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.


    ‘The greatest journey’

    Former St Mungo’s client, Victoria, was recently presented with a Royal Horticultural Society Community Champion Award, which is presented to 15 individuals around Britain who have demonstrated exceptional commitment and dedication to the Britain in Bloom cause in their community. Now in full time employment as a St Mungo’s gardener trainer, she tells us about her “greatest journey.”

    I joined St Mungo’s as a client at the end of 2013. I’d just come out of four and a half months treatment for long term addiction in Gloucestershire. So when I came back to my home in London, it felt like being thrown onto this cold world without my usual ‘backup’. I felt I needed an aftercare programme.

    With the help of St Mungo’s Recovery College, I put in place things for me to do every day. I was challenging myself, getting to better understand myself and all my likes and dislikes masked through addiction. Through the Recovery College, I was put in touch with the Education Training and Employment service; they connected me to St Mungo’s Putting Down Roots (PDR).

    “My interest was doing something in ecology or recycling.”

    To begin with, I went on a one day course about inspiring your inner entrepreneur. I always felt I could run a business of my own. My interest was doing something in ecology or recycling.

    I joined PDR in spring 2014 – the project helps people to recover from homelessness through social and therapeutic horticulture.

    By the end of 2014, I’d been put forward to do a three month paid trainee position. Funnily enough, that was a harder decision compared to going for treatment, because it meant having to come off welfare benefits, that make you feel quite protected and having safety nets or ways of coping with the world that are comfortable. I had to make a decision to risk that comfort to begin a training programme with no definitive job at the end of it. That was a massive decision.

    By 2015, I had become a St Mungo’s freelance gardener – that meant I could be sent out independently on jobs and I started to earn an income for myself.

    “I’m seen as a bridge between a member of staff and a client”

    I have my fingers in many pies at the moment. I am working on two main sites, one in Clapham, London – our main training ground, where we do a lot of our horticulture training with our clients. I also work on our second site at Melior Street, London Bridge, which we manage along with six sites in the surrounding area, on contract with Team London Bridge, the organisation set up to ensure the London Bridge area continues to develop as a centre for enterprise, culture and entertainment. The work here gives clients a flavour of what it’s like to work in gardening.

    I think my past experience has helped me connect with clients. I am perfectly happy to tell my story so hopefully I might be seen as the bridge between a member of staff and client, but also as someone who understands what it might be like when you come as a nervous first timer, who might not have a lot of confidence or direction. I am here to show our clients that there is a bridge between where they are and actual living, where you are integrated into society.

    On many levels what you’re giving clients is something to get out of bed for and something to show up on time for. They get a sense of responsibility to the team that they are working with or even the seeds they’ve sown. You find that you set a simple task to begin with, they’ll want to come check how they are doing. That’s also where I started to understand the connection between gardening and wellbeing. In my own experience, when I started to nurture something that couldn’t nurture itself, I learnt to nurture my needs and wants and to take care of myself.

    What interests me is making my world and the people who surround me happier – making my community brighter.

    ‘The Award was a complete surprise to me’

    The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Community Champion Award was a complete surprise to me. Henry Johnstone, from Team London Bridge, the business improvement district, invited me to the Britain in Bloom Award ceremony in Llandudno, Wales. It was an incredible moment. I couldn’t quite believe he was taking me.

    I knew that PDR would probably win an award for our work on the local estates around London Bridge – which we did, we got gold. I left the ceremony early to go to bed. Apparently 15 minutes later, I was called up on stage for a Community Champion Award – one of 15 around Britain this year. You can’t get bigger than the RHS for the work I do.

    I was absolutely speechless. I am very proud. If you’d asked me on 13 July 2013, the day I took the train to Gloucestershire for treatment, I would never have believed that three and a half years later I would be talking about winning an award for gardening. There aren’t words to describe it. I have travelled the world but this is the greatest journey. It’s very emotional. I could not have done it without Ian Kavanagh and Jeff Morgan at PDR. Martin Calderwood, the PDR project coordinator saw a spark in me and he developed it. He also allowed me to develop myself.

