Freedom can mean different things to different people. It’s such an open-ended concept, one that often boils down to the capacity to make your own decisions, whatever they might be. For many it would mean not having to worry about money or economic pressures. For many more it would be the right to express themselves through speech, religion, and sexuality. For some it would be something as simple as being able to hold hands with someone of the opposite gender. For others it’s something as complex as overthrowing a dictatorship.
For the thousands of homeless people in the UK, freedom can often mean stability and the chance to make choices about their futures.
Mustard Tree’s Freedom Project is a life skills and work readiness program aimed at helping people who’ve had more barriers than usual to moving on in life and achieving independence: barriers such as homelessness, mental health issues, addiction recovery or a criminal record. The overall goal of the project is to equip participants with the sort of skills and experience that will improve their likelihood of future employment and (arguably more importantly) give them a sense of belonging to a community. With that in mind, participants work within Mustard Tree and learn about the key areas of our operation, from customer services and office admin, to catering and waste recycling.
Many of the people on the Freedom Project are unemployed and have no recent work experience. The Life Stories section of our website gives an idea of the backgrounds of several people who’ve benefited from the project and the problems they’ve faced, from self-esteem issues to concerns about lack of experience. Over a 20-week period, the scheme aims to change these attitudes and not only gives participants valuable work-based skills but also an idea of what it’s like to be in the workplace. This experience can provide them with so-called ‘soft’ skills, like time management, communication, and teamwork, as well as a current work reference and an up-to-date CV.
Meanwhile, we act as a hub for those on the Freedom Project and provide several services which they can benefit from, including counselling, mentoring, art classes and drama workshops. Towards the end of the project, there is even the possibility of a 4-week, unpaid, work placement with a Manchester-based business.
With more and more people being affected by homelessness in Greater Manchester, Mustard Tree’s Freedom Project and all its services are more necessary than ever. A recent survey commissioned by Homeless Link found that a third of people had experienced homelessness or knew someone who had. Making sure that charities like ours can continue to offer valuable services is a matter of investment, but also one of breaking down of the misconceptions that surround the issue and continuing to change how homelessness is perceived. Being homeless is about so much more than just sleeping rough. In fact most homeless people don’t sleep on the street (although increasing cuts to charities and public sector services could see that change.) The term applies to those staying temporarily in hostels or B&Bs, squatting, or couch surfing; anyone who doesn’t have a fixed abode or a home they can or want to go back to. And helping the homelessness situation is also about more than just providing these people with homes.
After all, what good is finding permanent accommodation for someone if they don’t have any prospects of employment or don’t feel like there’s a support network for them? The Freedom Project aims to give a more holistic approach to the problems associated with homelessness and help participants rebuild their lives while instilling them with self-belief. As one participant put it, “Things that I would choose to hide away from previously, I now tackle with confidence. In turn this has boosted my self-esteem and my belief that I can achieve goals that previously didn’t seem possible.”
To go from a place that often involves isolation and fear, to feeling like you can achieve your dreams, what could be a better example of freedom?
To get involved with the project, check out our Volunteering section.
Written by Jamie Faulkner, Firecask