On 2nd August our project worker of 4 years, Holly Andrews, left to take up a place on the Mental Health Nursing course at Canterbury Christ Church University. This is what she had to say about her time working for CatchingLives.
“In my last week at the centre, Terry asked me to write something about my four years of being involved with the charity.
This is not an easy task and I told him that I would need some time. I left at the start of August and this past month has been time for reflection and preparation for the next chapter of my life. Now I have started the next chapter, I feel like I am ready to evaluate and share my experiences of working at Catchinglives’ Canterbury Open Centre.
As I said, this is not an easy task and it’s hard to know where to start; over the years my experience has been so varied and has covered so many areas. I have been fortunate and privileged to work with some of the most vulnerable and excluded members of my community. The clients at the Open Centre have taught me so much; they have allowed me into their lives, trusted me and I feel (even if they don’t) that although I would rather meet them all, in better circumstances, maybe in a café, at work etc, rather than a day centre for homeless people, that meeting them has really enriched my life. I suppose that they have shown me what we all know, that people are people and that the issues occur when we can’t see the person behind the problem.
That is not to say that I have not found it difficult to see the person behind the problem at times. But I’ve overcome this because of the support of those around me. I’ve been so lucky to work with people have invested vast amounts of time and effort helping me to understand the issues, helping me to re-frame my frustration and to work through it so that I can be the best that I can. So that I can offer the best support, advice and information that the clients deserve.
I am not going to lie; the job has been grueling, difficult, stressful, chaotic and miserable. How could it not be? The clients are often very damaged.
Frequently, I’ve found myself so angry at their situation and on more than one occasion I’ve felt like I’m fighting a losing battle, helpless and isolated. Seeing some clients cycle through prison, supported accommodation, mental health and drug and alcohol services. I know it’s a cliché (in a bleeding heart liberal way) but I often found myself wondering how people have a chance when they come out of prison without any place to live, or the GP changes the script of benzo’s from daily collection to weekly and is surprised when their patient is withdrawing, agitated or has overdosed because they can’t manage. I know that people aren’t helpless and they make their own choices and decisions, but I always bear in mind how informed that choice is and how much better they feel the alternative is. One of the things I always valued at the centre was offering people choice, letting them know what the alternatives are and what they are capable of achieving, always letting them know that they could change their mind and that we would be there to help.
It’s hard to see the physical state of rough sleepers; to know that they are reliant on others to have their basic needs met; to have a shower; to wash their clothes; to get their post. Someone told me once that ‘vulnerability is part of the human condition’ and this is true, but I can’t even begin to imagine how vulnerable I’d feel if I was reliant upon others to help me meet my basic needs, alongside all my other issues, like not having anywhere to live. As mentioned earlier coping with all of this has been possible because of the fantastic support from management, well, Terry Gore. The board of trustees. My colleagues on the mental health outreach service. The supporters of the charity, donating goods and money and all of the volunteers and placements that tirelessly continued to come back week after week, and those working in other services supporting the clients.
By having an open and frank dialogue with all the aforementioned I’ve not felt so alone. It’s hard to articulate how important this has been, but I feel that without it I would be burnt out, uncaring and ambivalent, slotting into a system that doesn’t always do the right thing but going along with it because it’s easy rather than challenging the status quo.
At my leaving tea party I was asked to say a few words, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed at this point, it was not possible to say a few words, there were too many people to thank! One of the trustees commented afterwards that he was amazed how I had something to say about the over twenty volunteers and other supporters there, I will always be able to say something about them, about their contribution, because even if I haven’t always appeared to notice or engage with you, I know who you are and why you are there. All that’s left to say is that I cannot ever thank you enough.
It is only after starting something new that I’ve realized what I’ve lost. When I left I said that I didn’t feel loss, I didn’t feel like the relationships I’d made would go away just because I didn’t see people everyday anymore. Of course these relationships are still there, but I feel that the job meant that I lived in an odd reality. The light was shone on these problems, I became disconnected from the issues that the rest of society distract themselves with like: I can’t afford to buy these shoes, my train is late, I’ve run out of milk. I can honestly say that relative poverty gained a whole new meaning, not just in a material sense, but also in the degree of social and emotion capital that most of us are fortunate have. I found joy, happiness and thankfulness in all the things I have. I valued my circumstances and existence so much more because I could see how bad things could be if I didn’t have all that I do.
My time at the centre has given me so much and will always stay with me. The exposure to people with dedication, desire and commitment to do the right thing has never and will never cease to inspire me and will make sure that I am always working in the best interests of those that I am supporting, keeping them at the centre of their care, hearing and listening to what they need.”