Home » Blogs

Category: Blogs

Catching up with Sheena

The other day I caught up with Sheena. You might know her from a short video interview we made earlier in 2018.

That video has been viewed a remarkable 8,400 times on Facebook, which just proves that you need don’t need a fancy production to capture people’s minds.

If your story features a compelling personality with a fascinating story to tell then you can’t go far wrong. And that was certainly the case with Sheena.

In the video she recalls how her drink problem led to a mental breakdown. The breakdown led to her not opening post and falling behind in her rent payments. She was evicted and, at her lowest point, slept under a bench in Wythenshawe Park.

Not surprisingly, it took her a while to get her life together. She was officially homeless for three years. Coming to Back on Track was a major turning point. She took our health and social care course and that turned out to be the start of a new career in care work.

Sheena’s story is really inspirational because it shows that what may seem impossible, can actually happen.  That’s mainly down to Sheena’s amazing resilience and determination, along with the right support being available.

Sheena has now moved on to another job – with Mencap. She applied online to be a relief support worker, and has been going through a series of training sessions with all the other new recruits. The training has included medication, first aid, risk assessments, manual handling, and Sheena has been unfazed by all of it. She loved trying out CPR, and finding out how defibrillators work.

When she’s a fully trained relief support worker Sheena will be supporting a woman with learning disabilities. As well as caring in the home she’ll be taking her out for day trips to local parks and the cinema – things she’d never be able to do on her own.

‘It’s lovely to be able to bring some joy into someone’s life’, says Sheena. And it’s lovely for us to see that Sheena just keeps on achieving amazing things!

Strong support networks

Every day most of us are around a multitude of people, but who can we turn to and establish deep connections with in times of trouble? Don’t get me wrong, I think that acquaintances and small talk have their place in our everyday lives, filling the gaps in our day and adding more sociability to our world, but sometimes we need a but more. Yes, that’s right – we are human, and being so, we all need help sometimes.

As you may know, I have been hospitalised with schizophrenia in the past. The truth is, I believe it would never had got to that stage if I had entrusted the people around me more in the first place. In the lead up to my illness, I was overworking and isolating myself. It’s safe to say this was not a good combination! I had structured my life so that I had little time to talk to people in my day. As time went on, my declining health meant that I had to give up a number of activities but I did little to replace this with meaningful connections and shunned the help I was offered by services. Granted, my delusions had got so strong that I thought everyone was against me, but I had let things escalate in the first place.

Today, I have learnt never to bottle things up! As I have said, I see both the purpose in a bit of normal chit chat during the day but, more so, I have learnt to rely more on my closest friends and family. I do not tell everyone everything (I use my discretion), but equally I try not to hide anything. One good example is that I always talk to someone now when I am frustrated with myself for making a mistake. Recently, I missed an early appointment because the alarm either didn’t go off or I didn’t hear it. I was mortified because it could have meant I didn’t get an assessment done in time for my university placement in the summer term. It turns out they had another appointment just a few days later, yet I was still upset with myself. I rang my mum and she widened my perspective, making me see that sometimes things don’t always go to plan and that I wasn’t the only person in the world who isn’t a morning person! We even had a laugh about my nana amplifying her alarm clock by putting it on top of two biscuit tins! The support networks we put in place can help us to be kinder to ourselves, as this is not always easy (see my last blog post).

Back on Track have also been a support to me when I needed them. As I am now so much more open with people, I told some of the tutors about the struggles I was having revising for a maths exam I needed to pass in order to get on to a primary teaching degree. They empathised with me because some of it did sound tough, but they also took the time to mark a test paper they gave me to see what my strong and weak points were. I am thankful for their help!

Therefore, it is important to appreciate others around us when things go wrong, so that we can turn to them when needed. Although I am now fully recovered from mental health problems, it doesn’t mean that I never need any support. We all experience challenges in our lives, big and small. Trusting others can get you far.

Maysie Stott-Morrison

Sleeping out

Our trustee Mark took part in the CEO Sleepout event to raise awareness of homelessness in Manchester, along with our CEO Siobhan and two other trustees. Here he blogs about the experience of giving up his bed for the night.

