Our #16Days of Action against domestic abuse

    This Sunday 25 November 2018 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and marks the start of 16 Days of Action against domestic abuse. Cat Glew, Women’s Strategy Manager, explains how homelessness and domestic abuse are linked and how St Mungo’s is taking action.

    Women experience homelessness differently to men. In particular, gender based violence can be both a cause and a consequence of homelessness. Shockingly, half the women in St Mungo’s accommodation that have slept rough tell us that they have experienced violence or abuse from a partner or family member.

    As Women’s Strategy Manager, my role is to improve the situations of the women we work with who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

    We’re making a stand for women

    A safe and secure home is the first step to recovery, so we must do all we can to keep women safe from abuse. That’s why St Mungo’s is proud to sign the Make a Stand pledge from the Chartered Institute of Housing. Developed in partnership with Women’s Aid and the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance, the pledge is a commitment to support all our staff and clients experiencing domestic abuse.

    You may have read our recently published report from the University of York about the hidden harm of women sleeping rough. Women on the streets are exposed to frightening risks of sexual harassment, abuse and violence, but hiding from harm can also mean that they are hidden from help.

    The 16 Days give us the chance to us to bring hidden issues to light. Across the organisation, we’ll be having honest conversations about abuse and relationships and connecting people with specialist support.

    The United Nations’ theme for this year’s campaign is #HearMeToo. We must make sure that the global movement against harassment and abuse also reaches women who are homeless and hidden. We need action in government and in homelessness services to #MakeHerSeen.

    The women we work with are blooming strong

    It’s important that we take domestic abuse seriously, and understand the harms and risks. But as Women’s Strategy Manager, that’s just one part of my role.

    The best part of my job is celebrating our women. Women face added stigma and shame while they are homeless. But that’s not how we see our female clients. We see women who have survived, who are strong and determined.

    That’s why we’re taking part in the Blooming Strong campaign in our services this year, presenting a variety of women with a single flower, and celebrating in other ways such as planting flowers, creating sculptures and making time to chat over a cup of tea. The campaign is a celebration of the strength of women, including those who have survived gender based violence and abuse.

    I can’t wait to see how our creative staff and clients will celebrate. Look out for more updates on our social media channels during the #16Days of Action.

    Survivors of domestic abuse need a home for good

    Everybody deserves a home where they can be safe from harm. Our Home for Good campaign report highlights that being forced to flee violence or abuse is one of a number of reasons why people struggle to move on from homelessness.

    It’s vital that specialist support is in place so that women can leave the streets behind and we can end rough sleeping for good. During this 16 days of activism, why not sign our #HomeForGood open letter and call on the government to give homelessness services the funding they need.

    If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can contact a specialist organisation for support:

    National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
    National LGBT+ Helpline: 0800 999 5428
    Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327

    Outreach on the streets of Connecticut

    This summer Ed Addison, Case Coordinator for St Mungo’s project Street Impact London, took part in an eye opening two week long cultural exchange programme, travelling to Connecticut in the USA to learn about their approach to supporting people who are sleeping rough. Ed explains more about the homelessness situation in New Haven, the challenges they face conducting outreach and what he has taken away from the experience.

    I travelled to the USA as part of the Transatlantic Practice Exchange run by Homeless Link, the national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England. I applied because I wanted to learn more about different approaches to engaging with and supporting people who are sleeping rough.

    Like much of New England, New Haven, a small city in Connecticut, has seen an unprecedented increase in rough sleeping. With long waiting lists for shelters and few other resources, my hosts, the Columbus House outreach team, have a challenge on their hands.

    Personal experience helps outreach work

    The outreach team explained to me that working with certain groups, like couples and people that don’t engage, can be challenging. They also told me about their own experiences of homelessness and how this helps them in their work.

    Recovery support specialist Stephanie said, “I too have been homeless and lived through this experience myself and used that experience to help others.”

    The team see a lot of people with mental health needs who also use alcohol or drugs, but place an emphasis on recovery.

    Stephanie explained that using lived experience to help others is a crucial part of the recovery programme, saying “[you] show them you can live through this experience and get to the other side.”

    Supporting others is its own reward

    What struck me is that, despite the challenges, the team were so motivated and passionate about their work. Their persistent and flexible approach provides a lifeline to those experiencing homelessness.

    As outreach worker Rhonda explained, “Someone helped me, so I am going to in return… It gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing that I am helping somebody to better their quality of life.”

    Applying learning in London

    The Street Impact London project I work for is all about supporting people who have experience of sleeping rough to sustain their lives off the street. I’ve been inspired by the multi-disciplinary approach in New Haven which brings essential services, including street psychiatry and healthcare, to people directly on the street.

