Brick by brick to recovery

    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.

    Recovery College helped me re-find my identity

    Jaq (not her real name) tells us in her own words how St Mungo’s Recovery College helped to transform her life and find her passion for art. She also found the courage to leave a life of alcohol and drug dependency behind her.

    My way of hurting them back

    My addiction started in school. I was 10 years old when I started drinking. I drank because I was bullied at home and at school. There were a lot of problems at home. My dad was an alcoholic and I guess I copied him. It was what I knew. I used to steal from him and my family. It was my way of hurting them back.

    I drank alcohol for three years. Then I met some dealers and was introduced to cannabis, amphetamines and any party drug going.

    I have been homeless four times in my life. The first time was when I was 16. I was living in a hostel because my mum couldn’t handle me. My dad didn’t want to know. I had some trouble with one of the other residents and I ended up sleeping rough for a couple of weeks.

    I had my own flat after that, but I was burgled. I was petrified. They took everything. I didn’t feel safe. I took to the streets again for a number of months and lost the tenancy.

    I was offered a place in a women’s hostel, and after some time I was offered another flat. I stayed there for eight years and it was a really lovely place. My own home. But I started mixing with the wrong people and my drink and drug taking increased, my mental health deteriorated.I ended up back on the streets. This time for nearly nine months.

    By the time I was rehoused in the women’s hostel again, my mental and physical health was on the floor. Throughout this cycle, I had always managed to work, but this time I couldn’t.

    I found Myself

    Through the support at the hostel, I met Maddy. She introduced me to the  St Mungo’s Recovery College and I have never left. I came back every day. I just wanted to learn and stop using. It didn’t take me long once I found Martin’s Café Art. I found myself.

    I was around people who weren’t using for the first time. The staff allowed me to grow. I took part in the Bridge the Gap course and I had a mentor for nearly a year. Throughout our year working together I had some ups and downs, it was great to know he was there for me the whole time. Within the first few months I realised I had more control over my life than ever before. Since then my confidence and self-belief has grown and I’m now volunteering with the New Street women’s group and have attended training to start my own art group.

    Recovery College gave me trust in myself and the time to understand who I am. It has given me confidence to take a part in art exhibitions and work with new people. I have been clean for two years now. I would love to study art therapy and give people what St Mungo’s has given me.

    The St Mungo’s Recovery College is a pioneering, inclusive learning programme, based on the principle that learning can be a transformative experience. All activities at our College are underpinned by our recovery service ethos.

    The Recovery College learning experience is based on principles of co-production. Courses are designed, delivered and attended by St Mungo’s clients, staff and volunteers, and they are also open to the general public. All our courses are free and run by volunteers.

    St Mungo’s relies on the generosity of the public to run projects like The Recovery College. You can find more information on how to get involved in supporting us on our website.


    ‘I’ve come a long way’

    Mohamed left care at 16, has lived in numerous hostels and is now on an FA Coaching course at Fulham FC. He shares his excitement about the opportunity he’s been given.

    I came to the UK as an unaccompanied child refugee. I moved from hostel to hostel. In the place I last lived, when you get to certain age they ask you to move on. I always thought I’d stay there until I was ready to move on. I left care when I was 16 and had to adapt and grow quickly.

    I’m 23 next month, so I’ve come a long way. I adapted by avoiding getting in trouble and negative situations. I started to realise that time is valuable. I also learned not to get involved in things that don’t benefit me. If you don’t have a good set of friends, you can get into trouble. When you’re younger, you’re exposed to a lot of things, like going clubbing, or just being out with your friends. I’m really happy that I avoided getting in trouble.

    Independence at 17

    When I was 17, I had just become independent. A lot has changed – I am more tuned in. I have adapted – no more wasting time, allowing it to go past me. When you get older, things become a little different. You have to fend more for yourself.

    The best thing you can have is positive support. I have the best support from Jackie, my St Mungo’s support worker and the manager, Octawia, also David, another support worker, they have advised and all supported me. I’ve been in hostels since 2011 and I’ve come across a lot of support workers in 10 hostels. I can honestly say this is the best support I’ve had from St Mungo’s.

    Jackie understands me. She talks and explains things to me like a human being and actually helps me – that is sometimes rare to find in hostels. I think that everyone who lives here would say the same thing. There’s no way I’m not going to take advantage of any opportunities.

    I never had any professional relationship with my keyworkers before. When I got inside the hostel, I lived in my room until I got moved out. There was no following up with things. My support worker is always encouraging me to achieve as much as possible and to focus on what I need to achieve.

    Opportunities make life better

    It’s great having the opportunity to do things – that’s what makes life better. I’ve lived in hostels since 2011 run by different organisations. The opportunities were there before, but they were quite limited because of where I was. They would only help you with the main things like studying or working. There weren’t the extra opportunities.