    This week I start work as a full time gardener trainer. I plan to have pudding with my team.

    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:

    Improving Bristol’s Mental Health

    For over three years, St Mungo’s has been running the Assertive Contact and Engagement Project (ACE), providing mental health services in Bristol. Paul Sargent, manager at ACE, explains how his team have been reaching out to people who face complex barriers accessing services.

    ‘Services tailored to the needs of people’

    We provide a variety of services tailored to the needs of people who may be mistrustful of treatment, may lead chaotic lifestyles or who have had poor experiences with services in the past. Our 26 staff work closely with the LGBTQI community, asylum seekers and refugees, rough sleepers, parents, and those with risky drug and alcohol use. Our specialised services include outreach, drop-ins, one-to-one support, groups and therapy. We work flexibly until the people we support have accessed the services they need or feel able to do so more easily on their own.

    Over the past three years, ACE has worked with approximately 882 people and assisted them to access mental health support. Approximately 45% of our clients seen on a one-to-one basis are or were rough sleepers.

    ‘Close working relationship with local services and community groups’

    ACE provides training for community groups and services on how to work with individuals with mental health issues. We have delivered 450 group and outreach sessions including a wellbeing group at North Bristol Advice Centre, a breakfast club for isolated men, women’s mornings, Somali yoga sessions, and a weekly sewing group for South Asian women.

    Our links with businesses and community groups have enabled us to run a wide range of initiatives so people we support can enjoy activities such as fishing trips, yoga sessions and trips to the farm. Corporate volunteers from Lloyds Bank got together to give our Filwood hub a much-needed lick of paint.

    We work closely with local services and community groups so we can all support people who are struggling with their mental health. Our first forum devoted to engagement approaches and strategies takes place on 11 October 2017 and we are proud that over 50 partners will be joining us for this special event. The day will consist of a series of workshops led by staff and partners with client involvement sharing our learning and experience over the last three years.

    ‘We are evolving’

    The ACE team are amazing, they know what their jobs are and are aware of the hurdles and challenges facing a mental health engagement service. We continue to provide training so our staff can support clients who need our help. We are developing our psychological interventions offer and ran our first dialectical behaviour therapy course this year. A talking therapy based on cognitive behavioural therapy, this meets the particular needs of people who experience emotions very intensely.

    Mental health outreach worker, Ritchie recently joined our team and goes out five times a week to meet people who are rough sleeping and have been identified as needing mental health support. Currently, seventeen rough sleepers are receiving one-to-one support from Ritchie.

    We have learnt that engaging and building relationships with clients is the priority, closely followed by doing the same with other services, partners and stakeholders.

    It’s tough times for our clients, and supportive services are struggling to manage. Here at St Mungo’s we know this possibly better than anyone and hold on to hope for a better future. Building key partnerships with the services our clients need the most takes patience, belief and assertiveness.

    So what does the future hold? We aim to provide a path to a bright future for our clients, work closely with our partners to increase our influence within the community and change perceptions of mental health services, all whilst enjoying the work that we do.

    To find out more about the Bristol ACE project, please get in touch:

    Telephone: 0117 239 8969 (Mon – Fri 8:00am – 8:00pm)
    Facebook: @ACEBristolMentalHealth
    Twitter: @ACE_BMH



    ‘Beyond my wildest dreams’

    Life is good. There have been times in my life when I hated life. There was lots of despair. Now I have everything I want in life. It’s not been given to me. I have worked for it. Today, I love life.

    I am on an 15 month apprenticeship programme with St Mungo’s Housing First Service in Brighton. But life was not always like that.

    I come from a long background of substance misuse – 30 years approximately. I have had many issues with the criminal justice system, courts, prison, etc. I’ve had problems with my health including, blood clots, ulcers and pulmonary embolisms. I came to a place in my life around nine years ago where I had just had enough. My health was bad. I was told that if I carried on I would only live for six months. At that point, I was also looking at a long prison sentence. When I went to court I was given a chance with Drug Rehabilitation Requirement (DRR) Order. With this, I was able to become substance free in the community.

