‘What we do is life-affirming’: Martin’s story

Published: by Mark O'Loughlin

Martin, a Shelter volunteer, stands in front of a sign reading 'Home is everything'

Martin is an Information Resource Centre volunteer in Blackburn, Lancashire. He has been volunteering with Shelter since June 2019, averaging about 10 hours a week, and his role has evolved during this time, due in part to the lockdowns. He was one of the first to volunteer remotely when the pandemic started.

Martin’s focus is on helping people to find a home. He also helps to run a budgeting club in Blackburn library, which is a recent initiative that he is especially proud of.

‘We’re there for anybody to stop by for a coffee and a chat about budgeting.’

The budgeting club has been running for three months, offering advice and money-saving tips on a drop-in basis, and the number of people using the service has grown steadily.

‘The way I see it, it will evolve into a support network group.’

Martin tracks his own spending now thanks to the initiative. One client attended the budgeting club and was initially very enthusiastic, but he didn’t return for weeks. When he did come back, Martin was pleased to see him.

‘He had taken what I had put on paper and put it into an app.’

Martin hopes that he will become a regular attendee at the budgeting club and pass on his knowledge to others within the group.

‘What we hope to do is build up a bank of good ideas and practices and evolve it into a support group and then take it out into the Lancashire community.’

Martin enjoys the variety of his volunteering role with Shelter and another one of his current projects is to help with the proofreading and script editing of a colleague’s proposed Shelter film script. As Martin has a background in theatre writing and poetry, it allows him to use those skills in his volunteering role.

Having never worked in an office before volunteering with Shelter, Martin was nervous and apprehensive initially. He admits that he found it quite challenging at first. However, after nearly four years, Martin is more confident and at home in the office, which is a supportive environment.

When people don’t have access to technology at home, Martin helps them to navigate the social housing website and talks them through the process over the phone. He was delighted recently when a regular client found a new home.

‘It’s amazing when you get to that point when someone says they’ve got the keys.’

The client was so happy to be in a home of his own, and Martin finds that aspect of volunteering incredibly rewarding. He describes hearing that the client had a new home as a standout moment because he had been concerned for him and he knew that having a home would be life-changing.

Just over 20 years ago, Martin went through a difficult period himself. He had a job in Edinburgh, working full time, but he didn’t have anywhere to live.

‘I had to take some time off work and didn’t get paid. I couldn’t pay my rent. I found myself slipping down.’

Martin was forced out of his home by his landlord, and he found himself sofa-surfing in Edinburgh. After weighing up his options, he decided to return to his hometown of Blackburn in Lancashire where he still had family, to start again.

‘I was on my brother’s settee, and he wasn’t keen on me being there.’

After getting advice from Shelter, Martin told the council that he was homeless. After three months on his brother’s settee, Martin was offered a two-bedroom house for himself and his teenage daughter, which he still lives in today.

Martin says that being homeless adversely affected his mental health at the time and afterwards.

‘Looking back, I’ve realised that during the homeless period, I was tense all the time.’

Martin used his personal experience of homelessness and his love of poetry in a Shelter project involving a group of poets with lived experience of homelessness. With the help of professional poet, Will Harris, they wrote a communal poem together called ‘Jenga’ and there is an accompanying film which can be viewed on YouTube.

Martin says that being a volunteer with Shelter gives him a purpose in life. It has helped him to gain new skills and overcome his fear of using computers. It also enables him to be part of a team which he loves.

‘I really enjoy going into the office. The team is great in the Blackburn hub and the work we do is life-affirming.’

During lockdown, Martin also created ‘Poetry Friday’ where he shared a poem every week with his Shelter colleagues:

all the world is a stage
as all kids know,