The evening started with everyone in great spirits about the event. In total, there were about 80 fundraisers from around the Manchester area all supporting various Manchester homeless charities. There were guest speakers who all brought to life the purpose of their charities and helped to explain exactly what benefits the money raised would do for their represented causes. Our nominated charity (Back on Track) was represented by the wonderful CEO Siobhan Pollitt who spoke passionately and informatively about the support and training they provide to people from a disadvantaged position in life, whether that be homelessness suffering from a mental health issue, in a period of recovery following substance or alcohol abuse or other disadvantages.

We then heard testimonials from 4 individuals who had suffered homelessness – this is when reality kicked in. I know that we all think we understand the reasons why people become homeless and sadly, there is a tendency to blame alcohol and drug abuse, but actually listening to the harrowing stories from these 4 amazing individuals really gave insight into how everyday events and a run of bad luck can have a knock-on effect eventually leading to homelessness in some cases. Not only that but we also heard from 1 individual about how her gender re-assignment led to a massive amount of prejudice and discrimination which forced her into a life of prostitution, drug abuse and homelessness. It wasn’t a pretty way to end the speeches but it certainly brought to the front of mind exactly why we were doing this and what difference our efforts would make to the supporting charities.

On to the stands then – fortunately for us it was relatively mild and dry. Me and my teammates found a cosy-ish looking area in the stands and laid out our comfortable sleeping mats and triple insulated sleeping bags – I did wonder at this point whilst I was laying out my expensive camping gear, how on earth I would feel if I was looking for somewhere to bed down for the evening with nothing more to keep me warm than the clothes I was stood up in. I felt an immediate rush of guilt and felt determined to do the best I could going forward to help and raise the profile of this plight.

I had the foresight to make hot chocolate and decant it into vacuum flasks before I left the house that night and we settled down with our books and hot drinks before trying to get some sleep. Unbelievably I slept decently but was still full of aches and pains on waking from having slept on concrete and my concentration and ability to keep awake the day after was severely impacted. I then had a realisation – how do people who have to suffer this every night cope? I am often angered when I hear people criticise how awful it was that they had to walk around or step over a homeless person asleep on the street but having insight into why they’re unable to keep awake in the daytime brings it into stark perspective – how would you cope if you had spent all night in the freezing wet conditions of your typical Manchester night whilst trying to fend off people harassing you or trying to steal your few meagre possessions?

Overall, the experience was truly worthwhile and it’s something that I’ll certainly be doing again soon – I think everyone should do it at least once until we can at the very least have empathy with what homeless people suffer on a daily basis. On to the great news now after all that – between myself and the 3 other trustees at Back on Track, we managed to raise a whopping £8,160 for our chosen charity! This is enough to fund a training programme at Back on Track’s learning centre in Manchester and will definitely go some way to making sure that the charity can keep its doors open for another year.

Mark Stapleton

Moving On

“I’m not used to seeing you on a Friday” Says Ben. He does a double take as I walk in the door. Which is fair enough. I don’t usually work here on Fridays.

I’ve changed my working days at Back on Track this week so I can take part in the weekly ‘Moving On’ session. As the name suggests, it’s one of the more advanced training courses delivered by the education team, and helps people to make the next steps along their journey. That can mean training, volunteering or paid work elsewhere for many of those attending. The group get support with writing CV’s, applying for jobs, or practicing interviews, and Back on Track staff can arrange work placements with local employers. This week the Moving On group are having a presentation from Darren Burns, the National Recruitment Ambassador for Timpson. They have a pretty good record of recruiting people who have struggled with problems in their past, and helping them to turn their lives around. Lots of people have turned up to hear him.

One of those people is Florian, who has been attending the Moving On group for a few weeks now, and seems keen to find out about any possibility of work. We’re waiting in the corridor, chatting before the session when a woman walks in the door and hands him a carrier bag. “Thank you so much!” He says, looking extremely relieved. At first I think that he’s just left something in the communal space outside, but as she leaves he turns to me and says “That’s Amanda from ICM. They’re helping me out with some food while I wait for my Universal Credit claim decision.” I realise it’s a bag of tinned food. ICM is short for Inspiring Change Manchester, a lottery funded project led by Shelter and working with partners to provide support for people who are dealing with multiple and complex issues. Where appropriate, they can give out emergency food parcels to clients who are in dire need, like when they’re not receiving benefits. “That must be a big help.” I say, “I don’t know what I’d do without it.” He replies. I ask him how he found out about ICM. “I was lucky.” Says Florian. “I was going through a bad time, feeling really low. I was talking with a homeless friend in town when I met Lauren from ICM. She invited me to their centre. I went there and they really helped me. They’re still helping me to get back on my feet, and because I want to find a job, they told me about the Moving On Group. So here I am.”