    I’d like to highlight the challenges people have accessing support here in the UK and continue to ensure that St Mungo’s clients are given as much choice and decision making capacity in their recovery journey as possible.

    My time in New Haven has also highlighted the importance of a community based approach to working with rough sleepers. The experience is shaping the way I build relationships with people to encourage positive change in their lives.

    You can listen to an interview Ed conducted with the New Haven outreach team here.

    Find out more about Street Impact here.

    Homeless Link’s Transatlantic Practice Exchange is supported by the Oak Foundation and delivered in partnership with the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Placements are funded for five frontline homelessness staff to spend a fortnight in the United States, exploring different practice topics and sharing this learning on their return.

    How we’re supporting local authorities to help more people off the streets

    Image: St Mungo's outreach worker with person sleeping rough

    In March 2018 the government announced a targeted £30m fund to support local authorities with high numbers of people sleeping rough help more people off the streets. This funding is welcome, but scaling up and developing new services quickly and effectively can prove challenging. Petra Salva, Director of Outreach Services, and Julie Middleton, Head of Resourcing, explain how St Mungo’s is helping local authorities recruit for and deliver services that really make a difference.

    “We are currently working with 19 commissioners from local authorities,” says Julie. “When they found out they had been successful in applying for the new funds, they realised that some of the services would need to be set up by the end of August. It quickly became clear that we would need to recruit over 90 staff to get these new services up and running ahead of winter.

    “But recruitment naturally slows down in the middle of the summer – and with the hot weather, summer holidays and World Cup football we knew it would be even harder.”

    Effective planning and processes

    Building on St Mungo’s long-standing success in recruiting outreach workers and learning from how other organisations have managed a rapid scale up of their workforce, we set up a talent pool recruitment pilot project, involving colleagues in HR, Services and Business Development.

    Over six weeks, we set up ten open days in London, Bournemouth, Bristol and Brighton to give candidates the opportunity to hear about St Mungo’s, our services and the roles we were recruiting for. The sessions were facilitated by experienced operational staff and, when possible, some of our clients, so candidates could hear about homelessness from people directly involved in delivering and receiving support from our rough sleeping services.

    “Our aim was to give people the opportunity to talk to people who currently work in these services and share the challenges they face, set expectations and hear what they love about their work,” said Petra. “It was also an opportunity for people to ask questions about St Mungo’s and understand more about the work we do.”

    Tailored recruitment campaigns

    Behind the scenes, two dedicated Resourcing Advisors managed the recruitment process. “When you’re quickly responding to a big recruitment campaign, you need effective planning, recruiting methods and processes, as well as technology to help you manage a high volume of applicants,” said Monique, Resourcing Advisor.

    We tailored the recruitment campaigns to ensure we could attract people who had never worked in homelessness services before but who had transferable skills and wanted to actively take part in reducing rough sleeping.

    As a result of the advertising, we received 604 expressions of interest, reviewed 392 job applications and so far we have offered 53 positions. We have another 14 interview days scheduled during September.

    Delivering for clients and partners

    “What I am the most proud of is that we didn’t compromise on our recruitment processes,” said Julie. “We have a robust competency-based recruitment process which includes online tests, written exercises and role plays, in addition to the usual job application and interview.”

    “This means it may take us longer to recruit people and some candidates may drop out along the way, but we know it is a risk worth taking to honor our primary commitment – providing excellent services to our clients and partners.

    “It has proved a great success so far and we are hoping to recruit a further 42 posts during the second phase.”

    “We have learnt a lot from this project and are looking at ways we can build on this experience to further improve our approach in future,” added Petra.

    Find out more about St Mungo’s services models and see our latest vacancies.

    “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.

     

    Helping women who are homeless after a prison sentence

    All people returning from prison are at risk of homelessness, but women face specific complex issues. Ruth Legge from our Offender Services, explains how St Mungo’s works with women while they are in prison, and after release, to help them find long term accommodation.

    You may have seen recent news that the Government has shelved plans for five new community prisons for women. These were to be residential centres where women are given access to training and therapy to help them break out of cycles of re-offending.

    We were disappointed to see this, as we believe our work with women offenders, when they are in prison and after they are released, offers a strong model for support. St Mungo’s has been working in women’s prison for many years and we think we have a good understanding of, and insight, into their specific needs.

    In our experience, women leaving prison face many complex issues around homelessness. Offending behaviour can be linked to poor mental health, drug and/or alcohol use, partner violence, other sexual violence, loss of child custody, childhood and adult trauma and gang affiliation, to name just a few. On top of that, there is a lack of suitable housing where women can feel safe, secure and start to rebuild their lives.

