I have a condition called keratoconus, which means I’m registered blind. I’ve had 2 corneal grafts to try to make it better, but my vision is still bad. A charity called Henshaw’s Society for Blind People have worked with me, and they referred me to Mustard Tree. I was asked if I wanted to volunteer on the Freedom Project, and as things weren’t going well for me at the time I thought it might help. I wanted see how I got on with a new kind of work with my eye condition. On top of this I had a bad gambling problem, and I wanted to try to get my life back on track for the sake of my kids. I figured that Mustard Tree might be able to help me to sort my head out and better myself.

Since I started volunteering nearly a year ago, I’ve benefitted from a few different things. Firstly, Mustard Tree staff don’t judge people on their backgrounds and it was good for me to be given a second chance. My life was in a dark place when I first started, and although I’ve made mistakes along the way, the people at Mustard Tree have stood by me and given me another chance. People there will always make time to see me if I need a chat about anything, and some of the team have spent a lot of time listening to me and giving support. Attending counselling sessions at Mustard Tree has also really helped me. I was in a very bad state and I don’t even know if I’d still be here if it wasn’t for counselling with Melanie. She has helped me a great deal.

More recently I’ve had a placement with StandFirm, Mustard Tree social enterprise. I feel that I have something to offer there and that I’m appreciated for what I do, which has really boosted my confidence. My confidence has also grown through attending the drama group. I’m soon going to be performing with them at a Mustard Tree event and then at the art gallery in Manchester. There’s no way I’d have performed in public before I started volunteering at Mustard Tree.

Since starting on the project, I feel like I’ve matured a lot. I used to put myself in stupid predicaments, but now I tend to think more and I try to prevent myself from getting into similar situations. I’ve also changed my views on homeless people. I used to be judgemental, but now I see where they’re coming from. I’ve learned not to make a judgement of someone based on somebody else’s opinions: it is much better to meet people yourself and make your own mind up. Another positive is that I no longer gamble. In fact, the last time I was in a bookie’s was when I went to help another volunteer get themselves banned there! I primarily stopped gambling because of my children, but seeing the same problem in someone else really opened my eyes to what I was doing.

I am hoping for a number of things in future. I certainly don’t intend to go back into the dark hole that I was in before, and I hope to build on all the good things I’ve been doing since I started at Mustard Tree. I want to sort out the situation with my kids and to get at least partial custody of them. I also want to be able to promote the services that Henshaw’s and Mustard Tree give, because both organisations have given so much to me. I’d also like to get a job with StandFirm, but in the long-term I’d like to be a counsellor. Having been through such bad experiences and come out the other side, I believe I’d make a good counsellor and would be able to help others.

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