A client of BHT Heritage has featured in a film to highlight the significant impact that the project has had for people who have experienced rough sleeping.
Steve shared his story as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Changing Lives campaign. To watch the film click here or read Steve’s story below:
“I was the General Manager of a very successful bar and restaurant on Brighton seafront for 9 years, working 90 – 100 hour weeks suffering from Major Depressive Disorder with acute anxiety and was facing a number of serious housing issues.
Previously I had been working in Hong Kong for two years as Executive Chef for a catering and hospitality service for international businesses.
I was in an abusive relationship, had been suffering with long-term depression and was grieving my father’s death. What I realise now is that I was in the midst of a breakdown, but I remember very little of what happened around that time – it’s totally blank. What I do know is that after leaving work one day I was faced with the decision to turn right for the bank, to collect change for the business, or to turn left for the doctor’s surgery. I turned left and was immediately signed off work. The relationship broke down shortly after this and I had nowhere to go.
Christmas Eve 2014 was my first night out; I spent 3 days sleeping outside Waitrose on Western Road. I was 6.5 stone, totally numb and couldn’t believe I was in this situation. I couldn’t see a way out of it and battled with suicidal thoughts. A friend told me about First Base Day Centre; in floods of tears, I met with a caseworker.
On my third or fourth morning at First Base I was approached by the Heritage Officer and asked whether I had any interest in history, as there was a trip happening the following day to Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. I needed a distraction from my feelings and was interested in history and culture, but I thought that there was no way I’d be able to afford the trip. Also, my agoraphobia was a hurdle for me. The Heritage Officer said that there would be no cost to me so I decided to go along; I hadn’t been to Weald and Downland since I was very young. I really enjoyed the day, and felt comfortable getting involved in more activities as there would be familiar faces.
By February 2015 I was in temporary hostel accommodation but still involved in the Heritage project. I particularly enjoyed visiting The Royal Pavilion, the architecture of the smugglers’ tunnels beneath The Old Ship Hotel, and the tour of the Victorian Sewer. The heritage activities made me feel like I was getting a bit of my confidence back, but I was still struggling with an eating disorder and poor health.
I moved into my tenancy in March 2015, which was the most enormous amount of relief. I felt that this was a good stage to start engaging in other activities, so I discussed this with the Heritage Officer and was referred to a ‘Mosaics for Beginners’ course. I thoroughly enjoyed it and didn’t miss a single session. It was an opportunity for me to explore my own heritage; I made a White Star Line flag using broken tiles. It was a nod to my Grandmother, who had been due to travel on the Titanic.
In April 2015 I became involved in researching and presenting the BHT Heritage trail for the public during the Brighton Fringe Festival. It gave me motivation to research independently and learn about the city’s history. Representing BHT gave me a huge sense of pride and the great feedback from the public was a big confidence booster. It was at this point that I finally felt able to tell my Mum that I had been homeless, as I had some stability back in my life.
Since April I’ve completed an 8-week history course about post-war Britain, a health and wellbeing course in the Sussex countryside, and have joined the BHT Client Involvement Group; all activities suggested to me by the Heritage Officer. I’m also now volunteering one day a week for a not-for-profit catering franchise in Brighton.
The last 12 months have been a total rollercoaster. I still have dark days but my mental health has improved, I’m eating healthily and have gained weight, and I meet with new friends regularly.
I am heavily involved in creating this year’s heritage trail and I’m starting to look ahead and plan for the future; something that I haven’t done for a long time.”