    ‘I am a strong believer in remaining positive’

    After successfully completing the Order I got involved in recovery, fellowships and a mentoring program. I did voluntary work for a charity for people with learning difficulties. By keeping myself busy, being positive and constructive, I maintained my recovery whilst giving back to others and the community.

    I got my council flat five years ago and subsequently received a secure tenancy 12 months later. There has been loss of family members and general difficulties of living life on life’s terms, however, I am a strong believer in remaining positive and looking at things in a positive manner. By having an outlook like this, my life remains healthy and fulfilling.

    ‘Part of a team and something special’

    I have been involved with St Mungo’s for many years both as a client, volunteer mentor and paid locum worker. Although I had been a locum with Brighton Housing First for over a year and part of the team, I never had full access to St Mungo’s’ systems and I was not permitted to perform some duties alone.

    The Housing First approach is based on helping people with complex needs to secure a tenancy first along with a long term and flexible package of support around them.

    I applied for a Housing First worker position in July 2016. I was invited for an interview but I was not successful – I had not prepared myself at all. I had never been interviewed formally before. Then I subsequently applied for the St Mungo’s Apprentice Programme, which would give me an opportunity to continue working in a job I enjoy and gain a recognised qualification. The interview was less daunting than the first one, however, I attended fully prepared, although still quite nervous.

    I was notified the following day of my success at getting the position of Apprentice Housing First Worker. This really made me feel part of the team and part of something special. Now I have an employment contract so I feel more secure.

    ‘I get a lot of fulfilment seeing people progress in life’

    I applied to become an apprentice because I wanted to help other people like me. I have knowledge and the ability to work with and empathy towards the clients because of my experience. I also applied for selfish reasons – it makes me feel good about myself. I get a lot of fulfilment in seeing people progress in life. I like to help people ‘tread their path’. I want to help them get to where I am. Everybody’s recovery is different but I can show them how I did it.

    This is a career that I have tried to get into since I came into recovery as I enjoy helping people to achieve their goals and rebuild their lives. I prefer working directly with clients and feel lucky to have such a supportive team around me.

    ‘My clients have been let down so many times in life’

    My clients have multiple complex needs, mental health illness, distrust and serious abandonment issues. They’ve been let down so many times in life. One of my clients wouldn’t let me into his house before. I would bang on his door for 40 minutes but he wouldn’t open the door. Now he waits for me with a cup of tea when I go to see him.

    I thrive on challenges and have the tools and knowledge to deal with any situation that arises.

    My life today is amazing. I live in Brighton. I have a flat with a secure tenancy and a huge network of people I can depend on. I work within substance misuse services helping people like me. Life is good.

    When I first came into recovery I was promised a world beyond my wildest dreams. Most people would associate that with mansions, planes, Ferraris or money. That’s not me – I have peace of mind, a safe home, a pound in my pocket, food in the cupboard and good friends – that’s a world beyond my wildest dreams.

    Don’t give up the fight. Do the right things and the right things happen!

    How you can help people who are homeless

    If you’re interested in the work we do to help our clients and want to do more, here’s how you can get involved:

    Please visit our website for information on the St Mungo’s Apprenticeship Programme.

    There is a lot happening at St Mungo’s. Sign up to our e-newsletters and we’ll email you regular news to keep you up to date with everything that is going on.


    ‘We’ve come so far’

    Clients and staff outside Haringey Recovery Service

    St Mungo’s Haringey Recovery Service (HRS) recently held a five mile ‘Recovery Pride Walk’ with local partners to celebrate the recovery journeys of its service users from substance use.

    This year the walk was extended from two to five miles to include other services along the way such as mental health, and family and carers of drugs and alcohol users. For those taking part, it was a way of making people in the local community aware of where to go in order to receive support to address their substance misuse or if a family, friend or carer needed support.

