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A Home In Oxford

When I first came here to Crisis, I didn’t really feel I needed the various services for people who are homeless, or practical, pragmatic things like language, or basic skills, or renting a place. But Liam told us that in the same building here there is an arts centre - and as a Crisis member, you can get free tickets to the shows. I thought that was absolutely astounding so I became a member. I can tell you when I first came here and I understood what takes place here I decided there and then, precisely on that day - I want to be involved in this somehow. I just thought, this is for me - this is one thing in Oxford that is absolutely designed for me! And, despite whatever difficulties I've had in my life, this is an incredible opportunity and so I'm going to be involved. Basically I thought - I am going to be involved, I mean if needs be, I will clean the toilet or do anything - and then it turned out to be much more meaningful and rewarding after that.


Throughout my life, arts have been something that isn’t only enjoyment or fun, but also it’s been a way to understand myself and also understand other people and the world. Here, I like the way how, because the shows are a small stage and they are all independent companies who have limited resources in terms of money and man power, but they have unlimited creative and imaginative skills. The shows are really - I find them meaningful and also really quite striking and inspiring.


And when I go to theatre or when I see an exhibition, I feel that I have connection to those people who are there. It’s more than just the piece of art. And I can also see it in the audience here - they chat to each other and, just try conversation just like that. I did have many years when I didn't have that in my life, and when I started doing it again I felt like - this is what I enjoy in my life. I'm sure that many of the people who come here who are going through difficult times. To them it's not just a ‘nice to have’ - it's something quite essential, like it is to me.


When I first went to drama group, I went simply because a friend of mine wanted to go. I always thought that I would be quite shy and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the centre of attention in any way at all. And, it turned out, I absolutely loved it. It was all improvisation and I realised that, when it comes to improvisation, I don’t have any anxiety or inhibitions. I could just jump up and do it there and then.


The team that works here, they are very ambitious, and they put the work into reaching those ambitions - when they get an idea they also decide to make it actually happen. I learnt about the Hidden Spire project, and I was involved in the later stages of the play writing, I thought that was really an incredible project. Just the scale and scope of it was just something that I found mind-blowing. I started full time work in April so I couldn't take part any more, but I went to see the show and I was - moved, I was - I was surprised. I don’t think I should have been, but I was still surprised by the stage and the number of people there and how it all turned out to be much bigger than I had expected. And I was really moved by the show itself, and by what everybody involved had achieved - it was absolutely wonderful.


This place - many people would say that, well it's not necessary. It's over and above what people need to live - to have a roof above their head and, have a job or, have, enough money to buy food or, overcome their addictions, or whatever. It is something extra. The bushmen in Kalahari have this saying that there is a little thirst and there is big thirst, the little thirst is for water and sustenance and the big thirst is for meaning, and - I think it's very exceptional for people who are facing lots of difficulties that are pragmatic and obviously also emotional and psychological.


I've moved quite a lot in my life and so many times I've needed to create a new social circle from scratch. So I've always had this kind of thing that, ok I need to meet some people I know I have at least one thing in common with. It's turned out to be that this one thing that I have in common with these people that I've met through - really through this place - is love of arts. And through this, I have made friends. When you go to, for example, the running club you tend to talk about either your personal best, or your injuries! I have found that with people that I've met through here, we talk about everything quite openly which, I think is quite unusual. We end up talking about quite a variety of things - often things that involve emotions or politics or maybe just aesthetics. We are much more open about how we are feeling. We talk about everything, it's very straight forward and people are quite ok to talk about things that are not particularly happy and I think that's quite important.


One of the people who was part of the writing group runs a writing group independently, so now I meet her and the other people in that group every Sunday. And I started going to the over-forties acting group at Playhouse. That is definitely something that I would have never thought of doing. But because I loved the drama group, which I couldn't take part in anymore, I decided ok, I'll carry on doing this, so it's turned into a new hobby.


In the spring, I applied for a job here, and I didn’t get it. Now in fact I'm quite pleased I didn’t because, I don’t actually have the experience for that job. But I had a really good interview and then soon after Jeremy Spafford mentioned to me that he would be interested in getting me on the board of the Old Fire Station because of my professional and personal experience. I decided yes, so now I'm on the board. So I've been involved quite intensely since I first started coming here just under a year ago.


What I really want to do is encourage more people to get involved - more people who, somehow, have difficult backgrounds. And I've seen that one of the hurdles for many people seems to be - it's to do with class. It's not to do with their background in terms of homelessness or living in difficult situations. They have this sort of invisible, but very real, boundary that they feel that it's not for me. I have never felt that I'm treated here in any way as somebody who has problems, or is somehow vulnerable, which is kind of label that I really dislike. It felt inclusive - I couldn’t make any distinction between the people who worked for Crisis and who worked for the Arts centre and I didn’t feel that I was treated as a service user - I was just somebody who popped in to see a show, have a coffee or come to a meeting or a class.


And they are always genuinely interested in how I'm doing, what's happening in my life, and they are always excited about what's happening next for me - and it's very encouraging, it feels like there's genuine, genuine interest and they are happy for me when things are going well.


To me it feels like it’s given me a different kind of place in Oxford - I feel at home in Oxford now. It gives me a sort of point of contact, and something that I find really meaningful. It gives meaning to me being in Oxford because otherwise I could be anywhere in the world.


I can say completely frankly that I am proud to be part of this organisation.

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