‘me’ that I couldn’t see a way out. But I had a really good St Mungo’s caseworker who saw something in me. He told me that I didn’t have to live this way anymore. That’s when I started to find a bit of self-love, and while I still had some trouble along the way, it was the first time I could see an alternative.

    With the help of St Mungo’s and others, I was supported into a private rented flat, but what people do not realise is that just housing people does not solve the problem of homelessness.

    Just having a roof over your head isn’t enough

    Moving into your own place can be the hardest and scariest time for anyone. A lot of people need ongoing support; I needed ongoing support. Without the right help, things quickly spiralled out of control and I wound up back on the streets. It wasn’t until I got a place in social housing that things stabilised for me.

    Now I work with people experiencing homelessness every day, and I see the same issues I faced come up again and again. It’s hard being on this side of the fence, seeing people struggle and knowing that the money isn’t there for the help they need. So what needs to change?

    We need more social housing

    To start with, more housing must be made available to people with a history of sleeping rough, and these homes need to be affordable and for the long term. That’s why I’m asking the Government to build more social housing, with some of these new homes reserved for people who have slept rough. And why I’m asking for improvements to the private rented sector to make tenancies more stable and limit rent increases so that fewer people face eviction in the first place.

    We need more funding for support services

    There also needs to be guaranteed long-term funding for the support services people need to end their homelessness for good.

    Reintegration is the most important part of anybody’s journey out of homelessness, be it through social housing or private landlords. But reintegration requires ongoing support and trust in your caseworker. If you don’t have somebody there for you who’s consistent, regular and has your trust, is there any wonder that a large percentage of people are ending back on the street?

    But funding for support services has declined over recent years. Floating support services (support provided in someone’s home to help them manage their tenancy and to live independently) for example have been cut by more than 40% in London alone.

    It’s getting dangerous on the streets

    If I could say one thing to the Housing Secretary, it would be ‘open your eyes, it’s getting dangerous out there for a lot of people’. In 2017 almost 600 people died while living on the streets or in emergency accommodation. This has to stop.

    We came so close to ending rough sleeping ten years ago. The Government needs to act now to make sure that everyone can find, and keep, a home for good.

    Read more about the Home for Good campaign here.

    I call myself a citizen of the world

    In celebration of Black History Month, we have been sharing the diverse stories of our staff and clients. Shaaban, Deputy Manager of Islington Mental Health Service, explains how his own experiences of homelessness have helped shape his approach to supporting people with complex needs such as those recovering from drug and alcohol use or mental and physical health problems. Shaaban focuses on individual strengths and inspires people to believe that their recovery really is possible.

    Many people think about people who are homeless in terms of what their needs are, what is wrong with them. But I believe that we should be thinking about what they are good at. Everyone has a story, and everyone has achieved something in their lives.

    I call myself a citizen of the world, a global citizen. My dad was a Tanzanian diplomat so I’ve travelled around a bit; I started primary school in Beijing and lived in the Sudan, so I speak a bit of Arabic. I was also in the Tanzanian army for about two and a half years. But my own story also involves personal experience of sleeping rough on the streets of London.

    I used to sleep on the Strand or near Victoria station

    For me, one of the worst things about sleeping rough was being physically abused. In the 90s, I used to sleep on the Strand or near Victoria station in London. It got busy around there, especially at night. Sometimes people got drunk and violent, and would attack and even urinate on people sleeping rough. I was also singled out by some other rough sleepers because of my race.

    After three months on the streets, an outreach worker gave me details of a St Mungo’s hostel in Clapham. I went and they checked me in the same day. I slept in a bed that night.

    That was the beginning of my journey to recovery. I was at the St Mungo’s hostel for about six months, and then moved on to another hostel in Soho for nine months. After that I went through rehab twice, the first time in 2000, and the second time in 2005.

    I started an apprenticeship

    During my second and final stay in rehab, the manager there suggested that I train as a support worker, so I started an apprenticeship.