    Now I‘m on a Football Association (FA) Level 1 Coaching Course at Fulham Football Club which comes with qualifications. I was referred to it via another course through Arsenal FC – my support worker, Jackie, was the link.

    When I started at Arsenal FC, it gave me great motivation. I eventually got this opportunity which is consistent. The Arsenal FC course was eight weeks, which finished. I get to play a lot of football. Joining this course has helped to strengthen my position on the Homeless World Cup Team. We’re going to Russia next year. The tournament was in Brazil four years ago. Playing Brazil has been one of my dreams.

    ‘I’m humbled by the opportunity I’ve been given’

    I’m also involved with Become, the charity that helps young care leavers. Life is better. I’ve given up smoking – I gave up six months ago. I started smoking when I became independent due to the stress. After six years, I finally gave up. It’s one of my biggest achievements. My social worker has seen a dramatic change in me.

    I’ve just started at Fulham FC. I’m humbled by the opportunity I’ve been given. It’s really exciting. I get to be at Craven Cottage. I’m considering becoming either a trainer or a support worker with young people, to inspire them if they want to achieve – anything is possible. I feel like I’m doing something with my life. Being at Arsenal was exciting but Fulham is more exciting because of the added qualification. I get to go and watch matches, something I never had a chance to go do – it’s really nice and I’m grateful.

    Streets to Kitchen

    Streets to Kitchen is a community project from Better Food working alongside Square Food Foundation and St Mungo’s. The project is a one year training course for eight people affected by homelessness.

    The course teaches cookery and food service skills to students who will gain a vocational qualification in food safety. The weekly sessions give clients confidence in and out of the kitchen and aim to develop vital life skills, improved wellbeing and be encouraged to cook for others, potentially in a professional capacity. The ultimate aim is to create a café in the St Mungo’s New Street Hub.

    Navlet Anderson was the first person to sign up to the course and she tells us in her words why she was inspired to seize this opportunity:

    “I lived for over twenty years in addiction following a difficult childhood. I had long periods of time where I was homeless. I was vulnerable and drugs made me feel better about myself.

    “Following a short stay in prison I found myself with nowhere to live when I was released. I was offered a place in a hostel. It was here my life began to change. Through sheer determination I stopped taking drugs. I am proud to say I did this by myself.

    “I was offered the volunteering role on reception at the Compass Centre. It opened my eyes, I was humbled by the amount of people who were homeless and I made it my mission to help people.

    “After a few months I moved to St Mungo’s New Street reception where I work with people who are further along in the recovery process. I love meeting people and working on reception but it’s the kitchen that inspires me. A hot meal and a smiling face goes a long way to make people feel better.

    “That’s why I am so excited about the Better Food project, Street To Kitchen. There have been times in my life when I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from, food is close to my heart and fuels the soul. I had to work hard to find security from within myself.

    “I can’t wait to learn new skills and use them to help transform New Street into a cafe. To see the kitchen up and running would make me very happy. When I retire I can look back and say I was part of something good, something that encourages people to choose the right path, to build their confidence and self-esteem so they can help themselves.”

    Donate to Streets to Kitchen

    Better Food needs to raise £10,000 to fund Streets to Kitchen in its first year. Funds raised go to Square Food Foundation, who in turn will use the money to run training at St Mungo’s Recovery College in Bristol.

    The project team is calling for corporate teams to join in the fundraising. This can be a cake sale, a fun run or evening ball – the opportunities are endless for you to help homeless people find new routes to recovery. Donate online here.

    Danni Rochman Community Officer
    0117 935 1725 ext 214
    Lucy Gatward, Marketing Manager:

    A festival for clients by clients

    Last month St Mungo’s held its annual Client Festival organised by Outside In, our client involvement group. Liam, a member of Outside In, tells us about his role helping to organise the Festival.

    St Mungo’s Client Festival is a festival for clients by clients. The theme this year was ‘Elements’ and aimed to bring together the different elements that will empower clients to learn thrive, and contribute to their communities.

    I got involved with the Client Festival accidentally. I had intended to enrol at the St Mungo’s Train and Trade Centre, in South London, which offers training in various trades like bricklaying and painting and decorating. Whilst there, I was introduced to Nathan Rosier, the manager of Outside In, a group which is made up of clients who work in partnership with St Mungo’s to improve its services.

    ‘Like a flower blooming’

    Outside In do a lot of different things so I was able to dip my toes in a lot of different things. It was like a flower blooming. I’ve gone from knowing one person to knowing many people in different departments of St Mungo’s. I’m getting to know the different things that interest me.

    Organising the Client Festival was intense but fun. I think I brought a fresh perspective when I was helping organise it. I wanted people to engage with the stall holders at the festival. So I came up with an emoji style quiz, which got people walking around.

