My main job was an interviewer – I always wanted to do it from the age of seven, when I saw George Best being interviewed on the TV. I did it for 30 years starting on the music press, writing for places like NME. Then I graduated to newspapers, interviewing people like Keith Richards and Van Morrison.
This abruptly came to an end. Newspaper sales plummeted and they didn’t have money to pay freelancers like me. This led to me being homeless for two years. While I was living in my tent, I was still doing the odd bit of journalism. I was flown out to the South of France to interview a Bond girl! I left my tent, showered at the airport and lived for three days in a luxurious hotel before going back to my tent.
After getting support from Change Grow Live services myself, I decided to do a course to become a mentor. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The course is brilliantly done – it teaches you everything you need to be a mentor, but you also learn a lot about yourself.
I was matched with a mentee who was interested in music, which meant we had a lot to chat about and had things in common. As a mentor, you’re really well supported with supervisions and a manager on hand if you have any questions.
On a Friday, I do a drop in at a hostel where I chat to people and offer support. I also run two weekly mindfulness sessions with the recovery houses, run by Change Grow Live. The sessions are an hour and a half, and I started by using music to help meditation. I change the sessions depending on what the group is like – everyone’s needs will be different.
I also run creative writing sessions. I keep it simple so it’s accessible for everyone. In the groups, each person writes one line. A phrase, a saying, something you heard on the bus, anything you want to write down! Then, I collect them up and we discuss them. At the end of it, I take them home and use all the phrases and turn them into a poem. You end up with a surprisingly coherent poem! Somehow, everyone’s words fit together. I find it really heartwarming when I read the poems out because people find so much pleasure in seeing something they have written down becoming a quite powerful and meaningful poem. Their phrase on its own might not sound poetic, but when it’s all together, it has a big impact.
What I didn’t realise was that when your main career comes to an end, that isn’t the end of your life. The skills I have are transferrable. When I’m mentoring, I’m not interviewing people, but I’ve learned how to listen, engage and ask questions. If I can handle two hours of Van Morrison, I can handle anything! I also qualified as a Mindfulness Trainer with Sussex Partnership which comes in really handy for my mentoring. I can help people realise that being homeless or having a substance issue isn’t their whole life – it’s not who they are.
One of the things I like about Change Grow Live is it’s a very tight-knit group. We do monthly supervisions so mentors can get to know each other – there’s 16 of us altogether. We also do events – for Volunteers’ Week we’re going out for crazy golf and chips! It’s a really nice organisation to be a part of, we’re really well supported, and I always feel like someone is there for me. It’s a great way of connecting with people and you learn a lot about yourself.