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From street life to community champion: Andy’s Big Life journey

“I’m enjoying myself and getting my own life back because of Big Life and Living Well. It’s given me a purpose to keep going.”

Andy became homeless aged 53 after losing his wife to cervical cancer five years ago. But through the people he’s met and the volunteering he’s done he’s put his life back together.

“It hit me really badly when my wife passed away. I carried on for about a year and a half though inside I was still grieving. Then things started to get on top of me. I stopped caring. I just tried to ignore life really – block everything out. Bills, I just filed them in the bin. I didn’t pay my rent and, in November 2016, I became homeless.

“I had a few friends left so I sofa surfed at first. After that I slept on the streets, just trying to find anywhere to kip really. The winter is worse when you don’t didn’t know who is around the corner. I have been hit, kicked, and threatened with a knife.”

It was only through a chance meeting that Andy found a way to escape life on the streets.

“I’d been homeless for well over a year before someone told me about the drop-ins in Rochdale for homeless people. I went to one and told them what had happened in my life and they said, ‘right, we’ll try to sort you something out’.

“I got off the streets by staying at night stops and then, in April 18, I got my own a flat.”

But his experience of homelessness also opened new opportunities.

“I started going to the homeless drop-ins regularly, talking to people, seeing people. Plus when I was on the streets I got to know a lot of homeless guys. I didn’t know at the time but I was building up a network of people and friends and services.

“It was through the drop-ins that I started volunteering. At first at the Co-op Pioneers Museum on Toad Lane. Then someone said ‘Do you fancy becoming a Living Well community champion?’ A few weeks later I was at Lock 50 chatting with Nicola. She said, ’we’ll train you up and get you doing some projects’.

“I’ve already started a scheme growing veg and herbs for the co-op pantry shop and kitchen at the Pioneers Museum. I’m also trying to set up growing scheme and a bike and ride where I live in Kirkholt.

“Volunteering has given me a lot of confidence. It’s brought me out of myself and I’ve met loads of lovely people from all walks of life. They share their stories and it builds your life experience. I’m enjoying myself and getting my own life back because of Big Life and Living Well. It’s given me a purpose to keep going.”