“I was in a really bad place. I’d been addicted to drugs; I got into trouble and eventually became homeless. I knew that underneath it all I was still a good person who had made some mistakes. I just couldn’t find my way back.”
Luke had a big incentive to get his life on track because he wanted to play a bigger part in the life of his little girl. He had people on his side, too. Severnside Housing had opened a Digital Den in the neighbourhood where Luke grew up. They helped him turn a few good turns into a growing business.
"I moved back into Meole Brace – in fact, we’ve got Severnside Housing flat above the Digital Den. I went out each day and collected litter. Then I began tidying the edges of the paths for some of the old folk, like my granddad used to do. It made me feel as though I was doing something useful, being productive."
Luke’s good turns hadn’t gone unnoticed by the team at the Digital Den.
"Luke is very well thought of around the estate. We’d see him out in the community nearly every day, tidying up the communal spaces, doing bits of gardening and seeing where he could help others," remembers Severnside Housing’s Edge Abboh. "We encouraged him to turn that into a business, enabling him to use the facilities at the Den to carry out online research and pointing him towards sources of funding to purchase the equipment and materials he needed to get started."
More than 10 per cent of young people in Shropshire are not in employment, education or training – the highest proportion in the West Midlands. While the county town features in the 2018 Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide, five estates supported by Severnside Housing rank among the most deprived ten per cent of LSOAs for education, skills and training.
Severnside Housing offers a range of support to help people into employment. Two Digital Dens opened in partnership with community interest company Social Telecoms offer internet access, vocational courses and employment support as well as low-cost, estate-wide Wi-Fi and affordable computers for residents. A learning programme is designed to boost IT skills and provides courses leading to in-demand vocational qualifications which are free to tenants. The association developed a new employability element adopted as a model of best practice by The Prince’s Trust and a dedicated Building Better Opportunities team provides intensive support for people furthest from work.
"My family has had a huge amount of help from Severnside Housing. As well as supporting me into business, the people in the Digital Dens worked incredibly hard to help my younger brother develop the confidence to get a job and once he was able to do that on his own, it meant that my mum could find part-time work too."
In August 2018 Luke took the plunge into self-employment. Carswell’s Helping Hands offers gardening, landscaping and odd job services to local people.
"I feel so much better about myself; I can feel my mental health improving all the time. I’m becoming someone my daughter can respect."
Luke still collects litter and lends a hand to elderly neighbours. His five-year-old daughter Macy now stays with him each week. When she’s a bit older she wants to help him in the business.
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