Derek has a background in the army, undertaking several tours in Northern Ireland. His first was “a really bad tour” that affected him mentally – although this wasn’t diagnosed for some years. He left
the army in 1980 and his life from then was chaotic, his mood swinging up and down. He married twice, both times breaking up. He was self-medicating and was generally unable to cope with life. At one time he was living in Scotland with his parents, but they couldn’t cope with his behaviour and threw him out. This was around 2002: he started sleeping rough and began to move around the country constantly. Eventually a friend suggested he get in contact with the British Legion. He did so and they found him accommodation in a hostel for ex-servicemen in Edinburgh, from which he was referred to Combat Stress, a charity specialising in the care of veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
He then moved into independent accommodation with a specialist housing association for ex-service personnel and they subsequently helped him move back to London. Here, he was referred to the trauma clinic at St Georges Hospital in Tooting. He received treatment there for three years, at the end of which his doctor asked him what he wanted to do. Because of his experiences and knowing what it’s like being homeless, he said he’d like to work with homeless people. His doctor did some
investigations online and found out about Thames Reach and the GROW project. He applied to GROW and was accepted for the training programme.
Derek started his training in 2004. At first he found it really hard work. The PTSD had ruined his selfconfidence: “every day was a challenge but I was determined to beat it and make a life again that I could enjoy”. There were a couple of occasions that he needed time off work, but he sees these as blips and he got through them. His doctor helped him with tools for coping and he has found Thames Reach to be “incredibly supportive”. In spite of Derek’s concerns, Thames Reach was sufficiently pleased with his performance to ask him to act up as a Support Worker during his first placement. At the end of his second placement, in September 2007, he applied for a permanent position as Support Worker and was successful.
Does he tell service users about h s background? He’s relaxed about doing so – he doesn’t always, but will do if he thinks it will benefit the relationship with the service user. Does he enjoy his job? His response is enthusiastic: “I love it!” What does he think about the GROW initiative and the support he has received from Thames Reach? He admits to being “taken aback” with the way that Thames Reach has supported him: “It’s how you dream a company would be. If you have a problem they help you and together you can find a result.” At 52, he’s had lots of jobs, with lots of employers, but none quite like this. As a result, he feels completely committed to the organisation – and to doing his
best for it and its service users.