    I wanted to turn my own painful experiences into something positive, so after finishing my training, I decided to specialise in mental health and substance use. I have a degree and qualifications in mental health, psychology and counselling.

    I’ve worked for St Mungo’s for almost a decade now. It’s an inspiring organisation to work for, because we don’t stop at giving people a roof over their heads. We address the underlying reasons why people become homeless in the first place.

    I know from first-hand experience that recovery is possible

    My role is certainly challenging, but the thing that puts a smile on my face is getting to know my clients, and seeing the transition that they make.

    People are always asking me about my hat, because I never take it off! I tell them, when people get married, they wear a wedding ring to represent the commitment that they’ve made. My hat represents a moment of great change in my life, a moment when I committed to my own recovery, and to helping others to recover.

    A lot of my clients experienced feelings of failure, shame and guilt when they were sleeping rough. People often turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate against the pain of these emotions. I know from first-hand experience that recovery is possible, with the right help. I’m glad that telling my story helps people to believe that.

    Team St Mungo’s climbs Scafell Pike!

    Image: St Mungo's climbs Scafell Pike play

    This September a group of 10 St Mungo’s clients climbed Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak. The challenge was the idea of St Mungo’s client and volunteer Mandy. She explains more about how she wanted to take part to remember all those who have died sleeping rough and to show it is possible to recover from homelessness.

    I’m Mandy, I live in Islington with my dog Skye and I volunteer for St Mungo’s, the charity that helps people experiencing homelessness. On 3 September, I stood on top of the highest peak in England and it was one of the proudest moments of my life.

    St Mungo’s helped me when I was sleeping rough

    Unfortunately, life hasn’t always been this good. Throughout my life, I have struggled with mental illness and, due to family problems, I found myself homeless. In 2014, I slept on the streets for two and a half weeks.

    Living on the streets became so tough that it led to an attempted suicide. However, after visiting a local church for a shower and some food, I was introduced to St Mungo’s. They offered Skye and myself a place in a hostel and I have lived in their accommodation ever since.

    I’ve come a long way since then, which is why last year I had the idea to climb a mountain with other people with experience of homelessness. I wanted to do this to show it is possible to recover from homelessness and to remember all those who aren’t as lucky as me, who have sadly died sleeping rough. Our first mountain in 2017 was Snowdon and this year, we chose Scafell Pike.

    Preparing for the 3,210ft summit

    So on 3 September 2018, we all caught the train from London to Penrith in the Lake District and nervously waited overnight for the next day’s climb.

    We were a mixed group of 10 men and women. Our age, our fitness, our hiking experience and our mental and physical health needs were all varied. But, we had one thing in common; we all knew what it felt to be homeless and we all wanted to prove that it is possible to recover from it. We did this alongside St Mungo’s staff, supporters and volunteers.

    After next to no sleep in our youth hostel in Borrowdale due to nerves and excitement, we set off the next day at 7.30am for Scafell Pike. Walking the streets of London is second nature for lots of us. However rocky, steep terrain is different and it became clear quite quickly that it was going to be a challenge to get us all to the top. In fact, half way up, our guides became concerned that some of the group would not make it.

    Reaching the peak

    It took resilience, determination and a lot of encouragement but every single person reached the peak. I’ll never forget that moment. I’ve spent my life hiding under a rock and suddenly I was on top of the highest one in England!

    What we didn’t realise, was that making our way down was going to be even harder. It took over 12 and a half hours before we arrived back at our youth hostel at 8pm in the evening.

    When my aching body got into bed that night, I thought about how far I’ve come in the last six years and how grateful I am that I now have a place to call home.


    “The dignity and respect she deserved”

    Image: Map of London

    St Mungo’s project worker, Shayeena, explains how the Street Impact project enabled her to provide innovative, holistic support for our client June when she really needed it

    Working at St Mungo’s you sometimes receive some difficult phone calls. But last week I got a call that really made me smile.

