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Can you imagine being £70,000 in debt? It almost seems impossible to comprehend. And yet that’s exactly the position 54-year-old Paul Gardener found himself in after his marriage broke down six years ago.

Darlington-born Paul was left close to breaking point as he was bombarded with letters from creditors demanding payments for credit that had been taken in his name.

“I’m a northern lad and nothing much phases me but I have to say that finding out how much money I owed was the one point in my life that almost broke me,” he admits. “It put me on the floor and I just gave up. She left me in a real financial mess.”

Paul’s situation quite literally left him on the floor as he slept on a mattress at various places while he remained homeless and on Shropshire’s housing waiting list. Eventually he decided to call the Inland Revenue and after being told about debt-charity StepChange he was helped to put in place a money management plan to deal with his mounting debts.

In April 2016 he secured employment with a local food company as a hygienist and then within weeks he had been offered a 1-bed Bromford home in Newport. The former customer was a chain smoker who had lived there for 20 years and despite Bromford handing over the property in a good condition, work was still needed to decorate the property.

But due to Paul’s limited income and commitment to paying back his debts, his neighbourhood coach Serena Baker decided to take matters into her own hands. She contacted maintenance manager Steve Flanagan and asked about the possibility of lending Paul the tools and providing the paint for him.

Labour of love

Paul said: “They lent me paint, brushes, rollers, paint trays and everything I needed to get cracking on turning the property from a house to a home.”

After a five month project which included decorating the lounge, kitchen, bathroom, upstairs bedroom and landing area, Paul’s immaculate home is a thing to behold.

“I even managed to get the carpets done for well under half price because the guy at the local carpet shop knew my situation and let me have certain bits for free. He regularly comes round to my house now to check how I’m getting on and we’ve become friends,” he said.

“It has been a real labour of love and I’m dead happy with the end result. The day I finished I bought some of my favourite lemon tarts and had a bit of a party.”

Serena said: “I could immediately see Paul’s vision and enthusiasm for the area so we supported his redecorating efforts and he’s done sterling work. Decorating homes is still the responsibility of our customers but we recognised in this case Paul’s amazing commitment and determination to get the job done and we were more than happy to give him the helping hand he needed. Newport is a small town so I also set him some targets to get himself out there into the community and he’s since joined the gym and a chess club.”

Steve, head of Bromford’s West Midlands repairs team, added: “What really touched me is an email Paul sent us which said that when he was in that dark place, Bromford were the only people there for him. That really stopped us in our tracks.

“Paul was looking for an ally, he was looking for help – and we were looking for customers who wanted to do more with their properties. So it was a relationship which really worked from day one and we will stand by him – this is just the beginning of Bromford’s relationship with him. This property has been a real turning point for Paul’s life and the catalyst for it to move in a positive direction and he can be very proud of the work he has achieved so far.”

Paul just happens to be a dab hand in the garden and once the lighter nights return he will set his sights on transforming the outside of his home as well.

Fancy taking on the role of a neighbourhood coach or a position in our repairs team? Check out our latest vacancies here.

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