“Talking is massive,” explains Tom, a volunteer at Horton Housing’s Young Persons’ Prevention and Support Service (YPASS). “With mental health issues, if you isolate them and they are stuck inside your own head, it will start to eat away at you. Connecting with people is a massive thing, as is having a select group of people that you feel comfortable enough to talk with. If you isolate your thoughts, they build up and come with side effects like addiction.”
These experiences are something Tom feels he knows very well. An “alternative upbringing” as he describes it, surrounded by music festivals meant that drug taking appeared a normality. After demanding roles working in kitchens around Calderdale took its toll, substance taking began to have a huge impact on his life.
“I found it stressful working as a chef, working a shift of 250 or 300 covers. There was a free bar on afterwards so after feeling hyped up from the cooking, I quickly found myself drinking a lot, which over the years led to alcoholism and issues with substance abuse. It quickly became apparent that I weren’t able to just socially use substances and that led to breakdowns in relationships and jobs which ultimately ended up in addiction.”
Tom spent years in a “revolving door”, experiencing homelessness and continuing to misuse drugs, before a prison sentence was the wakeup call he realised was necessary to get his life back on track.
“That’s when something clicked”, he says. “I was thinking ‘do I really want to spend the rest of my life in and out of custody?’ with no relationship with my mum or my loved ones. I started meditating whilst I was inside, doing yoga, started training and running. I really spent time working on myself, building a relationship back up with my mum and got clean. I really wanted to make something of myself and give back and maybe help stop people going on the same path that I have walked down.”
After his release, Tom checked into Alpha House, a Halifax-based organisation that provides recovery support and aims to help people settle back into the community. He was keen to use his cooking expertise and began volunteering at YPASS, a service that offers accommodation and support for young people who are at risk of experiencing homelessness in Calderdale.
“We have a cook and eat class on a Wednesday. It is really informal and about building connections with the young people. We are teaching life skills like cooking but in a laid-back environment to try to encourage them to come out of their shells a little bit. We put on a Christmas dinner which was fantastic. One of the other volunteers dressed as Santa and gave out presents. At the end of the day, I walked away from that really happy because we had put smiles on faces at Christmas and it had gone down really well!”
As well as the cooking sessions, Tom and his fellow volunteers run outdoor activities with the young people such as themed walks, and are hoping to start sports, music and gardening groups over the summer. He hopes to use his experiences to help make a positive difference and is delighted with the progress he is making.
“My volunteering gives me a routine and structure, lets me feel like I am giving something back and I feel proud of myself, which I haven’t felt for many years. It keeps me on the straight and narrow but on the other hand, if I can connect even with just one young person and stop them going down the same path as me, I will feel like I have made a difference and given something back to the community that I took from for many years.
“It is a healing process for my life and I am really proud that I am doing something positive. A few years ago, I could never dream that I would be in a position like this. Volunteering here is a massive thing for me and has really changed my outlook on what I am capable of and not letting the past define my future.”
Through the connections he is making and by taking time out of his day to talk openly about his experiences, Tom is hoping to inspire the young people he works with to achieve their goals.
*Tom is not his real name. More information about Time to Talk Day can be found here.