    I received a voicemail from a man who had recently been bereaved. He said he was a relative of June, and was sorting out her affairs. While he was doing this he came across her old phone, and by looking at the messages she had saved, he came to understand more about June’s story, and the part St Mungo’s had played in helping her rebuild her life after experiencing homelessness. He had called to thank me for all our support for her.

    I met and supported June. She told me she had come to the UK from Ghana in 2002, fleeing domestic violence, on a three-month tourist visa. She overstayed her visa and worked informally, before borrowing a friend’s document to get official work in a supermarket.

    However, in 2010 she was diagnosed with a serious illness and her accommodation and social networks started to break down. She ended up rough sleeping in central London and eventually was picked up and placed into a detention centre.

    At this time St Mungo’s had just established our Street Impact project, which was designed to develop innovative ways to tackle rough sleeping in London. It was the first such project to be funded by a Social Impact Bond (SIB). This meant the running costs were funded by social investors, who were reimbursed by the Greater London Authority on a ‘payments-by-results’ basis.

    This meant we only received payment if it achieved certain agreed outcomes, including reducing rough sleeping and helping people into tenancies, while working with a group of 415 rough sleepers.

    Payment by results meant we were free to innovate in the ways we supported people, and take a much more holistic model in helping them rebuild their lives. June was among those 415 people.

    When we contacted the detention centre about June they told us she had been released but gave us no other information. We eventually tracked her down in north London. We sent her a letter with our phone number and she called us straight away.

    At that point June was 69, depressed, withdrawn, clearly isolated and in need of assistance. While in detention, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer but was still living on £35 vouchers per week and sharing a room with a lady suffering from post-traumatic stress who would wail throughout the night, meaning that June was getting very little sleep.

    The Home Office eventually granted June exceptional Leave to Remain on medical grounds. Alongside her solicitor, I was able to support June through this stressful experience, and then help June to get a home in a sheltered housing scheme. This was an incredibly complicated process, involving her council’s homelessness team, supported housing team and social services.

    Because of the innovative way we were able to work within Street Impact, however, I could support June with everything from taxi fares to hospital visits, gathering evidence for an appeal and securing donations of furniture. Eventually we were able to establish a support network for June that included medical staff, social workers, the local hospice, a minister from her local church and a St Mungo’s palliative care volunteer.

    We also helped her to stay in contact with her family in Ghana, which had become harder for her as her speech deteriorated. She was 70 by then, not used to computers, and found it hard to speak on the phone. With her consent, I started emailing her family and asked her daughter to send photos of her young granddaughter (who June had never seen) and printed these all out for her and framed a couple so she could keep them in her living room. She was so happy to have these… I remember her laughing with joy and looking at the prints over and over again. In her final years she was treated with dignity and respect that she deserved.

    Much of this would have been impossible under a more conventional outreach model. Despite everything she had been through, I think June managed to trust me and my colleagues and this allowed us to help her.

    Find out more about Street Impact.


    Dedication and commitment

    Adil and Mohammed pictured above with Horn of Africa project manager, Pippa Brown

    To mark Refugee Week, Helen Kirk, Refugee Skills Development Advisor at St Mungo’s Horn of Africa Health and Wellbeing Project, tells us about two inspirational people who volunteer on the project

    The Horn of Africa Project was set up in in 2013 to respond to the needs of people from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan who were turning to our centre in Shepherd’s Bush for support. Over half of our clients have been recognised as refugees within the last few years. We help them with advice, signposting and one-to-one holistic casework.

    Employment outcomes for refugees are well below the UK average, with over half of those employed feeling overqualified in their jobs. It’s my job to help bridge this gap, through things like one-to-one careers coaching, providing advice on education and training, co-facilitating peer-led groups and creating volunteer opportunities.

