Born in Halton Moor 46 years ago, Colin is a passionate Leeds man and has lived and worked there all his life. “I love this city, I would live right in the centre of it if I could,” says Colin. After he left school he became a landscape gardener, studying at horticulture college for two and a half years. He moved into work in a foundry where he stayed for 22 years.
Colin has a big brood of seven children (two step-children and five of his own) but a painful marriage break-up changed everything. Colin left home – “there was too much animosity, it was bad for the children, I just had to go” – but refused to ask for help so found himself sleeping rough.
He slept under bridges, anywhere where there were no other people. He found life on the streets daunting from early on and made a decision to steer clear of others: “Seeing people half-kill each other for half a bottle of cider, that wasn’t for me.”
Colin’s marriage problems upset him so much that he found himself unable to concentrate at work, he had lost his focus and he knew he could be a danger as he was operating heavy machinery. A near miss one day frightened him and Colin gave up his job and walked away. He spent six months on the streets.
Didn’t you have someone who could help? “I had too much pride to ask,” says Colin. “My mother has always said my pride will kill me.”
It took Colin one and a half years to get over the break-up. He went to the Crypt where he ate at night and sometimes slept and from there he went to work and stay at Emmaus for a year where he became their driver, managing the warehouse, taking on extra responsibilities.
That didn’t work out for the long term and when he left the position he was homeless again. He went to a hostel this time and within a short time he was found a flat of his own which is his home today.
Colin is a doting father, refers always to his children as ‘my babies’ and explains that through the break-up not having regular contact and being able to be with them really messed him up.
“I couldn’t stand it, they grow up so quickly I was losing touch. One daughter changed so quickly over the months that I didn’t recognise her, I couldn’t believe it.”
To have his own space – it’s no palace he says, just the basics – where he can have his babies of a weekend has made a tremendous difference to Colin. He prides himself on cooking for them, treating them to sweets and piling all the cushions on the floor so they can all hang out together.
“I’ve always been strict and insisted on structure everywhere else in my life but with my babies, I just want to spoil them. I want to enjoy them and for them to enjoy me, I want to be a friend. My son is 14 now but he still comes every weekend.” Colin is a granddad too with three grandchildren and the eldest, a four-year-old puts out her hand to take granddad to the shop for sweeties each time they meet now.
Happily Colin and his ex-wife are best of friends now. Colin remembers the depression that hit after his break up and admits that at the lowest points he was suicidal. He went for help and was given medication which he decided not to take, he wanted to get through it himself and said for a while after he would still suffer from time to time.
“I can’t tell you how the last 10 weeks have been amazing for me though,” Colin explains. “I was losing the structure to my life, the will, the purpose. I was starting to think like someone unemployed, the never-ending circle of giving out CVs and getting no responses, Jobcentres, not bothering to get dressed, watching daytime rubbish TV. I wasn’t tired, I couldn’t sleep at night so I would walk and walk. What was I going to do?”
A support worker suggested the Create Academy to Colin. He had heard of the other courses going and not taken any of these up but he decided to give this one a go. And he’s mighty relieved he did:
“Even if I don’t get a job directly at the end of this course I would certainly try another course for itself, this has given me so much. It’s worth it just because I feel so much better about myself.”
Colin says he’s starting to see beyond getting a job now – it’s what paid work will enable him to do to improve his home environment for his babies, be able to do more things for them.
“It’s changed my whole outlook. I don’t feel so low any more. Before I couldn’t be bothered to do things, now I can be bothered to go out and I do with my new mates that I’ve met on this course. Some have become great friends from going through this experience together.”
The Create Academy work experience has proved invaluable. Colin’s work experience has covered the warehouse Fareshare distribution and whilst he felt familiar with the warehouse operation work, he loved going out to the benefitting community groups and seeing the people the operation was helping such as groups supporting the homeless and women’s refuge centres. Colin found this experience extremely rewarding.
His second work placement was one of Create’s city centre cafes and he admits that he felt this was going to be way out of his comfort zone. The cooking would be fine, he felt confident here but dealing with customers and the till? Having never had a public-facing role before, Colin wasn’t sure of this particular challenge. However, his smile is big and broad when he says, “but you know, it’s not bad at all.” He particularly likes meeting the cafe regulars, passing the time of day with them and can see how this goes a long way.
It’s interview time at the Academy, mock interviews that are preparation for a real job interview at the end of the month. Leroy, the Academy’s learning lead, is conducting the interviews and he and Colin get on really well. But Colin admits to feeling a nervous wreck before the practice interviews. “I want to do well for Leroy,” he explains “I so don’t want to let him down.”
Colin’s daughter came to see what he was planning to wear for his interview and, unimpressed, she went out and bought him a suit. He said it’s beautiful, fits perfectly and makes him feel like an executive. It feels the business.
“My babies haven’t half seen the change in me in the last 10 weeks. We get real quality time together. I am smiling and laughing again – not because someone has told a joke – but because I’m happy. I am finding myself again, the real me, how I used to be.”
Colin’s battle was a personal and private one and he chose not to let anyone know how bad it got – not his mother, his children, his friends. Sheer, stupid, arrogant pride stopped him asking anyone for help, he says. Now he says he has rediscovered the total joy of having a positive outlook again.