Tamara has been with My Space for around six months. She was brought up in care and spent most of her adult life so far in and out of prison. She’s also had problems with mental health, drink and drugs. She was keen to tell us how My Space has helped her make some amazing changes to her lifestyle.
After having been referred to us while in prison by Lancashire Women – a charity which aims to empower women to be valued and treated as equals – My Space found her a property in the area she needed and assigned her a dedicated Housing Support Officer, J: “It’s the first time I’ve had my own space,” she says.
J has supported Tamara to budget, setting up payments so her bills are settled and she has money left for the rest of the month. “She’s made me think differently,” she told us. “She’s there to help and support me if I’m struggling.”
Since living in a My Space property, Tamara has been drug-free and has completed her post-release licence period for the first time. “I wouldn’t have accepted help before, I would have failed, and spent my money on drink and drugs, and I’d be back in prison.”
Because of Covid-19, Tamara hasn’t been able to fully engage with the services on offer from Lancashire Women, but has been taking part in online coffee mornings and going on walks. She’s keen to start getting out more and meet new people: “I take a day at a time,” she says. “I just want to keep myself safe and drug free.”
Tamara says she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend My Space to other people with a similar background to hers, and with J’s continued support she aims to carry on living a more normal life.
“My Space are always there – they don’t just house you and then leave you. They engage with you and help in all sorts of different ways. Without J’s help I wouldn’t have known what to do,” she says. “It’s hard but I’m coping – I’m really proud of myself.”
My Space is proud of you too, Tamara.
Keeley has been a tenant with My Space for about 18 months, and in that time she’s come a really long way. She was fleeing a background of domestic violence by a controlling ex-partner, had a negative relationship with alcohol and was at risk of homelessness when Housing Officer L first met her and started to offer support. To start to get her life back on track, L started with the basics: help with budgeting and paying the bills – but sometimes Keeley also needed encouraging to simply get up and get dressed in the morning. Help with making appointments and seeing other support services all contributed to Keeley being able to make some important changes.
“I’d made some bad choices,” she told us. “I was living an erratic, chaotic lifestyle with some bad influences, mostly because I was lonely. This time 18 months ago I didn’t care about myself, my relationship with my family had broken down and I couldn’t see a future – I was existing. Not eating or getting dressed.”
Spending time with L and having someone to talk to has made all the difference to Keeley, who is gradually recovering from PTSD brought on by her past experiences. “I’m nicer to people now,” she says, “because I’m feeling more positive about life. I know where to ask for support if I need it.”
Keeley recently attended one of our tenants’ forums, where staff and tenants get together to share experiences, get to know each other and help shape My Space’s services. It was a big step for Keeley to come along, but she really enjoyed it: “It was nice to meet other people who’ve been going through the same as me – you think it’s just you on your own.” Since the forum, Keeley has been getting out more and is keen to join in with more tenant activities, including becoming a member of our Operations Committee.
Other plans and ambitions for the future include small steps like decorating her flat, learning to cook healthy meals and putting down more permanent roots with a view to increasing access to her children. Ultimately Keeley would like to work in a caring profession – helping people with backgrounds like hers as a positive role model.
She has sometimes found this journey daunting, but is slowly getting regaining her freedom and independence: “I’m exhausted of living in fear,” she says. “I still have my bad days but I’m trying to fight it. I feel like I’m getting my voice back.”
Andy, 47, has been with My Space for just about a year, having been referred to us by the Motiv8 programme. Prior to that he’d been street homeless for seven years, sleeping rough around Manchester. A relationship breakdown and mental health problems piled up, and he spent some time in hospital. It was after sleeping in a scrapyard for 12 months that Andy hit rock bottom, suffering from PTSD and severe anxiety, eventually reaching a crisis point and feeling ready to end it all.
A local councillor tried every option to find somewhere for him, including hotels and hostels until My Space found him the flat he’s in now. “It was the first time I’d had a shower in seven years,” he said. “It was like all my dreams coming true in a day. The weight off my shoulders was unreal. I was overwhelmed with it all, I still am really. I couldn’t believe it’s mine. It took me a couple of weeks to get my head round it.”
