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Chris’ story: “people helping people”

Chris’ story: “people helping people”

In his 50s, Chris has led a violent life. He has been involved in gang activity and spent long periods in prison. He had attended mental health support groups and clinics over a long period and had been held in secure units for severe mental health issues. He felt “he had no control” over his actions and felt aggressive much of the time.

Chris got involved in Link Up Gorbals through the creative writing group at the Barn, the base for Link Up in Gorbals. At first, he was frustrated and angry with the world around him, particularly with how he had been treated by state services and as an ex-offender. He said: “I had 14 years of near isolation feeling bitter…I had become branded as a ‘type’”.

Chris made it clear he was not planning to “make pals” and rarely engaged with others. Initially, even making eye contact was a struggle for him, but his first encounter at the Barn took him by surprise.

The workers took a genuine interest in Chris. He said it felt as if he had really been heard for the first time in many years. Steadily, he began to feel safe and welcomed at the Barn and was encouraged to think about what made him feel good about himself and to focus on his abilities and gifts.

Slowly, Chris revealed an extensive knowledge of physical training which led to him setting-up a small gym at the Barn, providing free exercise classes for local people. He was encouraged to make an application to a local participatory budget initiative and secured £250 for gym equipment, followed by another £500.

Chris was particularly keen to work with those who, like him, are on the fringes of society. He earned the respect and trust of some of Gorbals’ hardest to reach young people who would not usually engage with organised youth services. He is now a community assessor and mentor for young people participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

Chris’ growing self-confidence and trust in Link Up staff led him to disclose that he had been “really badly harmed as a child by a stranger” – something he felt the ‘system’ never took seriously and he never got support for.

His reflection on this experience and growing confidence acted as a catalyst for him to try to “put a wrong right” by speaking to the police and Victim Support. Although sympathetic, both services could offer little help.

This was a real setback for Chris. But, with the support of staff, he sought criminal injuries compensation only to be told he, like anyone else with a criminal sentence of five years or more, is permanently disqualified from this service. With Link Up support, Chris is challenging this law as discriminatory and argues that he seeks justice for his nine-year-old self, who is innocent.

In May 2018, Chris experienced another setback. He was reassessed for his Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit and had it removed despite a clear mental health issue diagnosis from several medical professionals. For Chris, this was devastating both financially and emotionally, seeing it as a continuation of state persecution against him.

The PIP decision started to unravel the positive developments Chris had worked so hard to achieve. By Christmas 2018, he was speaking about harming those behind the decision and suicide.

However, once again rallied by the belief and support shown to him by Link Up, Chris challenged the decision. With support from the Link Up worker, Chris argued at a tribunal that changes introduced to PIP assessments were unlawful because they discriminate against people with mental health problems. His PIP benefit was reinstated in February 2019.

During his time with Link Up, Chris has gone from feeling isolated and driven by anger to being a respected member of the community. What’s clear from Chris’s comments is that the changes in him are to a large extent a result of the kindness, belief, and natural, human relationship he has developed with the Barn staff. The sense of belonging he experienced gave him purpose, and this purpose facilitated a sense of responsibility and accountability. “The Barn loved me, and it made me realise I had never shown anyone else love”.

The approach taken by Link Up can bring about positive changes in individuals and their wider communities in a uniquely powerful way.

The change in Chris has been extraordinary; his depression and rage diminished, he is more in control of his actions, and his efforts to support others in the community have been reinvigorated.

*Chris’s name has been changed for this case study.

You can find Chris’ case study in our recent document Link Up: Flourishing Communities

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