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Shackles Of Circumstance

I was living rough, and homeless, and some of the services were suggested to me, and Crisis was one of them. Their books were full at the time, so they weren’t taking any people on. But they did ring me and say that I could see someone in November 2021. I had that initial appointment with a caseworker at Crisis. And yeah, I mean, I formed a good relationship with the person. She went through my situation, and I told her how things were at the time, and it went from there.  


Rachel, my keyworker, signposted me to other places that could help me with me issues that were going on. She gave me the details of a private landlord. I spoke to him and we formed a relationship. Enough for him to say, ‘Yeah okay, I can give you a room.’ She supported me in that move, she got me some essentials like a duvet, pots and pans and everything, and came and visited me when I moved – to help me settle in. She got my benefits sorted out, they were in a bit of a mess, because I’d come from a flat in London that was taking all my benefits. It was above the rent cap, so I had to contribute out of me own personal allowance to it. It was leaving me with nothing, you know. And I was still tied into that tenancy when I moved here. So I had to untangle all of that.  


In the period between November 2021 and May 2022, this was where I was getting the main body of support, it was coming from Crisis, and I can't fault them.  


Rachel sort of enlightened me on the arts side of things at Crisis, and she suggested that, especially while I’m living rough, it might be a good idea to go to the art sessions for stimulation. I found it quite therapeutic. I came into the class quite stressed, because I was coming from a situation where I was living outside, and while I attended the class me clothes were in bags behind a tree. And you know, I'd get up in the morning and I'd have to sort these things out. But I wanted to be in that environment, in that art room. I remember doing a drawing, a stroke painting of an African lady in a headdress, and they put it up. Then we added some abstract paintings, and they were put up on the wall. And I’d never done abstract paintings before.  


So it opened me, and it opened my mind up to new forms of art. I built up loose relationships with people too, which all added to my wellbeing at the time and gave me some social stimulation.  


I came to Crisis until I wasn't able to come anymore, which I think was a six-month period. Once you find accommodation, then yeah, that's it. But on the art side you can still do things with the Old Fire Station, and I've done other things, you know, including poetry and stuff, and a bit of writing. I was able to free myself from the shackles of circumstance. Whatever’s going on in your life, you come in here and breathe expression, however you want, whether that’s writing or artwork, and then go back out into whatever you're doing. I needed that, that time here. I just felt a bit of warmth from it. Because it can be quite dark out on the streets.  


Since I've got my accommodation I've not gone back on the street. And you hear so many stories that people get a place, and then they’re back out on the street inside two months, because it's not worked out for whatever reason. So the fact that I've been able to hold down a tenancy, you know, and I’m in a house with people who are either at university or working, and I've done that for over 18 months with no issues at all, you know what I mean?  


I committed to doing the Arts Training Scheme at OFS, which required me to volunteer in different departments for a duration of eight weeks. It allowed me to dip my toe in the world of work again, and it was good because I became familiar with the inner workings of OFS and the staff who work there. However, this came at a time when psychologically, I was elsewhere. So I did struggle. And I suppose the pressure I felt to conform to employment standards, you know, to be there on time and all these things, left me struggling a bit. I mean, I was slightly reprimanded by Sarah, because I walked off and had a cigarette, and I stayed out for about half an hour looking around the market. When I came back in she said, ‘You were supposed to be here.’  


I've seen a few productions in the theatre, from contemporary dance to puppetry - with a zany version of Robin Hood somewhere in between. Being a novice theatre goer, it sort of helped me learn about what suits me in terms of a production, you know, and what I like. Sometimes I find a two-hour play a bit much, I mean, I can fade in and out on my concentration. As well as being part of the audience for various plays, I took a role behind the scenes, ushering on the production of The Father, which I enjoyed. I also joined the Theatre Club where I was asked to do a review of Kinder.  


I use the café every day. The only day I can't go in is Monday, because it's closed. It's part of my life, as well as Black Sheep. The Old Fire Station café and Black Sheep are set in stone as part of my daily routine. Sometimes I might read the paper and sit and soak up the environment in the café, then go out and do whatever I need to do after that. It's just a very, very good place.  


The most recent creative project I’ve undertaken was as part of the Hidden Spire Collective. We were asked to consider the unseen fabric of Oxford, and how our individual memories and experiences connect us with the city. We explored any feelings and emotions that came up, and expressed this through poetry. Especially spoken word poetry. I'm trying to use this place as a mindset to channel me to move forward, and keep meself safe. I'm in a constant battle in me mind to keep meself at bay from substance abuse. So doing the poetry, it keeps my mind away from it. 


Slowly but surely, doing this poetry thing and stuff, it makes you feel a part of something. I’m an only child, so I’m used to me own company. And yeah, I also like the company of others, but I can just be a lot clearer on what I'm thinking when I'm on me own. It’s just the way I am. But If I see something that's on offer here, like a group to do this sort of thing or that, I'll put my name down for it. Because I know how important it is to keep engaging with this place, to keep moving forward. 


To know that I've been here, and then when I go home, to know I've done the right thing and been involved in something, that's good. My involvement with Crisis and the Old Fire Station has been nothing but positive, at a crucial juncture in my life. Not only has this enabled me and helped me with practicalities like getting off the streets, but it's also helped to ignite my creative interests. It has encouraged me. Now I want to grow and develop matters of the self, i.e., confidence, esteem and self-worth.  


It just rubs off on you, know what I mean? It keeps me in check, and in the right direction, and helps to keep me grounded. I don't know how to describe how it rubbed off on me, I mean, you’re so vulnerable when you’re outside. And it's so important to keep on the right track going forward. So yeah, any benefit I've had, while I've been in Oxford, has mainly come from Crisis and the Old Fire Station. That's all I can say.


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