“I can’t fault the support – Housing Officers are there if you need them and you can chat to them about anything.”
Andy has been passionate about art from an early age – a tough upbringing saw him leaving home for days at a time from around the age of 14, taking trains across the country, sleeping anywhere and becoming part of the graffiti community. He’d been tagging and graffiting since he was 12. “I think the only thing I haven’t put my name on is a plane!”
For Andy, graffiti was all about making his mark, and saying “I’m here.” His fellow graffiti artists became his family, and he had “the best time of my life” travelling all over Europe. “I’m classed as one of Manchester’s graffiti legends,” he told me. “There’s only about 10 of us left now.
His ambition is to keep busy by taking on some voluntary work, perhaps decorating interiors, and he’d love to get involved in local art projects, giving kids something to do and keeping them out of trouble.
“I haven’t stopped painting since 1982,” he says. “I still feel part of the community.”
James has been with us for two years; he is settled in his property and happy with the two Housing Support Officers (J and L) he’s had since moving in. He told us a bit about the circumstances which led to becoming one of our tenants.
“I lost a daughter in 1997, and that’s when the depression set in. When it sets in you can turn to drugs or drink – I chose drink. I was treated in hospital, but then I had another breakdown. I was in arrears with my rent and it just piled up on me. I did go back to work and didn’t drink for a long time. But the problem is when you’re at work, people ask you out for drinks, and that’s when it started again. It was hard – I got evicted from my flat and was on the streets for about a week. I had very bad paranoia and went voluntarily to hospital. My social worker then referred me to My Space – he told me, “You’ve got a nice house” – and I’ve been here ever since.
“Unfortunately I relapsed about eight months ago – I started with paranoia again, I was hearing voices saying they were going to put my windows through. I packed a rucksack and cycled into town to hide. I rang J because I thought my picture was everywhere – I heard people saying ‘There he is’ and following me round town. I was so scared. The police picked me up and took me to A&E.”
Despite this setback, and by working as a team with his Housing Support Officers James is now well, and enjoying life on an even keel. He likes travelling by train to places like Liverpool and Manchester and is planning his next holiday, going diving in Greece. “I used to go out but always rush back because I thought the house was going to go. Now I feel much more secure.”
So how has having the house helped? “It’s an important part of it – I know that every Wednesday J’s coming, and she’s always only a phone call away. Without her and L I wouldn’t be here – they’ve helped me since day one. If I’ve got a problem she’s there. It’s knowing someone’s there.
“My Space staff really go the extra mile, they offer kindness and support and a kick up the backside when you need it!
“I trust J and L with my life – they’ve given me my life back. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
D came to us in 2017. We’d housed a friend of hers and she was referred to us through the recovery service she was using. “I was vulnerable because I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict. I’d lost my job through my addictions and I didn’t have anywhere to go. I’d been at my mum and dad’s but I’d relapsed again and they couldn’t deal with me anymore.
“The flat My Space gave me was fantastic – it filled me with hope and I felt I was set up. I managed there for six months, but unfortunately I relapsed and decided to go into rehab again.”
D says it was the support from My Space that kept her going: “It was someone coming to check on me, and assuring me that they’d support me if I saw rehab through. I felt hopeless and My Space gave me another chance. So many people don’t give you a second chance and I’m really grateful for that. I might not be alive now without it.”
D was in rehab for almost nine months, going through the full 12-step programme, and has now been clean for 10. Once she left rehab, we rehoused her further out of the town she’d been living in, giving her a fresh start away from temptations.
“Everything I needed was in the property for me – I literally arrived from treatment with just the clothes on my back. The thought of having to organise things like a washing machine, a fridge or sort out carpets, on top of being so nervous about relapsing again would’ve been too much to cope with.”
D is now training for a triathlon, re-engaging with family and friends and volunteering for a local treatment centre.
