Akram is one of the volunteers on the Good Shepherd’s LEAP programme which helps people with volunteering and training opportunities with the overall aim of returning to employment.
Having previously suffered with poor mental health and ending up in prison, Akram is relishing the fresh start with LEAP and is already having a hugely positive impact on the Good Shepherd’s work across several different services.
This is his story.
I had a challenging upbringing. I didn’t get the right education and couldn’t focus at school because of worries at home. I’ve recently been supported by a CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurser) Jo, who helped me gain confidence and put me on the right path. She is still part of my journey. She introduced me to Georgie from the IPS (Individual Placement Support) programme at the NHS, which helps people get back into employment. I told Georgie I was interested in doing some charity work, something I’ve always been passionate about. As soon as I said charity work, she looked really happy. She organised a meeting with Chris Cole, LEAP project manager at The Good Shepherd. LEAP stands for Lived Experience into action project and is an initiative which offers people training and volunteering opportunities with a view to ultimately moving back into work.
I am shy and careful around people but Chris wasn’t shy. He immediately opened up about his own addiction. I couldn’t get over his honesty about his experience of homelessness as a result of that addiction. Chris straightaway invited me onto the LEAP project and said: ‘We’d love to have you on the team.’ That’s not normal, usually people get back to you days later. With Chris it was straightaway. Just to be accepted like that and be part of something was an amazing feeling. I went home smiling. As soon as I got home there was a message from Georgie, saying that I’d smashed the interview. Again. I was smiling – something I hadn’t done in a very long time.
I had previously ended up in prison because of my mental health. I think the best way to explain it is like being a bottle of pop which you keep shaking and eventually it explodes and goes everywhere. I just wasn’t in the best of places, mentally. But after I came out of prison I couldn’t have asked for any more help, and I made sure I grabbed it, because that is what you need to do to get out of a rut.
So once starting out with LEAP at the Good Shepherd, I was helping out downstairs in the dining service at a perfect time as it was harvest. This is a really busy time when they receive so many donations of food thanks to the generosity of people in the local community. What can I say? I met the most lovely people there and they welcomed me with open arms. There are too many people to mention but they were all lovely.
When I moved upstairs and started registering people it’s hard to put into words how I felt. It’s wonderful to be able to help people. It gave me a different buzz. When you register people for the services you have to ask a few questions. Sometimes people get a bit worried even though the questions aren’t bad. I can always turn to them and say, ‘I have been there, I know exactly how you feel’. From there they look at me differently, they know I am there to help. That feels big to me, that the other person knows that I understand their pain and struggle. I think that is why LEAP and having that lived experience is so important. We understand what people have gone through and never make any judgements, which is such a big factor.
I’m still learning. I’m like a sponge, soaking everything up. I have been given so many opportunities, including going out with staff to visit service users as well as sitting on an interview panel helping interview people for jobs. I am studying in here as well, it is like my college. I am doing an NVQ Level 3 diploma in health and social care, educating myself which I never thought I would do, and have set new goals in terms of one day getting back into employment.
After starting volunteering, I became homeless myself after the breakdown of a relationship. Tina, senior support worker at the Good Shepherd, helped me to get into accommodation with P3. I don’t know what I would have done without Tina. Once again, I was overwhelmed with what the Good Shepherd stands for. It’s incredible stuff that they do. I’ve since been in forums on homelessness and observed that everyone at the Good Shepherd has a say and a voice.
The management has time for you, all the staff and volunteers have time for you. It’s amazing. Without the Good Shepherd I’d still be in the dark with no way out and if you were to see me just a few months ago I am now a completely different person. Mental health wise the Good Shepherd has helped me in so many ways. I am walking with my back straight again and I can’t explain how good that feels. I can get all the experience I need with LEAP, and the Good Shepherd is so much more than getting a hot meal. And Chris made sure to tell me if I ever feel like I’m slipping to let him know and he’ll get me the help that I need.
I’m really grateful to the Good Shepherd and everyone there. I was welcomed with big smiles and now I’m smiling at the world again.
- Below is a video interview Akram carried out with Georgie, from the Wolverhampton Individual Placement and Support (IPS) team based at Black Country NHS Healthcare Foundation Trust.