Leanne’s Story: From Homelessness to University

Just over three years ago, Leanne Hayes was homeless. 

On a downward spiral following personal issues including the death of loved ones which had led to a dependency on alcohol and cocaine. 

Her mental health was struggling, her anger often uncontrollable. 

One morning, she woke in her tent on the outskirts of Wolverhampton City Centre, and decided enough was enough. 

Having already been a regular for the food service at the Good Shepherd, Leanne asked for help. 

Now, in 2020, life looks far more promising. 

Leanne has rekindled her love of art, has already been involved in several exhibitions, is studying an art and design course at Adult Education and, come September, will become a student at the University of Wolverhampton. 

 “It was in 2016 that I became homeless,” says Leanne. 

“Just before that, with personal circumstances including deaths in the family, I chose to use cocaine and alcohol to get through it as talking therapies weren’t working. 

“When I became homeless it all just spiralled out of control. 

“My mental health took a very big toll and I was angry all the time, with everybody. 

“I didn’t even have to know you – I’d still be angry with you! 

“In a way I was probably fortunate in that I was only really homeless for five or six months and it was during Spring and Summer so I didn’t have to go through a cold Winter. 

“Then one day, I just decided that enough was enough, and I couldn’t carry on like that. 

“I couldn’t take just crying for no reason any more, and that is when I decided to look for help.” 

And that was where the Good Shepherd came in. 

Paul Burns, a Key Worker with the charity, took her along to boxing classes, helping to address the anger management issues, and Julie Butler, from Wolverhampton Homes, arranged a flat over in Eastfield, where Leanne has been happily settled for the last two years. 

“I also started dabbling in art again and realised it was the perfect therapy for me,” adds Leanne. 

“I thought I might as well try and do something with it, and got myself back into education. 

“I am now doing this access course which I am really enjoying, and start a degree in Fine Art at the University of Wolverhampton in September. 

“I have always enjoyed art, I’ve been drawing since I was six or seven years old and it was probably the only class at school which I didn’t bunk off! 

“I was also fortunate to have an art teacher at Frank F Harrison School in Mr Hurst who was brilliant.” 

Leanne has already exhibited her work at several exhibitions, including the Recovery exhibition at the Light House in Wolverhampton which was then taken to the Mander Centre, ahead of taking part in another at the Light House this Sunday, to mark International Women’s Day. 

Items from her varied portfolio to be shown this weekend -  particularly appropriate for International Women’s Day -  include a portrait of Irena Sendler, the Polish humanitarian worker who helped rescue Jewish children and smuggle them away from the Gestapo’s clutches during the Second World War. 

Leanne is also taking part in an exhibition at the Adult Education College in the summer followed by co-curating an exhibition with friend Blake Berry at Newhampton Arts Centre in September, which will also raise money to fund a day trip for existing clients from the Good Shepherd. 

She is also hoping to be involved in regular arts classes delivered to those accessing the Good Shepherd as part of the meaningful activities programme offering a range of positive activities to help with confidence and self-esteem. 

“When you come to the Good Shepherd, as I did when I needed help, you don’t feel like just a service-user,” Leanne explains. 

“You feel like part of a family. 

“They have really supported me and helped with so much and, once I had got my flat and education, I came back to help as a volunteer. 

“I always used to be very confident when I was younger, but I lost all that with the personal issues which came around, but I feel like I have got it back now, more than ever. 

“The boxing classes really helped with anger management and I have really learned to control that now where in the past I wouldn’t have been able to walk away from a confrontation. 

“You can see the difference in my artwork as well. 

“When I first came out of being homeless and was using art for therapy, my work was all black and dark, but now it is bright and colourful, which sums up where I am. 

“I really want to get involved in community art work and help people who are struggling with mental health issues like I have, and with the degree, I have a chance of going into art therapy at the end of it.” 

Leanne has seven children aged between five and 15, now living with her Mum, after she accepted she couldn’t cope and took the decision to contact Social Services to seek help. 

Those children, and her parents, are now incredibly proud of how she has turned her life around, but, despite all the trials and tribulations, Leanne is not one to dismiss her troubles from the past. 

“I don’t want to forget about what I have been through, and I always say that I am quite proud of my past because it is the past that has led me to where I am now,” she explains. 

“If I hadn’t had those troubles and come through it I wouldn’t have the confidence that I have now. 

“I never thought I would be a person that could go to University – if you had told me that would happen when I was homeless three years ago I would probably have just laughed! 

“But I feel like I’ve made great progress and am motivated for that to continue – I am in a very happy place at the moment.” 

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