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.

     

    On a typical day…

    “For me, if I can go home knowing I have helped at least one person away from the streets, or just one person away from the distress of mental health illness, I feel blessed.” St Mungo’s Mental Health Practitioner, Fatima, shares her experience of working in Outreach, helping people sleeping rough in the Tower Hamlets area.

    I’ve been a mental health nurse for 18 years. In 2011, I became and an approved mental health professional, which incorporates social work. I will work typical outreach shift in terms of going out early in the mornings and staying out late in the evening, as late as two or three in the morning, speaking to clients who are sleeping rough to try to form therapeutic relationships with them to help them move away from a life on the streets.

    ‘Blinded to homelessness’

    I was one of those people who was blinded to homelessness. I could walk past a homeless person or rough sleeper and not really see them to understand what they’re going through. It’s been an eye opener for me and I’ve fortunately been able to influence others to see homelessness through what I do at St Mungo’s.

    It can take a week or months to be build a relationship with a person. Sometimes they are in denial – they have no insight about what is happening to them so I try and to slowly educate them. I take decisions out of people’s hands when they’re experiencing mental distress.

    I enjoy my work. I can get people registered with a GP surgery, then get them to start medication, stabilise their mental health illness and then help into accommodation whilst we support them. Many people may have been de-registered and have been turned away from Accident and Emergency (A&E) wards. They can go through those revolving doors three or four times a month, back and forth from A&E.

    I also work with the clients to ensure they engage with the process of recovering from homelessness. You cannot take someone off the streets and expect them to turn up for every appointment. I have to build that relationship, that rapport and that routine of them coming to see me to talk about their mental health, the medication and the side effects.

    ‘Long days full of drama’

    My days can be very long and full of drama. Sometimes I get abused, which can be quite stressful. But my job is also fun and flexible. For me, if I can go home knowing I have helped at least one person away from the streets, or just one person away from the distress of mental health illness, I feel blessed.

    It’s brilliant to see someone who has been sleeping on the streets for five or six years leave that life behind. The kerb becomes their family so getting them into accommodation is not easy. When you put them in a room in a hostel it can be very lonely. The silence can be deafening for them because people out on the streets give them money and say hello – some people get to know them as they walk past them on their commutes. So they run back onto the street and people wonder why because they have accommodation.

    ‘Everybody is unique, everybody has a journey.’

    A lot of clients can lose their accommodation in hostels because of poor mental health – some people cannot understand their journey. Everybody is unique, everybody has a journey. How you hold their hands to support that journey is what makes a difference. People might think, ‘go to housing and get a property, get off the road and get your benefits’, it’s a much longer journey, however.

    Different clients talk about their living conditions. Finances are a problem. People have not been used to managing money and paying bills. Universal Credit has also caused a lot of problems for our clients.

    I have one client, for example, who believes he has all his money invested in stocks and shares. He says when his investments mature, he’ll pay his rent. He has a diagnosis of schizophrenia with delusional disorder. I ask for my colleagues to work with him in terms of hand-holding to ensure he does not get evicted from his hostel.

    I’m working with this lady that I’ve known since I was a student nurse. Up to now she will not allow anyone else to work with her. She was sleeping in a bin shed. She became mentally unwell, and started using drugs to self-medicate the voices she was hearing. Her children were taken into foster care when they were young. I worked with her and got her a place in a hostel. He son got in touch after 15 years and they’re building a relationship again.

    ‘You cannot be judgemental’

    Because of the nature of the people we work with, many with chaotic life styles, who are extremely marginalised, it’s very difficult to get through to the NHS. Even though I am that link between the NHS and homelessness services. Sometimes the nurses have no understanding or knowledge of homelessness. They’ll say, ‘he needs to go, he might bring drugs in here’. It’s a big challenge to get my clients treatment because of the way they look, or dress and their circumstances.

    Working in outreach, you cannot be lazy. I have gotten used walking everywhere. You must be able to multitask as you’re dealing with more than one client, sometimes up to seven a day, who are in crisis. I’ve jumped over six feet walls and walked along canals to help people – it’s part of what we do. You must have people skills, respect humanity, and you cannot be judgemental at all. It takes a lot of character to try and support people who are not ready to receive help.

    It’s a nice feeling to know you’ve helped someone from being a hermit to re-engage back into society and to be part of a community. I think that’s what has been missing in [conversations about] homelessness. Our country has forgotten how to be a community. To me, it feels like in London everyone is in a rush, so in that mad rush, we are blinded to homelessness.

    Here’s to 2018 and Thank You

    St Mungo’s Chief Executive, Howard Sinclair, reflects on the achievements by clients, staff and volunteers this year and looks ahead to 2018.

    This time of year – however you mark the holidays – can be a time of reflection, gratitude and goodwill.

    Reflecting on 2017, I’ve been thinking about our clients’ achievements this year.

    Mandy (pictured centre), for example. Her story has included mental health issues, family relationship breakdown and sleeping rough.

    Mandy now lives in a St Mungo’s project in Islington which is for people who need some support. She’s also connected in with our client representative group Outside In and our innovative Recovery College. In Mandy’s blog she wrote: “I am at a turning point in my life, where my life is more positive. I can honestly say I am doing things I never thought I would do. If it wasn’t for St Mungo’s I would most likely be dead, they saved my life.”

    On 21 June 2017 she and her friend Claire, who is also a client at St Mungo’s, led a team of St Mungo’s clients and staff up Snowdon. Between them they raised over £40,000 for St Mungo’s.

    It was a tremendous thing to do and a privilege to hear her talk about it at our Carol Concert this year. My very best wishes to her and all of the Snowdon Challenge team. Please do read more about what they accomplished and why.

    And Paul (pictured right). He’s an apprentice in our Housing First scheme in Brighton. This year he told us: “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.”

    My congratulations to him and all those involved in our award-winning apprenticeship scheme for people with lived experience of homelessness. Apprentices like Garry (pictured left), who works in one of our projects for people with mental health needs.

    He told us about his new role: “It feels really good that I’m helping people to recover – it’s that old cliché ‘giving something back’. I’m being a resource rather than using the resource.”

    I agree with his sentiment that: “There’s outside stuff beyond St Mungo’s where frustrations lie, for example, things that should be different with the government, but you have to work with what you’ve got. There are only some things you can impact.”

    We live in a complicated world, where homelessness is rising and, without more joined up national and local strategies, the concern is that welfare changes, lack of affordable accommodation and other social factors may see even more of a rise in rough sleeping and homelessness.

    But homelessness is not inevitable. In 2018 I will be sitting on the Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel, made up of people from charities and local government. Our role is to support a new Ministerial Taskforce, which brings together ministers from key departments to provide a cross-government approach to preventing rough sleeping and homelessness. I will be making sure our client voices are heard as we feedback  on ways we can work together to end homelessness and rebuild people’s lives.

    Thank you to our clients, staff and amazing volunteers and supporters for their dedication and commitment this year. May I wish you all a happy and peaceful holiday. Here’s to 2018.

    ‘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.

    ‘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.

Go back