“I see a bright future for the young people here. Sometimes, people can’t see their own potential and I want to encourage that, I really do,” explains YPASS volunteer David, briefly interrupted by laughter and music in the activities room next door.
“That will be Just Dance on the Wii, but I’m not sure on the song! My role is to support the running of the groups, empowering the young people that we have to think outside the box, bring new ideas, be available and to give back. I help to get the group going; it could be bingo, playing on the Wii like today – as long as we are doing something because it gives people focus.”
The initial excitement has died down, the song choice becomes recognisable, and a glimpse through the window offers insight into what is at stake. Eyes are locked onto the dancefloor as two of the young people Horton Housing supports face off to Katy Perry’s Hot N Cold, one with a steely, determined look in their eyes after their previous unbeatable score just dropped down to second on the leaderboard.
“When I was young, these sorts of services weren’t available,” adds David. “I went through childhood trauma at a very young age and felt like I didn’t have a voice. That resulted in self-harming. When I was around twelve, I had become quite disillusioned and quite damaged. I was getting in trouble with the police a lot and committing crime. They call it attention seeking but I was just really angry and I couldn’t say what was going on.”
Growing up surrounded by alcohol, David’s teenage years saw him in and out of Magistrates’ courts, failing at school and on supervision orders. Aged nineteen, tragedy struck when he lost his mum to cancer and, already struggling with addiction, the last few pillars of support and control in his life had all but vanished.
“Once my mum died, I pressed the button. I was taking recreational drugs like ecstasy, speed and eventually ended up in prison for it. Whilst I was doing this, my sister turned to drink. Unfortunately, my sister passed away when she was 34 to alcoholism.
“I did my first prison sentence at 22. I came out of prison and that is when I discovered heroin. Some drugs I could put down, but when I found heroin, it filled the gaps that I was missing. It covered all the feelings I had: the anger, the hate, the self-loathing; and it made everything feel alright. That was my story for the next 30 years, in and out of prison, homelessness etc. I have always been around services but I didn’t really engage with them until later on in my addiction where I had decimated everything, I was broken and had enough.”
David’s battles with addiction had took control physically and mentally, leaving him in a crippling cycle of committing crime to fund his drug use whilst he bounced from service to service. He spent eighteen months living in a graveyard and despite the wakeup call, as he describes it, of his sister’s death to alcohol, his dependence on substances still had a vice-like grip on his life.
“You would have thought ‘it’s killed my sister, it going to kill me’, but I could not stop. I think when you hit that final rock bottom, that is when you have had enough. I started selling the Big Issue and they really helped me out. This was down the other end of the country and they actually bought me a ticket to get back up to Leeds. As soon as I got into Leeds, I accessed a homeless charity who got me on the housing waiting list.”
After visiting different detox centres and rehab services, David was finally able to succeed in getting clean and is under no illusions about the importance of making that first step.
“That saved my life if I’m going to be completely honest with you because I always thought that I was destined to die a using addict. It is horrible to feel that way but that is how I felt. After that, I came out and I wanted to give back. I became a peer mentor at the first place I got clean and I soon discovered that I have a knack for engaging with others. They say brokenness attracts brokenness and I have been there. I know another person’s pain. I have been there, suffered it. I hate the phrase ‘I’ve got the t-shirt’ because I have a wardrobe full of them. It empowered me to better my life and turn it around.”
Horton Housing’s YPASS service offers accommodation and support to young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness in Calderdale. Now part of their growing volunteers team, David’s experiences and positive outlook is helping shape the lives of those involved with the scheme. There is a cheer from next door as Hot N Cold draws to an end, before Survivor’s instantly recognisable hit Eye of the Tiger signals the start of the next dance battle. A smile emanates from his face as David takes a brief moment to reflect, perhaps a fitting song for a person who thought he was down and out many times before.
“This is a kid who left school with no qualifications,” he says. “I educated myself as much as I could in prison and when I came out I did a level two in adult social care and then I did a diploma. I have been trained up in complex needs and safeguarding, and all this has empowered me to do better in life and I want to do that with others. You don’t have to be broken, you just have to want help. Anyone that wants recovery can get recovery, with the right support, and that is why I am sat here today doing what I am trying to do for others, and I am enjoying it! I have been here for a short while but the future is bright!”
The future is indeed bright. One of the budding performers next door has just been accepted into university after passing their A-Level exams, and hopes to make a name for themselves in the world of performing arts. The activities YPASS helps run and the support it offers is helping young people use their strengths to build their futures, something David knows cannot be taken for granted.
“When I received support, what I loved about Horton Housing was that one-to-one, person-centred approach they had with me. They have helped me focus on my recovery. Without that, there will be no volunteering, nothing, so that is my priority. I have learnt that the hard way when I have put my recovery second, I ended up relapsing. I take a lot of strength from that.
“I want my pathway to be with Horton Housing because they have recognised my potential. Now, I want to give the people here that. I see a lot of potential and I want them to see it too. Volunteering is helping to build my self-esteem up because for many addicts when they first come into recovery, their self-esteem is on the floor. This for me is building me up and allowing me to build others up.”
If you would like to see our latest volunteering opportunities, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org