Why come to Blackpool when you’re homeless?
The word on the streets is different to the conventional wisdom – that people come here with memories of happier times in the hope of securing work and a flat.
Some people don’t have those memories. Some don’t even pack a bag to come here. Just their emotional baggage.
Carlean, 27, former addict, came here because “it was the last stop on the line.”
She didn’t set out to find Blackpool. She left her home in east Lancashire with the clothes she stood up in and a few quid.
“I was in complete and utter panic. Someone who had abused me had got out of prison.”
Here, she fell in the wrong crowd, and descended deeper into the resort’s sub culture of drugs despair.
Today she’s clean of drugs, a young mum, in a stable relationship, happy with her life.
She attributes it to the support she got at the Ashley Foundation, a charity which runs three 28 bed hostels in Blackpool.
“It has supported me ever since,” she explains. “At my lowest point I was a bag of bones and looked about 15. I made bad choices.”
Partner Alan, father of their 10 week old baby son, says: “The support workers loved Carlean until she learned to love herself.”
Amber Sylvester, 41, foundation development manager, formerly worked for Wyre Council, in housing options. It enables her to bridge the public and third sector world.
“We all care,” she adds. “I loved the work but felt remote.
“I like face to face stuff, meeting people, hearing their stories, working out who and how we can help. I could never do what I do now - such as tell someone I’ve got baby clothes back home, I’ll bring them in for you.”
The foundation charges clients an additional £28-a-week housekeeping, and encourages them to muck in as they would in the real world.
Not all make it. Noel Brookes manages Oak House, one of the hostels, and lived there himself two years ago after getting booted out of America for working illegally, a claim he disputes to this day.
Noel adds: “It doesn’t work for some. They don’t like the commitment to meal times and doing their bit. There was one lad I hadn’t seen for dinner or breakfast so I went up to his room and found him asleep on the floor. It was his comfort zone. He later left, said thanks for all you’ve done, it’s too much but not for me.”
Successes include Shane Foley, 23. “I now help people who are where I was. I tried to stop and couldn’t. Once I wanted to stop, rather than just needed to stop, and believed people could help me – I stopped. I also stopped blaming other people and realised I had a part in it all. I have changed totally. I stopped two days after my 21st birthday. It’s coming up to three years on October 24.”
Chris Miller, 38, clean of drugs for four years now, heads a service user group for recovering addicts. He agrees: “You have to want to change to change. I hit what I thought was rock bottom five times before I changed. It took my best mate’s death to save me. Now I’m saving others.”
Teresa F, 43, says she was “on one substance or another” from 12 to 38. She came from a well to do background, ran several businesses, but drank and used drugs to cope with stress. She’s now a volunteer at Oak House which took her in after she walked out on her family.
Fate dealt her a further blow. “I got clean but my support worker noticed I was acting manic. The doctor said I was bipolar (manic depressive) and had a psychosis. I had masked both with drink and drugs. It seemed so cruel and unfair.
“But I’ve accepted it now and medication controls it. I still have episodes but not as much as I did and staff later tease me about them. I still live in a half world of my own but I’m a functioning adult now and this is the first time I’ve spoken of this taboo without embarrassment. If I can get through drink, drugs, bipolar and psychosis, anyone can.”
Another volunteer Christine H, 48, works at the charity’s new shop on Cookson Street.
She explains: “I came unstuck when I was told I had breast cancer in 2007. It just destroyed me.
“They told me the C word and I fell apart, I couldn’t work so we lost our house. I tried to be strong but was suicidal. I went to rehab, came out, realised if I went home it would all start up again, so I got out, filled a bin bag with stuff, and went to Ashley.
“My family didn’t understand. They do now. I’d have been dead if I hadn’t left. Instead I’m a new person. I know I can cope. I know myself. Work in the shop has given me confidence, I used to be dead shy. Now I chat, cash up, do my bit to help the people who helped me. It’s brilliant.”
The last word goes to support worker Denise Boeme. “My message is simple. Never write anyone off. Never. No-one. It could so easily be you. It may even be you. We’re here to help.”
* www.theashleyfoundeation.org.uk or ring (01253) 297200