Positive People project re-energises

By Caroline Blackler

James Kendall is feeing positive. With the new year comes new challenges and new hope. A former drug addict, James has struggled with homelessness, addiction and mental health problems for most of his adult life but now he’s clean, has a job and is ready to move on. James is one of more than a thousand people who have passed through the Positive People programme in Plymouth which comes under the POP – Plymouth Octopus Project – umbrella and says, quite simply, it’s saved his life:

“Without it”, he says, “I’d probably be dead. But now it feels like I’m lucky to have been given the opportunity to do this, not just the work side, but the taking part in everything.”

Since it started in April 2017, the Positive People Project in Plymouth has supported more than a thousand people most of whom have been living with serious difficulties and challenges that, they admit, has left them feeling over-whelmed and disempowered. People like Danny Hancock, who had also been unemployed for many years and a recovering addict. A former chef and manager of a fast-food business, Danny had fallen into drugs and, along with a cancer diagnosis, felt life was against him until a referral to Positive People from his GP:

”It’s taken time,” admits Danny who describes himself as a recovering addict. “It’s not been overnight, but it has literally saved my life. I don’t think I’d be here now without it.”

Instead of dismissing the difficulties of people like James and Danny, the Positive People programme has helped people to feel they can face their problems and overcome them through, for example, supporting them on issues such as, building confidence, coping with anxiety, and improving relationships. Chris Maccullie, the project’s community development lead says there is no stereotype:

“I can’t describe the breadth of people I have worked with,” says Chris, “It’s so huge. There are so many people who fall through the net and haven’t been caught, people who for whatever reasons, need a hand to get back on their feet.”

One of the elements of Positive People that James puts down to its success, is the shared experiences of the participants and the feeling that life, in one way or another, has been really hard for them. James believes that being around people with similar emotions is part of what makes it work:

“At the start of the days I’d be thinking ‘why have you come out?’ and then I’d be thinking, I’m so glad I did come out. It was the fact that there were people around of similar mindset and nice people, caring people … and I was always grateful and glad that I did it.”

The project, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and The European Social Fund, has been designed to give people the opportunity to try out new activities in a social environment, activities such as, mountain-biking, photography, art and wood-whittling, and, in doing so, help individuals to feel good about themselves. As Chris says, it offered a radical way of supporting people, and one that brought about profound change:

“For some people it’s been a kind of therapy. It has allowed them to find out new things about themselves; push their own boundaries and get them out of their comfort zone while learning new skills. Here, they have learnt it’s ok to make a mistake.”

For many of its participants, like James and Danny, Positive People has ‘done what it says on the tin’: it has taken individuals riddled with their own negativity and re-charged them with positivity and hope. James and Danny, both now employed on the project as peer supporters, have successfully been helping others to find their own courage to face their own challenges. Now, as Positive People comes to an end, they both feel ready to look beyond the safe confines of Positive People and go it alone. Danny is determined to make use of the £3,500 Excavator 360 License that he gained through Positive People, an opportunity he knows he was fortunate to have:

“I’ve had a real sense of achievement, and I’m lucky to be given that much help and opportunity. My Intention is, that within six months, I’ll be using that digger license.”

And James? He says he feels ready to take those first, tentative, steps towards a better, more positive, future:

“I’m feeling nervous. This is the first work I’ve done in 20 years and it’s a huge leap. I’m worried that with Positive People ending and not knowing what direction I’ll be going in that there’s a chance I might fall back into my ‘hibernation mode’. But I want to keep going and I’d like to continue working as a mentor to other people who have problems.”

After six years in Plymouth, under the POP umbrella, Positive People has done what it set out to do. It is a legacy to be proud of. We wish everyone involved with the project, including James and Danny a very happy new year.

For more information about Positive People and the work of POP please email information@plymouthoctopus.org .call Plymouth 395131 or visit www.plymouthoctopus.org


Notes for editors:

For more information, please contact Caroline Blackler on 07920 741718 or email carolineblackler@phonecoop.coop

Photo attached: On your bike with Positive People

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