    A Catch-22 situation

    Women are often the primary care givers for their children prior to being jailed. Once a woman’s children have been removed from her care, she becomes at greater risk of homelessness. The family home might be taken away from her, as she is no longer seen as needing so many rooms. The council might also no longer consider her a ‘priority need’ to be rehoused if the children are not returned to her care upon release.

    Many women in prison find themselves in a ‘catch-22’ scenario. They are only granted custody of their children if they have suitable accommodation in place after they are released. But more often than not the local authority won’t help to provide any accommodation until they already have custody. In these cases we work alongside social services, statutory authorities and Reunite programmes to support women in finding accommodation, with or without their children.

    Domestic violence

    Domestic violence is also a big issue. Some women in custody have tenancies when they come to prison but can’t return because a violent partner is still residing in the property.

    Many women flee their homes in order to escape from domestic violence. Often they are too scared to contact the police. The council may then deem them “intentionally homeless” and isn’t under any obligation to help them find accommodation.

    We see a lot of women who were rough sleeping prior to custody, even though they still hold a tenancy. They often tell us they feel safer on the street than returning to live with a violent partner. Some women feel they have no choice but to return to violent partners. They tell us that, because they are coming from prison, they feel they won’t be believed or provided with appropriate safe accommodation.

    We work with domestic violence teams and help refer women to refuges if they cannot return to their homes. We also support them to appeal claims that they are intentionally homeless.

    Some women we work with are involved in prostitution. Because they are active at night, but sleep during the day, if they are staying in a hostel they are at risk of being evicted if the hostel says they aren’t spending enough nights there.

    These rooms are sometimes the only place a woman has to call her own and feel safe in, so we try to liaise with hostels to keep bed spaces open. There is almost always a link between involvement in prostitution and substance use. Women who are still using drugs and alcohol are at particular risk of homelessness as they are usually not able to sustain independent accommodation, nor would the local authority deem them a priority need for accommodation.

    The Government has several new and forthcoming strategies on issues such as female offending, rough sleeping and domestic abuse. St Mungo’s believes there must be clear and consistent links between them all in order to achieve a difference in the lives of the women we support.

    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.

    “There are no words”

    Tracey Jacob, St Mungo’s Housing Management and Lettings Coordinator, based in Westminster, shares her experience of working with people who are homeless and near the end of life.

    When a person has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, there are no words that can describe the emotions or feelings.

    When a client has no family, or has not been in contact with them, or wishes for them not to be informed of their illness. When a client makes a decision that he does not want to go to hospital or a hospice but wants to stay at home. This is when you realise they may see you as their family.

    Over the years, I have known and supported people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

    There are guidelines, other colleagues, to help support and direct us as staff in that situation. But it’s those words – “I want my keyworker” – which cannot be substituted.

    With one of my clients, I had to start a conversation with him about being resuscitated. I didn’t know how.

    I called his GP who arrived the same evening to ask the questions and do the paperwork.

    I had to fight back the tears as I did not want the client to see me crying.

    The GP had a one to one with me after the meeting as well, to debrief me and make sure I was OK. These are the situations that don’t get seen, or talked about.

    On another occasion, I had to go through my client’s clothes to take some to the funeral parlour, wiping away the tears as I have never dressed a person who had passed away.

    My thoughts were, I want the client to look lovely, hoping that I chose a good outfit. I was given a cup of tea and they explained that I was not expected to do this, they would do it. These are the things that don’t get seen, or talked about.

    I have worked for St Mungo’s for many years. Any death is difficult. I have learnt that it’s ok to say “I need help and support” and to step back, take a few minutes to regroup your thoughts.

    For me, I take away that the person was not alone and I did the best I could do.

    It was Dying Matters last week . Please see our other blog by St Mungo’s Palliative Care Coordinator, Niamh Brophy, on the work being done to prevent people who are homeless dying on the streets.

    Hope from terrible tragedies

    Niamh Brophy is St Mungo’s Palliative Care Coordinator. We are the only homeless organisation to have such a person, supporting both clients and staff with ‘end of life’ experiences.

    For most of us, I hope Dying Matters Week is an opportunity to talk to our loved ones about death and the things that feel important to us: where we’d like to be cared for (for most of us it would be at ‘home’), and how we’d like to be remembered by our loved ones.

    But what if you don’t have a home? And what if you don’t have a family or support network to have these conversations with?

    This is the reality for the rising numbers of people experiencing homelessness. For many, their death will go ignored, not given the dignity or respect they are due, and with little planning given to their end of life wishes or preferences.

    This year’s Dying Matters Week (14-20 May) comes at a particularly poignant time. Recently, news that the number of deaths of people sleeping rough has more than doubled in the past five years shocked the public.

    These are individuals dying in car parks, on street corners and park benches, with no one around to support them as their lives draw to a close. This is desperately sad, and something most of us would think completely unacceptable in our society today.

