Right on cue

Whether it’s football, yoga or healthy walks, a Lancashire project is using physical activity to help homeless people turn their lives around

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When Miles Gorton’s mum was facing eviction he came to her aid, only to end up homeless himself. Gorton, 29, had been working on fairgrounds and travelling round for most of the year, only stopping with his mum for a couple of months.

He quit his job to ensure his mum could find a place in a hostel in Burnley, but then he too ended up homeless and sofa surfing with friends until a Blackburn hostel offered him a place.

While living at Canterbury House he met Scott Sheridan, project worker with Active Lancashire’s Challenge Through Sport Initiative, CSI. Now he’s turning his life around.

He attends Blackburn College where he is studying for a Level 2 gym instructor qualification and wants to complete his Level 3. He is hoping to set up football matches between residents from the town’s homeless hostels and hopes to become a coach.

“I had a problem with drinking when I was younger but drink and drugs don’t matter to me anymore,” says Gorton. “I just want to get my life on track.

“Getting involved in this project has made me feel happy and proud of myself. I am looking forward to getting more involved and being able to help people out as much as I can.”

Support workers have each fought their own battle and can relate to their clients

When CSI was launched as a pilot project in 2014 its aim was to assist adults with drug and alcohol problems but now it also works with people who have mental health problems through projects in Morecambe, Fleetwood, Lytham, Skelmersdale, Blackburn and all across East Lancashire.

CSI offers everything from yoga and football, exercise on prescription and healthy walks to one-to-one help and job opportunities. Support workers have each fought their own battle and can relate to their clients.

Sheridan, who runs the project in Blackburn, Accrington and Oswaldtwistle, says: “I began taking drugs as a teenager and then ended up getting into criminality to fund my habit. In total I have been in prison for 12 years.

“I was institutionalised. I would be in prison where everything was done for me and then into rehab, where everything was done for me, but I never learnt self-reliance and self-responsibility. I was never learning how to be me.”

He put himself on the 12-step Narcotics Anonymous programme and got involved with the CSI project in Oswaldtwistle, first as a client, then a volunteer. Now he has been employed by Active Lancashire for almost a year.

Sheridan says: “I work with recovering addicts and run football sessions at Blackburn’s Soccerdome for residents from the homeless hostels.

“In Accrington I organise walks and we are starting exercise on prescription where people will get free gym sessions.

“In Blackburn at Shadsworth Hub, the community centre, we run chill and chat sessions and people who come along can play pool, table tennis, cards or dominoes. We also have yoga and we can have up to 15 people attending, including six men and four children, so participants are aged from nine to 60.

“I am looking at setting up parent and toddler sessions and am going to approach the pensioners living nearby to see if they would like to use the centre to tackle social isolation.”

Gorton and his friend Lee McKay, who struggled with cocaine addiction, are now living at Auxilium House and are hoping to soon be given a two-bed flat so they can live independently.

McKay has two children whom he hopes to have a relationship with in the future. A qualified forklift truck driver, he is also going to complete Security Industry Authority training so he can work in security, which will give him more chances of getting a job.

McKay says: “The football is good because it keeps me fit and active and we are there for two hours. When we leave we are very tired and exhausted but mentally we are really good. I feel better because I have done something.”

Active Lancashire is one of 43 sub-regional sport partnerships operating across England and is funded by Sport England and local government. Paul Becouarn is employed by Active Lancashire, working with Rossendale Borough Council and the Department of Work and Pensions, to help people who are on benefits to find their niche.

In less than a year he has helped 50 people get involved with sporting activities and found 27 placements. Eight have become volunteers and 25 now have jobs through the project, entitled Rossendale Works.

Such has been its success that Active Lancashire is now seeking to replicate it across East Lancashire and then hopefully countywide.

Sean Casey is one of the lucky ones who Becouarn was able to link up with dry ski slope The Hill, the home of Ski Rossendale in Rawtenstall. Casey completed a six-week probation period there, during which he received his benefits and travelling expenses. He so impressed his bosses he was offered a job.

Since leaving school with no qualifications he had struggled to find proper work and for 12 months was cleaning wheelie bins.

Casey, 19, from Bacup, says: “A lot of the job adverts were looking for people who had qualifications and I didn’t really like the jobs I saw; I didn’t want to work inside or in an office. I prefer to be outdoors, doing things and being practical, not being stuck in a room.

“If I had just gone for an interview in the hope of getting a job I would not have felt as confident. Being able to get some training first helped me. It feels good being able to earn my own money instead of always having to ask my mum to support me. I have a new lease of life.”

The Hill director Dave Fuller, who has successfully placed two people since signing up to the employability programme, says: “What matters is
how people fit into our team. We were really impressed with Sean. He has a great attitude and has a good way with the other team members and the leaders like him. He has great people skills, is friendly and approachable and that is just what we are looking for.”

Rossendale Works, which was a finalist in the project of the year category in the Lancashire Sports Awards, won £500,000 of National Lottery funding from Sport England in 2015, which came to an end last year. Since then it has attracted money from councils in Lancaster and Morecambe, Rossendale and Pendle.

Former police officer Jane Moodie, now its project co-ordinator, says: “From my experience in the police, I knew that there must be different ways of going about dealing with people who have addictions and are in rehab. Everyone deserves a second chance.

“We set up initially to be a stepping stone to help people with their recovery through sport. We learnt that people are not always at a stage where they are ready for employment.”

Photo: Miles Gorton and Lee McKay are hoping to get a flat together and live independently after taking part in the Challenge Through Sport Initiative 

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