I want to hear more but it’s time to go in for the presentation.

The room is L shaped. I can’t see round the corner but it seems pretty full. There’s easily over 20 people in there. Darren is introduced to everyone, and he stands where he can see everyone and jokes about being nervous, but he doesn’t look it. He speaks really well, and tells the group about the types of jobs available at Timpson, how they recruit, employee benefits and what they look for in potential employees. “We’re all about customer service,” he says, “So personality counts for a lot.” And there’s plenty of those in the room. “What’s the bad news?” shouts one of the group. Which gets a laugh, and a friendly but no nonsense response from Darren “We expect you to work hard.”

Afterwards, people are buzzing with positive energy. I spot Florian, and ask him if he’ll have a drink with me in the Café. “I don’t have any money” he says. “Don’t worry, my treat” I say. He laughs. “Ok, thanks. I’ll have a coffee.” We sit and drink, and talk. He tells me how he arrived in the UK from Albania 14 years ago, and how he worked as a successful trader, on food trucks and at his own market stall, and how a combination of things, starting with ill health in his family 12 months ago, led to him losing his home and business. “I lost everything,” He tells me, “and was sofa surfing and sleeping on the streets for months until I found a place in shared accommodation. I’m still there now. It’s ok, but I want to start working again and get my own place.” “So is the Moving On group helpful?” I ask. “It’s good because it helps me to stay positive,” he replies. “but I can’t get a job at the moment, because I lost my passport. I’m trying to get some money together to pay for a new one, hopefully I’ll get something from universal credit that will help. But I come here and see people getting help and finding jobs so it’s good for me.” We talk about what he’s doing to get his passport and how much it costs. He seems pretty focused, but realistic that it could be weeks before he gets one. “So what happens in the meantime? I ask. “I’ll just keep coming here whenever I can.” He says, “It’s really helped me to be confident about my future. I’m talking to the catering team about getting involved in some enterprise stuff, things that could help me to start my own business again. If not, I know there’s jobs that I can do, and I know I’ll get one. As soon as I have a passport.”

Having a Voice at Back on Track

This Autumn we offered a course at Back on Track called ‘Having a Voice’.  The course was the result of a recent ‘Service User Feedback Week’ – we wanted to know if people wanted to get involved with how Back on Track worked (for example, helping us out with publicity, writing articles, attending meetings, taking part in interview panels) and what skills they would need to go about it.  To encourage our learners to contribute more, they said they would need support with building up skills such as presentation skills and also build confidence in speaking to people in different situations.

The ‘Having a Voice’ course encompassed communication skills, presentational skills and most of all encouraged learners to value what they have to say rather than think they won’t be heard.  We did lots of work on telling our own story to others, and also contributed to the ‘Wigan Pier Project’ – giving a voice to those who don’t usually get their voice heard in society.  We also got to grill a member of the Senior Management team about all things Back on Track!  We created our own publicity materials, telling new learners about our Back on Track experience, which will be displayed in our IT room display.  Part of the course was to explore new ways to get involved, and we also researched our own local MPs and how best to contact them to make sure they are representing us.

We’ve had lots of positive feedback. One learner said ‘I felt like I was able to get my point across in a polite and formal way’, another said ‘I feel more able to express my opinions now without being aggressive’.

For the people on the course, and for anyone else who is interested in becoming more involved in how Back on Track does things, there will be opportunities in the future to have your say, and become more instrumental in how Back on Track moves forward and grows.  Watch this Space!

To find out more about the Wigan Pier Project visit https://www.wiganpierproject.com

To find out more about Back on Track’s service user involvement work, contact kate.hardy@backontrackmanchester.org.uk