    For many it was a symbolic day which created a sense of achievement because those taking part were walking with other clients and staff who have been on a similar journey.

    ‘An air of camaraderie and purpose’

    About 50 people completed the Walk, well prepared, with high visibility vests, bottles of water, first aid kits and health and safety awareness instructions and snacks to help energise along the way. People taking part said that they felt as if they were on some important mission – there was an air of camaraderie and purpose.

    For Alice, a Haringey Recovery Service User and Recovery Peer, the walk marked just how far she had come. She said: “I was a steward. I completed the route before the Walk to make sure we knew where we would be going. I put up all the notices to get people involved. The Recovery Pride Walk for me shows how much I have achieved. I’ve been sober for six months – for me, the first time in my whole life. So, it’s something big I have achieved. Hopefully I’ll be involved next year and I’ll be working in the services, supporting my peers.”

    ‘I’ve come so far on my journey’

    Rohan, an ex-service user who now supports his peers at HRS, also really enjoyed the Walk. He said: I’ve been here for three years and moved on. I’m now at the Recovery College doing music technology. I hope the t-shirts we wore put the message across that this is a wonderful service. I am a recovering alcoholic. The staff here really helped me. My mother suffers from dementia and I was going through a tough time looking after her. I found real great support from the staff here. It’s great to be able to go on the Walk. I have come so far on my journey. Next year, I’ll be back again doing this and supporting people like me.”

    Jean Man, Service User Involvement Manager of Haringey Recovery Service said: “After its success last year, people fed back that they wanted the Walk to take place again. The work that people put into this day was unbelievable, the talent, motivation, the willingness to make the event happen and the participation – it made recovery champions of us all. People came back exhausted but satisfied – food and rest were a priority. It also coincidentally but fortunately timed with a wider St Mungo’s Diversity Day, with information for that designed by the service users and staff. And very special thanks from me to our recovery peers – it’s such an honour to work with them.”

    ‘It was inspiring to take part in the walk’

    Haringey Recovery Service is a partnership service involving St Mungo’s, Haringey Advisory Group on Alcohol (HAGA), Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust, and Blenheim CPD.
    Set up in 2014, it provides support to people in Haringey on treatment for drug and alcohol problems. This includes counselling, rehabilitation programmes, peer support, and a fantastic Recovery College offering a range of courses to educate, improve wellbeing and prepare people for living independently once again.

    David Devoy, St Mungo’s Regional Director said: “It was inspiring to participate in the walk with clients from across Haringey, our staff and supporters. The public were gracious as we went along, and it’s good to know that the community in Haringey think positively about people in recovery and the services that support them.”



    ‘The Sanctuary were able to reach me’

    “I thought the pain I was suffering mentally couldn’t be alleviated and so the only way out was to take my life.”  – as a new campaign ‘We Hear You’ is launched to get Bristol talking about mental health, Shaun shares his experience at The Bristol Sanctuary, a unique service run by St Mungo’s for people who experience severe emotional distress.

    The Bristol Sanctuary is a welcoming safe space available for anyone feeling they can’t cope or are feeling desperate over the weekends. We help people find some stability and a plan to stay safe. People can spend time talking through their situation with a trained worker, or just take some breathing time.

    ‘Encouraging people to access the help they need’

    Three out of four people who visit The Sanctuary are considering suicide or serious self-harm. Over each weekend, an average of 20 people visit seeking support. Staff want to ensure others know about the service and are launching the ‘We Hear You’ campaign to encourage more people to access the help they need.

    According to the latest statistics from Public Health England, the rate of death by suicide in Bristol is above the three year average for the south west and for England. The City Council’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment states there were 137 suicides in Bristol between 2012 and 2014.

    “I had taken two serious attempts to end my life. I was at my lowest.”

    We asked Shaun, who has used the service to share his experience with us. Shaun, 58, tells us in his own words just how vital it was in saving his life:

    “I was in crisis. I had taken two serious attempts to end my life. I was at my lowest. It was my daughter who phoned for help. I think she called the police. It’s all a blur, but the lady who came with the police, told me about The Sanctuary.

