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Redbridge Together: Peter used to sleep rough behind Ilford M&S, now its where he earns a living

PUBLISHED: 07:00 19 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:49 19 September 2018

Peter was employed by Marks and Spencer as a customer assistant in June this year after enrolling in a work placement scheme run by charity Business in the Community (BITC). Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

Peter was employed by Marks and Spencer as a customer assistant in June this year after enrolling in a work placement scheme run by charity Business in the Community (BITC). Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

Archant

Peter has gone from sleeping rough behind Marks and Spencer to earning a living working in-store in the space of a year.

Peter, 40, used to sleep rough in Havelock Street homeless camp behind Marks and Spencer in Ilford. Photo: Aaron WalawalkarPeter, 40, used to sleep rough in Havelock Street homeless camp behind Marks and Spencer in Ilford. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

The 40-year-old former graphic designer came to Ilford in January 2015, leaving behind the tanking economy of his eastern European homeland to try and make a better life for himself in the UK.

But his savings had dried up by April 2015 as he was unable to open a bank account, and thus find work, and was suffering from persistent mental health challenges.

Recalling that time, he said: “I literally didn’t eat anything for six days. I was researching dumpster diving.”

He added: “I found a little bit of currency in my backpack and walked the 22 miles to Oxford Circus and back to exchange it for £3 to get some food.”

Mattresses and sofas line the pavement in Havelock Street, Ilford. Photo: Aaron WalawalkarMattresses and sofas line the pavement in Havelock Street, Ilford. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

“It was the hardest thing I had ever done.”

“After that, my landlord said ‘you have an hour to disappear.’”

Cast out onto the street, Peter tried to find respite near Ilford police station in High Road.

Here he stumbled on The Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, who offer rough sleepers services ranging from hot showers to counselling and employment support, where he eventually registered as a rough sleeper.

Peter spent much of the next three years sofa-surfing and sleeping rough in hidden corners of the town centre.

He made his bed in the burgeoning homeless camp beneath the Havelock Street underpass, behind M&S in Ilford, at various points in 2016 and 2017.

“It’s exhausting physically but it is even more exhausting emotionally,” he said, commenting on the hardest part of sleeping rough.

“If you are already suffering from anxiety – you will be even more terrified outside.”

Redbridge Together Logo. Logo: Redbridge TogetherRedbridge Together Logo. Logo: Redbridge Together

He spoke of how he bought six laptops over the course of his time spent sleeping rough in an effort to reignite his career prospects.

Two broke, two were stolen and one was robbed at knifepoint.

The last one he still owns.

In his home country, Peter used his tech skills to build websites and develop a video game.

Once in the UK, he resorted to stints of cash-in-hand construction work and gardening, among other things, to survive.

Speaking of one of his former employers, he said: “They paid me only half of what we had agreed to at first.

“And then it got less and less as the hours got longer and longer.”

His effort to find legitimate work was hampered by his inability to get a bank account and his struggles with social anxiety disorder and low-confidence.

“If you don’t have an address, then you can’t get a bank account and you can’t get a job,” he said.

“I was facing the task of restarting my professional career from practically zero, in a brand new country, with no connections, no network to rely on, and after all the difficulties, my mindset wasn’t exactly what it should’ve been, either.”

The turning point came after The Welcome Centre enrolled Peter in the Ready for Work scheme run by charity Business in the Community (BITC).

Following a voluntary two-week work placement offered by Marks and Spencer in June this year, he has been taken on as a paid customer assistant.

Peter said the most important aspect of the scheme was the opportunity to demonstrate his skills, bypassing the anxiety created by job interviews and applications.

He said: “I had a chance to showcase my skills in practice, and on top of getting a job, I also got some much needed confidence and reassurance in my own abilities, plus a few useful techniques for the future.”

Sofa-surfing for the first three weeks of his employment, he was able to save up for a deposit for a flat in Forest Gate.

Crowdfunding campaign Redbridge Together is calling on more business to come forward and offer placements to former rough sleepers in an effort to tackle the borough’s rough sleeping crisis.

For more information on how to get email info@bitc.org.uk or call 0207 566 8650

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Redbridge Together

Redbridge Together aims to raise £500,000 for two projects at the heart of helping the homeless in the borough.

Two thirds of all money raised will go towards the creation of pioneering pop-up hostel Project Malachi and one third to The Welcome Centre day centre for the homeless.

Project Malachi aims to create a temporary hostel for rough sleepers and homeless people using recycled shipping containers on the site of a crumbling former funeral directors in Chadwick Road to rebuild their lives.

The Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, offers wide ranging services from laundry to counselling.

You can support by donating money, raising funds, displaying Redbridge Together promotional material in businesses or offering work placements.

Redbridge Together is an association an association between Ilford Salvation Army, The Welcome Centre, Ilford BID, the Ilford Recorder and Redbridge Council.

To get involved email: aaron.walawalkar@archant.co.uk

Donate £3 by texting LIFE to 70145 or at Crowdfunder.co.uk/RedbridgeTogether

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