    Our project is supported by a small number of fantastic volunteers, but this Refugee Week, we would like to particularly thank Adil and Mohammed, who both sought sanctuary in the UK. Despite the many challenges they have faced, they both have shown dedication and commitment to the project. They have helped with casework, shared their ideas and their knowledge about the practical and cultural needs of the Horn of Africa community, and have given us suggestions for how the project might respond to those needs.

    Adil says: “When I came over to this country, I was very much in need of help. The only people I found to offer me this support was St Mungo’s. They taught me how the humanity look like. For this reason I strongly need to involve in this community to reduce destitution amongst the refugee and homelessness… I am very fascinated of helping the destitute people as I am one of them and born in a very poor environment, that is why I know how the person feel when he is in a trauma or suffer a loss.”

    Mohammed told us: “I … volunteer because I’m a refugee and was homeless at one point in my life. I want to give back to the people who are in need of any help.”

    Mohammed and Adil are working towards rebuilding their respective careers in law and finance, and are re-qualifying at university. They are driven to support others as they do so. They both recently won Volunteer of the Year London Awards at St Mungo’s Volunteer Awards in partnership with the Marsh Christian Trust, and we can’t think of two people who deserve it more. I feel privileged to work alongside them while they fulfil their goals.

    Find out more about the contributions refugees have made across the world.

    Brick by brick to recovery

    St Mungo's client, CarrieAnn

    Our client, CarrieAnn, shares the story of her love for building work at St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project and how learning new skills is helping her to recover from drug misuse.

    I was on cocaine for about nine years, and with that came heavy drinking, but that was when I was using. I realised I was spiralling out of control, then I decided that I needed to get help, so I referred myself to a day recovery programme. They referred me here to St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project in Euston, London. The project helps people recover from homelessness through social and therapeutic construction skills development.

    I’m 34 years old. I have had four years of decorating experience with my step dad. I was a labourer for him and he taught me how to paint. From there I came here and I’ve been here about eight months. I finished my course, which covered bricking, plastering, dry lining, rendering, and now I do wet lining. Since finishing the course, I’ve gone into volunteering.

    I’m a very hands on person. I’m dyslexic so I steer away from reading and writing. Actually, St Mungo’s Brick and Mortar Tutor, John Gani, taught me to pick up a newspaper every morning on the way in – so I’m reading a little bit now. I like anything hands on, building things, decorating is my favourite. I find decorating therapeutic. When I have thoughts in my head and I am feeling a bit down I find a paint brush and a wall to paint. It takes me into my own little world.

    Coming here has made me realise I now have a future ahead of me, instead of the darkness where I was. I’ve learned more skills. Every morning I look forward to coming here because I know I will learn something new. It gives me a reason to get up.

    I was not good at travelling, now I realise I am ok – I used to be terrified of the tube. I live in Battersea, so when I first started I used to take a really long route to get here, not knowing there was a quicker route. Coming here has been really good for my confidence.

    People who come here are from different walks of life. When I first started the course I met people here as they were finishing. I don’t know how they were when they first arrived here, but they walked out of here full of confidence. I am more confident in myself. We all get on and know that if there’s a problem, we can talk to the boss – he can have a quiet word to sort out any confusion.

    Not only do I get to learn new skills, I am in recovery as well. The tutors are amazing; they’re both in recovery with us. There was an incident a couple of weeks ago. I walked in and one of the tutors knew straight away that something was wrong. I went to walk out and he said, ‘stop’. When I turned around, I completely had a meltdown. I’d had a slight relapse. Because I’m in recovery I stay away from cocaine. But I had used some and it was eating me up inside because I knew it was wrong. The advice my tutor gave me was amazing.

    There are a few others in recovery here. The advice we get from tutors helps us stay clean. They share with us what they’ve learned, and with their encouragement we know we can do it.

    Set up almost ten years ago, St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project offers practical skills in construction, including, plastering, rendering, brickwork and dry lining. The course is accredited so students leave with a basic entry qualification in construction.

    St Mungo’s relies on the generosity of the public to run projects like Bricks and Mortar. You can find more information about how you can get involved in supporting us on the website.

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