Walking a mile in their shoes.
Wow, what an eventful couple of days that was! I’m settled on a very comfy sofa, TV on, laptop on and I’m typing this on one of my 2 phones. I’m aware of the temperature dropping but I know I will be going up to my comfy bed with an orthopaedic mattress and lovely thick quilt. I’ve had a lovely home cooked meal and my dog has had a bowl of tuna and vegetables following advice from her dietician, yes ‘her’ dietician.
So why do I mention all this? Well on Tues/Wed this last week me and a friend & volunteer from my foundation spent time on the streets of Wigan Town Centre. Initially the plan was to sleep on the streets without any luxuries to try to experience the physical and mental demands of being homeless. When I set up Behind The Mask Foundation my aim was for all volunteers to have lived experience in order to better help our service users. We also support the homeless but without lived experience we couldn’t begin to imagine what they go through. The only way was to spend some time living rough ourselves.
Tuesday morning at 10am Rachael and I met in Wigan Town Centre with a backpack which housed our sleeping bags. The first thing we did was to stand in the middle of the town centre holding up a sign that said “I have a mental illness. Come and say hi and help stamp out stigma”. I was really nervous about doing this but one of the aims of my foundation is to help stamp out the stigma associated with mental illness. I felt that if we could lead by example and stand proud and be open then others may feel strong enough to do so. I was so very scared though because I wasn’t sure about the response I would receive. However, I was presently surprised because the response we received was immense. There was such positivity to the cause and so many walked up and said they also had a mental illness. It was really heartwarming and it gave me the strength to stand there for a while longer. In fact altogether we stood there 4 hours. People did walk by obviously turning away from my eye line and that’s ok because not everyone understands or is ready to accept the topic of mental illness for whatever reason they have. People of all ages approached me and it was quite humbling to hear them openly discuss their own daily dealings with mental illness.
Once we had stood there a few hours we thought it would be a good idea to go and find somewhere to sleep before it went dark. We went to the pound bakery for something to eat on our voucher scheme and I was so very pleased we had set this up because we could have a meal. We also visited The Brick which is homeless project running in Wigan. They provided us with a lovely warm meal and advice on places to sleep in the town centre. We then found somewhere to ‘sleep’.
Watch the videos below to see our thoughts throughout the 2 days out. One thing I will definitely take away from this experience is that I will be more aware about being so free with my money. I realise I have so many beautiful people in my life and as long as I have them then nothing else matters. You have to appreciate every little thing in life because you just don’t know when it can all be taken away…
Since this experience we are pleased to say we now have a volunteer who sadly has had lived experience of being homeless from the age of 17. Their experience, along with our limited exposure will go some way to supporting those vulnerable people living on the streets day after day.
STIGMA campaign video: https://youtu.be/EP-FQvXP_7E
Sleeping rough video: https://youtu.be/eQbxVST8Ooo