“My Space made a golden promise and they haven’t given up on me.”
Mike is 44 and came to My Space at the beginning of 2017, not long after our Cumbria office was established.
“I’m an alcoholic and an addict –crack and heroin,” Mike says. “I’d been in rehab for a month – which isn’t long enough, by the way – I came out and started to engage with Unity (a local recovery service) and CADAS, an addiction treatment centre.
“I’d had to move back in with my mum, as I’d spent all my money on drink and drugs – I couldn’t see how I could rent anywhere. CADAS mentioned My Space and I got on the phone the same day to get my referral moving.”
Mike was originally looking for a property in Kendal, but after finding out he had a passion for gardening My Space started looking further afield, and found the perfect place in a village outside the town. “They checked the bus links and found out I could easily get into Kendal, even at weekends. I’d started to volunteer at Unity, so that fact I could get there easily was a help. It also meant I could get away from the town. If I’d been living there I’d have had people round all the time.”
Mike was volunteering with Unity, helping out with support groups, so when an Apprenticeship came up he applied along with 50 other people, and was successful. He’s now in paid employment, working towards a Level 2 in Health and Social Care, and is running the 1:1s and support groups he used to help out with. “The people we work with can talk to someone who’s lived it – I can empathise with people.”
For Mike, the support from My Space was key: “Just knowing you’ve got someone to call. Knowing my Housing Officer would come round whenever I asked, it was just nice to have a chat.
“Getting my own place was massive. I’m used to village life – I’ve got my garden and my cat and I love growing my own veg. I feel stable, like everything’s come together. It’s having somewhere I can call home.”
Having a home of his own also means that Mike now has more contact with his daughter: “Before I had my own place I was only allowed to have her supervised by my mum. Now she comes every weekend – she loves the big garden, I build her fairy gardens and make fairy treasure hunts for her.”
Mike is focusing on working through his 18-month Apprenticeship with Unity, and would be keen on a permanent position if it came up. “I want to stay working in recovery,” he says. “It’s what I know.”
Mike now refers his own clients in to My Space’s service. “There are so many reasons to recommend My Space when I’m talking to people in groups or one-to-one and they’re struggling for housing. It’s the support you get, they give you something that’s yours and that’s a massive thing. Having that place of your own gives people responsibility.
“In the past I was always looking for something to make me happy, material things or drink and drugs. Now I’ve got a roof over my head and food in my cupboards – I’ve got everything I need.”
Paul, 48, has been with My Space for 12 months, and with our support in that time he’s really turned things around, not having had the best start in life.
Paul told us: “I had a bad upbringing. Since I was 11 my life’s been chaos, I was sniffing glue and taking drugs, and I’ve been in and out of prison.”
One of Paul’s biggest regrets is that he’s lost touch with his son, who is now 28. “I’ve never been there for him,” he says. “I’ve never watched him play football or been any kind of role model – I’ve let him down.
“I was drinking just to function, starting at 6 o’clock in the morning. I didn’t even grieve properly when my mum died, I drank to numb the pain. You’re selfish when you’re an addict – I was in self-destruct mode, self-pity mode, always trying to justify my addiction and making excuses.”
Paul says the best thing he’s ever done was checking into rehab. He detoxed for six days, and has been sober now for eight months. “I’ve turned my life right around, I won’t ever turn to drink again, no matter what life throws at me. It’s been a rollercoaster but I need to take charge and stand on my own two feet – I’m getting there.”
Paul is now hoping to get some voluntary work. He’d be happy to do anything to occupy his time. He feels that none of this would have been possible without the support of My Space and his Housing Support Officer.
“My Space have given me a chance, I’ve got a lovely home in a nice area with good neighbours, and I treat it with respect. I keep it nice. I’ve never been given a chance before.”
L has suffered from mental health issues which led to living in homeless accommodation. “It wasn’t very nice,” she told us, “but it was a roof over my head.”
She was referred to My Space, and within two weeks she had a property to view: “It’s gorgeous!” she says.
