It starts with a place to call home
The content in this article may now be out of date. Please try searching for a more recent version.
John Wade is director of strategy at Bromford and here, to show the difference supported housing makes, he recalls a story that has stuck with him from one of the first supported housing schemes he worked on.
My heart sank when I answered the phone and I heard Steve's* mum in tears on the end of the phone.
It had been a long time in the planning and had needed a lot of support and hard work from many, many people but Palm Court, the first purpose built supported housing for people with experience of mental health problems, had recently opened in Bicester.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Oh nothing." She said. "I just wanted to let you know how happy we are."
Mary and Brian had just got hope after visiting Steve for the first time in his new flat at Palm Court. Steve was 26. He'd been unwell for most of his adult life. He'd had several spells in hospital. He'd been sectioned twice. He'd had periods in various rehabilitation centres, hostels and half-way houses.
Now, for the first time he had a place of his own; with his own front door, his own kitchen, his own bathroom.
When Mary and Brian arrived at Palm Court they had to press the buzzer and wait for Steve to let them in. He'd given each of them a hug and was excited about showing them round his new home. He took them into every room. He talked about his plans to paint the wall in his lounge green to match his sofa. He showed them his CD collection and showed them a David Bowie CD he'd borrowed from someone who lived in the flat next door. On the small table in the kitchen were some flowers that his sister had given him when she'd come to visit the day before.
There seemed to be so much for them to talk about and see.
Then Steve asked if they would like a cup of tea. He told them to go and sit themselves down while he put the kettle on. A few minutes later he walked slowly into the room carefully carrying a plastic tray with three mugs of tea and a packet of custard creams on.
As they drank their tea and ate the custard creams they talked about all sorts of things. Mary couldn't remember the last time Steve had seemed so...well...happy. He was making plans. Thinking about the future. Talking about things he'd loved as a teenager but had barely shown any interest in for years.
Steve had hope. Steve had a life. Steve seemed happy.
There was a knock at the door.
It was Dave.* The neighbour who had leant Steve the CD. He wanted to know if Steve fancied watching a DVD in the communal lounge with him and Kirsty, who lived upstairs. Steve looked at his mum and she said "You go on love. We ought to be getting off now anyway".
It was when Mary and Brian were sat in their car and about to pull out of the car park that Mary suddenly started crying. She said she had to call me. She recounted this story and said that she just felt so happy for her son. For years she and Brian had visited Steve in institutions where they'd sat on the edge of his bed or an ugly plastic chair in silence, clutching a bag of grapes or a cup of vending machine coffee; no one able to think of anything to say.
The months and years had blurred into one. Every day was the same.
But now with his own safe and warm home, with neighbours (friends) to talk to and spend time with, and with a support worker around from time to time to help him sort out any problems with the flat Steve had hope. Steve had a life. Steve seemed happy. That's all any mum wants for her son.
That's what supported housing is for. Providing a place for someone who needs a bit of a helping hand to pick themselves up and start to look forward again... to start to have hope.
That's why we're taking the time to mark Starts at Home day where we remember and celebrate the part that supported housing can play in giving people a chance to get their lives back on track.