Mel’s story is difficult to hear. Much more so to tell. But she is keen to share her experiences.
“Things went wrong for me when my son, Solomon, died” she begins. “He was only two and he’d been ill since birth. For two years, I cared for him and his sister (older by two years) around the clock. And then one morning, as I was getting my little girl ready for school, he passed away suddenly. He had developed pneumonia.”
Just before Solomon died, Mel had discovered that she was expecting again. “I didn’t have time to grieve” she explains “my relationship with the baby’s father broke down and as a single parent, I just had to push down my emotions and get on with it. There just wasn’t the space in my mind to cope with the loss”.
But then, two years later, as her little boy reached the age that Solomon had been when he died, Mel had a breakdown. She began to drink heavily and her mental health deteriorated rapidly. She lost her job, her children were taken into care and she soon found herself homeless, forced to sleep in the back of her car.
Despite the chaos in her life, Mel did manage to hold down a volunteering role with Each Charity Shop. “Each were an amazing support to me when Solomon was ill” she explains “and I wanted to do something to repay the kindness they’d shown my family”. While working there, one of Mel’s colleagues became aware of her situation and offered her a place to stay while she got her life back on track. What was intended as a couple of weeks respite turned into a stay of many months. It was during this time that Mel began to visit Wintercomfort.
“I remember that day so clearly, it was an overwhelming experience walking in for the first time. But then I was introduced to my support worker who made me feel so welcome. She sat me down and talked to me about my situation and explained what I needed to do to get myself into some more permanent accommodation”.
As well as the housing advice Mel received from the Wintercomfort team, she has been supported with weekly sessions with Joe, our inhouse counsellor and ongoing contact with her project worker Sarah. “Sarah and Joe have been fantastic” she tells me “they know everything that I’ve been through and have always been there for me when I’ve needed to talk”.
Mel is in a much better place these days. She’s living in a shared house and is employed by Wintercomfort’s social enterprise scheme Overstream Clean and Garden. She’s a valued and popular member of the team, holding down regular shifts and participating in ongoing training. She finds the routine of work helps her to keep on track with her recovery. “Work is like therapy to me” she explains “Now instead of reaching for the bottle, I have something else to focus on.”
Mel has recently renewed contact with her son who is now 11. She hopes that this will be the beginning of what she hopes will be the rebuilding of their relationship. Mel isn’t where she wants to be yet. She still has significant challenges to face and she knows that the path ahead will not be a smooth one. But she also knows that in Wintercomfort, she has an army of support behind her. People who believe in her and her ability to achieve long lasting change for a brighter future. One step at a time.