One of the main focuses for L was to repair and improve her relationship with her daughter, so we provided her with a two bedroom property to make that possible.
One of the most important things for L is that My Space staff have been supportive, understanding and non-judgemental. “They demonstrate a real concern for my wellbeing, which isn’t always the case with other services.
“They genuinely care about me, and see me as a person, not just an illness.”
Phil, 35, is a real My Space success story. He’s been with us for three years, in the same property and with the same Housing Support Officer, with whom he’s built up a strong relationship.
Before coming to My Space Phil had been tackling drug and addiction problems. He had been in and out of hospital and prison and was living in a care home. Our Housing Support Officer worked with Phil to maintain his tenancy, supporting him with sorting out his benefits and bills, and he has also benefited from help from our repairs and maintenance team.
Phil had been helping out at a foodbank, but it was at an open day at his former care home, Langley House Trust, that another volunteering opportunity came up: helping people with learning disabilities. Phil has now been volunteering since September 2016, and supports residents with their planners, organises outings, runs meetings and is basically there to lend an ear. “It’s hard work, but very rewarding,” Phil told us. “It’s different every day. There’s some challenging behaviour but I’ve had the right training to deal with it.” Phil now has a 36 hour a week position as a Project Worker. He says: “It’s a good company to work for, there are some good opportunities.” As well as his job, Phil is also getting ready to move on from My Space and take on his own tenancy.
Phil’s hard work has paid off, and earlier this year it was rewarded with an invitation to the House of Lords to receive an award from one of Langley House Trust’s patrons, Lord Ramsbotham, in recognition of how far he’s come – an amazing achievement!
Laura, 30, was one of My Space’s first tenants; she’s been with us for over four years and in her current property for three. Before coming to us she was living with another housing association, but in reality: “I don’t know where I was – I was out of control, I couldn’t pay my bills, I was very much off track,” she told us. “I was in a destructive, controlling relationship and using a lot of cannabis.
“I needed to build trust and relationships before I could start to address my problems. I was very resistant to change – now I realise I needed consistency and stability.” Getting the right Housing Support Officer in place was important, and the process itself helped Laura get used to change.
It took a couple of years for Laura to start to see a change in herself – she took a slow and steady approach, but help from My Space with budgeting, healthy eating and how to save money, as well as support with mental health issues meant her journey was ultimately a successful one. As well as My Space, Laura received support from Pathways to Recovery, social services and mental health services.
“People like us, we get left behind, we struggle. But I haven’t been pushed, it’s come from me at my own pace, and I’m in a completely different mindset now,” she says. “I’d recommend My Space to anyone – they have allowed me to be me. I’m allowed to have bad days as well as good days, they understand and let me have those feelings.”
It’s amazing to see how far Laura has come. “She has always been able to hold her hands up and be honest about how she feels, which has really helped,” her Housing Support Officer told us. “She has taken parenting classes and realised that the more stable she is, the more stable her son will be. She has now been discharged by her social worker, the early intervention team and her health visitor, but will only need to move on from us when she’s absolutely ready.”
So what does the future hold for Laura? As well as studying hairdressing, she is fully engaged at Pathways and hopes to become a volunteer there. She is also planning to study Reiki: “I want to heal people. I want to give back what I’ve been given, and my goal is to work with families and children.”
Laura is feeling positive about the future – situations that would have once daunted her she now finds exciting. “I’m excited by where the journey is taking me. I used to think of my mistakes as failures, but now I view them as lessons – I’m always thinking positively.
“I’m learning life again – it’s made me feel whole!”
Danielle, 23, moved into her flat in mid-January. She’s really happy there, and she’s getting all the support she needs to make her tenancy a success.
“I really like the flat – it’s near the shops and the bus routes,” she told us. “The staff are really helpful and there to give me a hand if I need it. They are helping me practise cooking in my kitchen!”
Danielle is studying Animal Care at college and hopes to get a voluntary job working with animals in the future – her favourite are horses!