    But from these terrible tragedies has sprung some hope. Campaigns have been launched to address and prevent these deaths from happening in future such as the #makethemcount campaign.

    Ed Davey MP has also proposed a new Homelessness End of Life Care Bill that aims to ensure people do not die homeless and alone on the streets, but have access to care and accommodation for the end of their life.

    At St Mungo’s we contributed to both of these initiatives. But more work is needed to ensure people get access to the care they need. That’s why we’re calling on the Government to ensure a review is carried out every time someone dies on the street, as part of their new rough sleeping strategy. This would ensure deaths no longer go ignored, and that lessons can be learnt to ensure such tragedies are not repeated.

    St Mungo’s were also involved in research published last year that explored the unique challenges in providing end of life care to people in hostels. What emerged was a picture of great complexity, but also plenty of opportunity to improve the experience of residents and staff when faced with such difficult situations.

    It’s now a decade since St Mungo’s first acknowledged the importance of providing end of life care to people who are homeless by establishing a Palliative Care role.

    In response to the increase in need of our residents, and the growing numbers of people dying on the streets, we will be expanding the service in 2018 and recruiting another member of staff to ensure all residents can be supported and cared for in the way that feels right for them.

    We continue to work every day to ensure our residents can access healthcare and be supported to approach the end of their life with dignity and respect. This Dying Matters week, we would encourage everyone to start a conversation on how we as a society can prevent the unnecessary deaths of people sleeping rough, as well as how we treat homeless individuals with dignity as they approach the end of their life.

    ‘Giving people a fresh start in life’

    “We help people who are living in their own homes but need support to ensure they are able to keep a roof over their head.” Ola Pedro, Team Leader at St Mungo’s Tenancy Sustainment Team North, tells us about how his team supports people who previously slept rough to live independently in the community.

    St Mungo’s Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) North works with people who formerly slept rough and who are now housed across North London. Our team supports them to maintain their tenancies and to further develop their skills and confidence to move on into independent accommodation – moving away from homelessness for good.

    We want to make sure people are socially included. We link them with packages of support, as needed – around mental health, substance misuse, employment, ex-offending, offending – as well as other activities to help them sustain their tenancies and feel part of the wider community.

    ‘We carry out home visits to make sure that people are living safely’

    We work with people who are often tackling three or more health and other issues, for example, substance use, risk of offending, and or physical and mental health problems. The sector jargon would be ‘high needs’ clients and they can need a lot more intense one to one support.

    We carry out home visits regularly to check that people are living safely. If there are any issues around their support needs, these can be represented in how they live. For example, if a person is going through severe depression, the state of their property can reveal that. These visits mean we can make sure the person is comfortable in their home, in their area, and to identify any maintenance issues or anything that landlords need to be aware of.

    Benefits are a major issue at the moment. The roll out of Universal Credit has caused a lot of stress for our clients. We are finding many people are having to go without money while their applications are being processed, for six to eight weeks. This is something that TST staff have had to pick up. If not, it creates issues which permeate into every other area of people’s lives and means they need even more support. We help people, for example, by offering food vouchers and topping up their electricity and gas, if needed. We have drop-ins every Monday and Friday, so people can also come in and sit down with us for some support if they want.

    ‘I feel joy when I go home’

    I got into St Mungo’s through volunteering at St Mungo’s Islington Mental Health Team. I tried a corporate job but just didn’t find it rewarding. I like the dynamism of this role – it’s extremely active, you’re never in once place for a long time. I’m the team manager but I also work with clients, I support around 55 clients myself. I’ll visit about four or five clients in one day, each needing different kinds of support, so it’s about balancing that with the managing and admin side of the role.

    I feel joy when I go home as I know I’m making a difference. I’m improving the quality of people’s lives – taking them from a place where they are not so happy to a place where they can feel confident, and our team are part of that process.

    ‘Giving people a fresh start in life’

    I supported one person, for example, who had his tenancy taken over by a group of drug dealers. They were force feeding him crack cocaine and heroin, just so they could use his accommodation to cook and to sell the drugs.

    He didn’t actually tell me this had happened until I got a phone call to say that he’d been admitted into hospital for abscesses on his arms and hands from injecting. He had also been beaten up really badly.

    When I went to the hospital, I had a really long discussion with him about why he didn’t want to tell me this. He said there were a lot of feelings of guilt and shame around why he didn’t want to tell me what had happened.

    We worked together very closely over the next three months and he’s now been rehoused away from that area. He got a chance to start a fresh life and went to rehab. He’s completely clean of the drugs that were forcibly put in his system.

    When I go home and think about that story, that’s what drives me and makes me want to do this job always.

    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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