After holding down three jobs, struggling with his mental health and caring for a close friend withdrawing from a drug addiction, Dean suffered a breakdown. He found himself unemployed and on the brink of homelessness, struggling to make ends meet.
After four years, he has now come full circle and volunteers at Launchpad 135 – where he helps people in similar situations socialise, build their confidence and express themselves through art.
“I used to work in a chip shop in the early hours of the morning, go to my full-time job doing admin at the council and then I’d work at Thorntons in the evening. I was working three jobs all at once – I’d start at six in the morning and sometimes get back at one in the morning. It was a lot to manage and I’m prone to anxiety and depression, and I was eventually signed off.” explained 47-year-old Dean.
But when Dean’s close friend, who was himself suffering with serious mental health issues and a drug addiction, decided to detox and Dean committed to supporting him, things got harder still.
“He developed a drug habit because he got in with the wrong people and when he decided he wanted to stop taking heroin, he asked me to help. I was his only support system so I said ok. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Dean.
“I was warned that it would be traumatic for me as well as him and that I would be called every nasty thing under the sun. It was really hurtful. I kept going because I had to but once we got through it I felt like I couldn’t cope and it was just like overload. Things got worse for me and in quick succession I’d lost all three of my jobs. Everything fell apart.”
Too much to cope
With no employment and the emotional impact of caring for his friend weighing down on him, Dean shut off from everything. He spent months with no money whatsoever and avoided opening bills or the eviction notices that came through the door, and was just about getting by with food parcels.
“It was all too much and I just buried my head. Everybody wanted money and I didn’t know where to get it. I knew I was going to lose the house. It even got to a point where my mental health was so bad, my friend phoned the crisis team at Prospect Park. Eventually I was put on medication.”
After finding the strength to seek help at the job centre and Reading Borough Council, Dean was advised to contact Launchpad and come along to one of our drop-in sessions for housing information and support.
“I just thought at this point I’ve got nothing to lose so I thought I’d come along and see what happens,” explained Dean. “Asking for help is a new thing for me – I’ve always been the one that people come to when they are asking for help. And maybe being a bit older means you’re less inclined to reach out.”
Within a few days of his appointment at Launchpad in January 2018, Dean was allocated a Launchpad support worker and she set to work helping Dean set up and manage his benefits so he could address his immediate financial issues, and pay his rent.
“What I liked about Launchpad is how they are not judgemental. You can talk about everything you’ve been through and they’re not going to tell you ‘well you shouldn’t have done this, you shouldn’t have done that’,” Dean said. “The other thing I like is that whilst Launchpad help and guide people – they don’t actually turn around and do it all for you. It makes you responsible and gives you a bit of self-esteem back.
“Having always been a really independent person who does all that for everybody else and suddenly not being able to do it for myself, it was a bit of a shock, quite frankly. But just having somebody understand that I got overloaded and help me break it all down piece by piece was so helpful. Slowly by chipping away at things and getting my financial issues sorted one-by-one, I could see where I was going again.”
We encouraged Dean to attend the therapeutic activities and classes we run to help clients socialise in a safe space, develop coping strategies and build confidence. But it took some time for Dean to feel ready.
Taking control again
“I had to get to a certain point myself before I could think about going and doing stuff, and kind of enjoying myself. It was almost like I wasn’t allowed to enjoy myself because I was in that place. Eventually I decided to give it a go and I started doing art and sewing classes, as well as gardening.
“It did me good to actually start meeting people I didn’t know, who had also been through tough times – because sometimes you can feel like the only one when life goes pear-shaped,” Dean explained. “It’s also a nice positive vibe at Launchpad. What I like about the classes is that whatever you feel like doing, it’s not wrong. It’s a safe environment that you need when you first start going out and being social again; to know nothing nasty is going to happen.”
When asked about how Launchpad has helped him, Dean said: “This is going to sound dramatic and I don’t want to be a drama queen – but I don’t think I’d be here. I feel more in control again.”
Dean no longer has the looming prospect of eviction and since setting up his benefits, is now able to pay rent, and gradually clear his debts.
“I will be forever grateful to Launchpad for giving me back control. Nothing was ever forced, it was a gentle approach, which is very reassuring.
“My friend got clean before he died of COPD and he was able to say to me before he passed that it was about time I loved myself – I took that on board.”
Dean started attending Launchpad 135 in October 2021 and enjoyed the art group with Phil.
This built up his confidence and Dean branched out himself and joined a rock painting group he found on Facebook.
“We get together once a week at Hobbycraft and I’ve really enjoyed this and meeting different people – this shows how far I’ve come confidence-wise.”
Dean then went from client to helper and began to help out at the art club at Launchpad. After seeing how well he was getting on, Sharon, the Life Skills and Volunteer Projects Manager at Launchpad 135, asked Dean in June 2022 if he would like to run his own session this autumn.
“I was flattered when she asked me, and a little bit nervous, but then I thought why not? I had learned so much from Phil that I felt maybe I could run my own session of rock painting.
“I did my first one in September 2022 and really enjoyed it! I hope the clients that came did as well.
“They know I have been supported by Launchpad in the past so it gave us a connection and we were able to support each other and share experiences.”