My name is Tony and I came to Emmaus Bolton from Darlington in the North East which was where I grew up. My dad, who is in his 90s, lives there and I’ve two sisters there too.

I was born in 1960 and left school in ‘76. In the early 80s it was the Thatcher era and there were few jobs available. I used to go to Manchester to watch United play and it was at a game where someone said there was a job going where he worked, and I kipped on his sofa until I started. That was 1983 and I’ve been in Greater Manchester ever since.

Then I met my wife and got married. I was going through a lot of hassle at work on night shifts at a supermarket and had various issues with work and the environment that I worked in, and I finished up with really bad depression.

Spiralling mental health

I was what some people might describe as a typical bloke. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. Mental health issues still carry such a stigma. I just tried to brush it off as nothing. Then I just cracked one day. Still to this day I don’t remember the journey I made. I drove to North Devon and found myself sitting on the edge of a cliff. I was just looking at the sea going underneath, thinking.

A man walking his dog found me and sat talking to me for one hour, he drove me to the local pub, bought me a pint and took me to the local hospital. Unfortunately, that was the end of my marriage. That was in 2014.

My friends were all supportive, but when they’ve got kids of their own, they don’t want to come downstairs and find some bloke sleeping on their sofa. So I spent a short while on the streets, in shop doorways.

Life on the streets

When you’re homeless, you wake up when the sun rises, and you always have to check everything out by looking around you to see who is about. I used to sleep in loading areas where I knew no one would come near me. Some of the security guards would be really good and bring you something to eat and drink. Then it’d be the case of finding something to fill your day, like going to the library or having a walk around the town.

I didn’t beg, but I did what I could to eat. I would just think I can open a packet and eat that. But it messes with your head, and you can start thinking, why am I here? I spent two years like that in Manchester and Tameside.

The point that it hit me most, when I knew I had to get somewhere, away from being miserable and depressed, was when I found myself in place like I was in Devon. I was walking across a motorway bridge, just looking over the edge.

People don’t see the real picture when they sleep out for a charity for the night. They’ve got security there and a nice house to go back to. When you’re homeless, you don’t know how long you’re going to be like this.

Finding safety and stability

I’m into non-league football and knew a lad who lived at Emmaus Bolton who told me about this place. I emailed the Director Tony and came in for a chat and talked about what it was all about, then I moved in the following day.

I’m a lot more stable now. To me, depression is one of those things that doesn’t go away, but I’m a lot better. I know there are people to go to when I’m feeling that way. Having other people in here is a godsend because I know there are certain people who I can turn to when I knock on their door.

I’m a van driver for Emmaus, but I’ve done gardening and lots of other things, such as renovation and repair work during the first lockdown.

I’m doing stuff I enjoy at Emmaus Bolton and the opportunities to do these things. I have a gym membership and I go, more or less, every day. I’ve also got back into my running. One of the biggest things for me was volunteering for the local park run. I take photographs now of the runners for the official website.

I enjoy entering different races around the country and I decided to raise money for Emmaus Bolton when I took part in the 2021 Great Manchester Run. Many thanks to the people who sponsored me, for helping people at Emmaus move forward positively.

If there was one thing I’d like to say, it’d be don’t give up hope.

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