    “It was just before Christmas 2016. The crisis team called round daily to check on my welfare. They were great and talked me out of taking an overdose but they couldn’t offer me the company I needed. I needed to talk, not just in a psychological way, but to talk and for someone to listen. If I talked I got a break from my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to be here anymore, my marriage had broken down after 37 years and I was lost.

    “I left feeling okay.”

    “I thought the pain I was suffering mentally couldn’t be alleviated and so the only way out was to take my life. I thought if nothing could stop the pain there’d be no point in seeking help. It was relentless, I could only sleep for an hour or two, and sleep was the only break I got from my dark and painful thoughts.

    “It was wonderful to come to The Sanctuary, to stay as long as I needed to and meet friendly people; with the combination of talking to people and counselling. I left feeling ‘ok’ and with a realisation that there was something that could alleviate the pain. I lost my suicidal thoughts and had, now, a little bit of hope from which I could build my recovery.

    “I have suffered depression for 27 years following an accident at work, which left me with disabilities, and I had to leave my job. Usually for me, when I am in crisis I am unreachable and more to the point I don’t want to be reached. But they were able to reach me, the moment I walked through the door I felt a great relief. That first weekend I came every night they were open, and again the following weekend. My normal coping methods, like talking to my wife were no longer there. I felt I had no future and all I had was this terrible, terrible pain.

    “If I hadn’t come to The Sanctuary I wouldn’t be alive.”

    “The Sanctuary has such a lovely atmosphere, I was greeted with a smiling face – it was right – not over the top – just the right kind of smile. There was no pressure just an acceptance, you don’t have to talk, but you can if you want to. They helped me to see I did have a future and I could be independent. They raised my confidence and my visits improved my social interactions, they were positive experiences. Up until that point I had never left the house without my wife. I was isolated. I began to feel my future was bearable. If I hadn’t come to The Sanctuary I wouldn’t be alive. I am so grateful that the strength of my suicidal thoughts have gone, I still get flashes but its sufficient for me to know that it is there and I can come back any time, and I have.

    “I was as desperate as I think it’s possible to be. To meet people who have compassion and others who are in a similar place helped me get through; I’m often amazed, at how good fellow sufferers are at knowing when to be quiet, or to ask how you are.

    “I have built resilience. I would say to anyone who is going through a crisis, or even before it reaches crisis point to visit, it’s got to be worth giving it a try.”

    Shaun is currently studying for a distance learning degree.

    How to get in touch

    Open Thursday – Monday. Phone lines open from 4pm.
    In person appointments available 5 till 11pm.
    Phone support 5pm till midnight.
    Call us on 07709 295 661 or email to book a place or for more information.


    What kind of world would you like to pass on?

    Image: Jordan and Matt recording a jingle

    This week we’re asking our supporters, volunteers, staff and clients to think about what world they’d like to pass on, as part of Remember a Charity in your Will Week.

    We asked some of our clients, and they shared what world they want to pass on with us:

    ‘A world where there is no homelessness and to show that recovery is possible with the right support around you.’  

    ‘A world where everyone feels seen and appreciated for who they are.’

    Remember a Charity in your Will Week have launched a radio station with DJ Emperor Rosko so that you too can #HaveYourSay about the world you’d like to pass on.

    Gifts in wills help our clients through their journey to recovery, and help to rebuild lives. One of these projects is the Endell Street Studio, where our clients, Claire and Jordan recently visited to help record a jingle for the campaign.

    The studio aims to use music creation as a tool to engage and support the recovery of people experiencing homelessness.

    Claire says: “I was very excited to have the opportunity to record in the studio at Endell Street for Remember a Charity Week – I enjoyed my time there. I felt like a professional and learnt so much about the technical aspects of recording music.”

    Have a listen to the jingles that Jordan and Claire recorded here.