    ‘ I had something to bring to the table’

    I took the lead on our raffle quiz, which required people interact with the stall holders. I would probably change how I engaged with the donors of the raffle prizes. I don’t have that much confidence so ringing the donors and the face to face conversations were a bit challenging.

    It’s the first point in ten years where I felt that I had something to bring to the table. It was stressful long days. Hectic! Really hectic! It gave me a routine because I had to manage my personal stuff as well. It made me feel like a professional. I miss it. When I was packing away the stuff at the end of the day, I was thinking, ‘this is all done now’.

    ‘It was a big hit!’

    The Festival went really well. I think it was a big hit! What I hoped for was that clients got more aware of what happens in St Mungo’s and what the different departments do. It was the high level of client involvement from members of Outside In, and volunteers who helped out on the day that made it special.

    Clients took control of the Festival, we decided on the small things, the decorations to the trees on the stage – that’s what made it a success. It wasn’t St Mungo’s coming up and telling us what to do. It was our ideas. It was the engagement from the clients that made it a success.

    ‘The clients’ perspective’

    Client involvement to me is those who live in St Mungo’s properties or use their services getting involved from the smallest things to the biggest. It’s their perspective. It’s their views recognised and listened to by St Mungo’s. It’s the clients acting proactively in everyday things from meetings to events.

    Involving clients is enormously important. I don’t think St Mungo’s would grow or learn without a client perspective and understanding what works. It gives clients motivation, a sense of being, achievement and something to grasp onto. They learn. They grow. They’re inspired. It’s fundamental to what St Mungo’s is.

    ‘The year ahead’

    I’m looking forward to next year. I have applied for a volunteer role at St Mungo’s. I’ve also been speaking to St Mungo’s head of diversity and inclusion about the new Client Involvement Strategy, which is something I am really into. I am keen to find out where I can get most involved next.

    We came. We saw. We conquered.

    St Mungo’s client and volunteer, Mandy, has shown incredible strength in her journey to conquer homelessness. Having now also conquered Mount Snowdon, Mandy shares with us her inspirational challenge and her ongoing determination to help others on their road to recovery from homelessness.

    From the streets to the mountain top

    In June I took on one of the biggest challenges of my life. Along with my friend Claire, also a client at St Mungo’s, we successfully led a team of other clients and staff to the top of Mount Snowdon. Snowdon is the tallest mountain in Wales at 1,085m above sea level, and the highest point in the British Isles outside of Scotland. We were keen to do this for a couple of reasons; to celebrate how we had conquered homelessness and to raise funds and awareness to help give others the same chance.

    Your support helped us to the summit, thank you.

    Having spent months meticulously planning, we arrived at Snowdon the day before full of excitement and couldn’t wait for challenge day!

    The team set out first thing in the morning in great spirits. We could all feel exactly how much the challenge meant to us, and we were so determined to complete it.

    We were totally overwhelmed by the number of people who supported us with generous donations and lovely good luck messages in the lead up to the big day. This kept us motivated all the way to the top, we really wanted to do everyone proud.

    We came. We saw. We conquered.

    We made some truly special memories along the walk which we’ll never forget. Touching the summit of Snowdon was a dream come true. It was a proud and emotional moment for all of us, who had never imagined we could do something like this.

    In memory of those who have died while sleeping rough

    At the top of Snowdon we dedicated our challenge to those who have died while homeless or sleeping rough. We all knew that could easily have been us.

    It was a particularly emotional moment for me as I took the chance to reflect on how far I had come along my journey to recovery. Just two years ago, I was sleeping rough. Today I have a place to call home and have had the chance to rebuild my life. I’ve seen myself grow so much, and I know this wouldn’t have been possible without St Mungo’s and their supporters.

    Let’s help everyone conquer homelessness

    At the heart of our challenge was our determination to help others who are homeless. Along with the rest of St Mungo’s, we believe that everybody should have a place to call home and can fulfil their hopes and ambitions.

    I’ve experienced first-hand how dangerous rough sleeping is and how it can affect mental health.  At St Mungo’s having a place to stay, therapy and learning new skills all helped me to recover. We desperately want to give other homeless people the same chance. It would mean the world to so many people if you could give a gift to help us save and change the lives of others.

    We cannot thank people enough for supporting us

    Thank you so much for your support. Without it, this walk would have been literally that; only a walk. Your support has made it a life changing experience not only for us, but for the homeless people we’re now able to help.

    I hope that our challenge will inspire others to think that if Mandy and Claire can climb a mountain, then they can do anything they put their mind to. We’d love to think that someone sleeping rough today could hear about our achievement, feel inspired to conquer their own challenge and make a positive difference to their life or the lives of others.

    Thank you all so much for making this possible and supporting us every step of the way.

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