Keith’s Story

Keith, 59, has turned his life around. From a life of homelessness, crime and violence, he is now using his experiences to advise and shape how Manchester City Council works to tackle homelessness.

“I grew up surrounded by violence and this was a way of life for me.  After leaving prison in 2014, I was living in a hostel surrounded by anti-social people who were a negative influence.  I wanted to break out of this cycle. Joining Mustard Tree was me attempting to do jus
t that.”

Mustard Tree offers work experience to all Participants like Keith in all areas of the charity’s work. We support them to not only build skills, but to grown in confidence and to gain a sense of purpose too.

“By helping on the shop floor and working with other people, it’s taught me to be understanding of others, something I’d never learnt before.  Situations that used to make me angry and violent don’t anymore.  The way I speak to people and approach people is different. Mustard Tree helped me to tackle my anger. I realised that I didn’t like seeing people scared. When things did get confrontational, I made an effort to walk away without resorting to violence. I started to like coming in and helping people”.

Mustard Tree’s sense of community, where everyone works together to help each other, is what is so special about this place; combatting social isolation and helping community cohesion. We also aim to build a sense of home and safety for people who are often not welcome elsewhere.

“Part of working here also involves mixing with or helping different types of people, like immigrants or the homeless. Before Mustard Tree I just assumed that both were on the scrounge, but I spoke to a Pakistani woman who wanted help with her home office forms one day. I didn’t know how to do that, so I offered her some emergency food and she didn’t want it. I realised that she wasn’t there to blag us; she was just a frightened woman, separated from her family in a foreign country. There was also a regular customer, a homeless guy. He always struck me as decent and eventually he got back on his feet. Before, I’d have thought that both these people had done something to bring their situations on themselves, but because I was interacting with them, I could see they were people, no different than me.”

Tackling his anger and learning to understand other perspectives, was Keith’s first step towards finding a way out of the hostel.

“For the first time my probation support worker was able to write positively of me and I was considered no risk to the public. Because of this, I managed to gain a one bedroom house with a back garden.  Having never lived alone before, I found this difficult to begin with, but Mustard Tree gave me a routine and got me out of the house”.

A home and a routine, meant that Keith could start thinking about the future.

“Because I’ve previously been homeless, staff member Jez Green encouraged me to talk about my experiences with Manchester City Council’s project called Big Change. That role’s since grown into being the co-chairman of the Big Change Action Group. My role involves running the meetings and managing the use of language around homelessness. I’m also working as a “Street Buddy” which involves identifying rough sleepers, advising them on which day centres to use and supporting them during the transition from the streets to their own accommodation.