    You can also tune into Last Pirate FM on DAB digital radio or listen online at – and listen out for Emperor Rosko singing one of the jingles that will be played on air!

    If you’d like to do something legendary for future generations of homeless men and women by leaving a gift in your will, please visit the legacy section of our website or get in touch with Katie Wimpenny at to request an information pack.

    “Its been the best year of my life”

    Image: Kevin Farrell, client of St Mungo's

    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.

    To find out more about St Mungo’s apprenticeship scheme click here.

    Five ‘giant evils’ of 1940s still exist for today’s homeless

    Rough sleeper with Outreach Worker

    The welfare state was established to fight the five ‘giant evils’ Lord Beveridge identified in his 1942 report. 70 years on, is the welfare state just as spritely when it comes to vanquishing those giant evils? Denis, from St Mungo’s client representative group Outside In, doesn’t think so: “The five evils are still evils in today’s society. They still continue.” Tanya English, St Mungo’s Executive Director of Communications, examines some client perspectives and considers our response…

    Giant evil #1: Squalor

    Beveridge wanted to break the cycle of poverty, where health problems caused by inadequate housing restricted people’s ability to work. Today, thousands of people still end up sleeping on the streets each year:

    “On many occasions I woke up and I’ve been covered in snow” Mark, 37

    “When I woke up sometimes, my foot would be so frozen that I wouldn’t move it until it proper thaws out because it felt like I had frost bites and my hands were hurting because it was so cold” Michael, 31

    Giant evil #2: Ignorance

    Beveridge thought that higher social classes were ignorant of the problems affecting communities. Our clients still experience this prejudice:

    “[Homeless people are] treated bad. Low life, dirty junkie, prostitutes, worthless dogs, but we’re not. We haven’t committed a crime; we’ve just had a bit of bad luck and made a terrible mistake, you know?” Linda, 52

    “I think people who have problems with the homeless…whatever problems they’ve had, however they end up that way; I personally think [people] should consider them a bit more. Whether you’re homeless or not you’re still human beings at the end of the day. We are all still human beings.” Leon, 36

    Giant evil #3: Want

    Beveridge was concerned with ensuring everyone in society had what they needed to survive. Unfortunately, many people who are homeless feel they have to resort to crime just to be able to eat:

    “[Homelessness] actually turned me to crime and…I’m a bit ashamed because I’ve caused a lot of damage to properties having to steal lead and that was just to survive… when you get your dole money if it doesn’t last or you get robbed, you’re going to find it very, very, very hard. I found that very, very difficult to, you know, to get a meal most days.” Stuart, 44

    Giant evil #4: Idleness

    Beveridge called for training and work centres to be set up across the country to help everyone find a job. Although many people who are homeless would prefer to work, many still struggle with overcoming bureaucratic hurdles:

    “[When] you do go for a new job you say, ‘I’ve been homeless; this is why I’ve been out of work’, they just say, ‘What have you been doing?’” Michael, 30

    “I was at the job centre. Loads and loads of work, but it was the same answer every time I picked the phone up, ‘We need proof of your address in London’” Jason, 39

    Giant evil #5: Disease

    Beveridge believed that tackling health issues was central to helping people out of poverty. Health is a significant barrier to work for a number of people who we help:

    “I’ve nearly been killed three times doing [prostitution]. I’ve been raped doing it. I’ve… as a result of that I got HIV doing it.” Angela, 38

    “Some people don’t understand [depression]… A lot of the time I have kept myself to myself. It’s only recently I’ve started to push myself out there a bit more. But even still there’s stigma. Any hint that you’ve got this, especially when I’ve been in the mental hospital, people think straight away strait jackets; nutjob.” Michael, 30

    At a time of great financial uncertainty, Britain’s welfare system was set up to direct limited resources towards those who needed them most. Now in the middle of another financial crisis 70 years later, those who are most vulnerable are still tumbling through the gaps in the safety net to the streets below. Our response must be to strengthen the net, not cut more holes.


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