‘New beginnings’

St Mungo’s runs an Apprenticeship Scheme which is open to people with lived experience of homelessness. Former client, Garry, tells us how the Scheme has given him new beginnings.

There’s been quite a few ups and downs in my life. It’s not something I wanted, but life is very good at the moment. I’ve got more clarity about what makes me happy and how I can pass that on.

I have a one year old daughter. That’s made things a bit clearer and given me a new perspective and clearer purpose. I am more grounded. I can see the future a bit more clearly – it’s now more mapped out. Especially since starting this apprenticeship.

A lot has changed in my life. It’s almost five years ago since I moved from Sussex to London for rehab. At that point I was a bit transient. I was staying in a place not to dissimilar to this one [St Mungo’s Grays Inn Road Service]. It was a semi-independent hostel. I had just been discharged from a mental health hospital.

“I like the idea of using my experience for a job.”

I got to know about St Mungo’s when I was in rehab. I read an article about someone who had set up a project helping people to build bikes. So when I left rehab, I went and did the Build a Bike course at St Mungo’s Recovery College. I attended the course one day a week. Through that, I started volunteering for the tutor. This led to more volunteering at Ace of Clubs, a day centre for people who are homeless in Clapham, London.

I was motivated to apply for the apprenticeship because I’ve been homeless myself. I like the idea of using my experience for a job. I also wanted to do the Level 2 Health and Social Care course. It seemed like a good way to do both. I had looked at doing the course outside of work but it’s a lot easier to do it this way. It’s good to be able to work while you’re doing the course.

I’ve lived in Stoke Newington, London, for over four years now and seen a crazy rise in homelessness. There are a lot more people living on the streets. There’s a little park near my home, where I walk my dog – I never used to see any homeless people. I went there last summer and it was like a shanty town. So this motivated me to apply as well – something you see with your eyes.

“I was anxious about sitting behind a computer.”

When I found out I had got the apprenticeship I was really happy but surprised. I was anxious as well because I’d never done anything like this before. I was anxious about sitting behind a computer. My other jobs were not like this. It’s a natural reaction when you get into a new job and you don’t know what to expect. It’s new beginnings. The job I had before didn’t really have any possibilities beyond what I was doing. It was the kind of role you do and that’s what you’ll do forever, whereas this seems more like a career. St Mungo’s is a large organisation – you can get into so many things.

My experience helps. I don’t see it as a hindrance. I think it helps me in a way – not just the work that I do but also recognising the fact that I have moved on. I can look at the clients and see the possibility of them moving on as well. Not that I’d ever say to them ‘I’ve done it, you can do it as well,’ but just knowing that people can change – it’s nice to be part of that as well.

It’s the first time I’ve seen myself as having a career. Having this job has made me feel good in terms of the fact that I’m doing something for the future and knowing that I’m doing something that is hopefully making a positive change to people, which feels good. Like I said, it is giving me more of a purpose. My hours are not spent like ‘I’m doing it for the money’ like my other job.

“I’m a being a resource rather than using the resource.”

It feels really good that I’m helping people to recover – it’s that old cliché ‘giving something back’. I’m a being a resource rather than using the resource.

There is an element of selfishness but that does not have to sound entirely selfish. Again, if it wasn’t making you feel good, how would you pass that onto clients? It can make you feel good, but it can also be frustrating when things are not going the way you want with certain clients. 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.

My advice to clients? Take opportunities given to you. Work with keyworkers – they’re people who want to help you move on. Use your time wisely, don’t just get institutionalised, which is quite an easy thing to do sometimes – you’ve got your room, your rent paid and your benefits. You should use some of the resources you are being offered.

What next? I started not long so I’m concentrating on my course work. It’s the first time I’ve done anything since I left school. I need to get my head round all this stuff. My head is full at the moment. I’m not worrying about what is ahead. I’m in a good place. When I get home I have a little girl who takes up my time. I’m doing things like watching her stand up for the first time. So I yeah, I’m not worried at all.