A Derbyshire woman has told how a housing trust helped turn her life around after losing her home and her 60-year-old mother. She was originally homeless, but now works full time with a roof over her head – and she’s written a book.
Denise Bowles, 40, from Ilkeston, said without the support she has received from Derventio Housing Trust she would not be where she is today. The housing trust found her a home and she thinks the trust also gave her a purpose.
She said, “If you had told me ten years ago that I was going to write a book, I would have laughed in your face. It just shows that things can change. I am very grateful to Derventio for what they have done and for helping me along the way. I will never forget him.”
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Ten years ago, Denise says she hit rock bottom when a series of circumstances caused her to lose her home. Denise, who has a mild learning disability, had no job and found herself “couch surfing” at friends’ houses.
She was referred to Derventio Housing Trust, a social housing provider headquartered in Boyer Street, Derby.
She said: ‘I told them everything about my situation and that I had nowhere to go. I said, ‘You are my only hope. I needed to find my feet and just have a place to call home. After a week, I received a phone call telling me that I had been accepted and that Derventio had found me a place.
“I went to see the house they had found for me and it was absolutely lovely. I was so over the moon!
Regular visits from Derventio staff provided support for medical and employment appointments, but this was another project that was to prove essential in helping Denise find her feet.
Denise said: “After a little over a year at Derventio, I was told about a project called Growing Lives. It was set up to help people with projects like crafts and gardening. I went there because I thought it would help my mental health and allow me to meet new people and regain my confidence.
Growing Lives is a project that helps residents of Derventio find housing and job prospects, as well as helping people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Based in Cotmanhay, Growing Lives operates every day of the week and offers a wide range of activities such as carpentry, crafts, cycle clubs, computers, cooking, upcycling furniture and growing vegetables.
The idea of the project is to give people valuable skills to help them get back on their feet.
Project leader Kim Miles said, “Growing Lives helps people by providing positive activities to boost their confidence. It’s good for their mental health. It’s therapeutic. Some people come because they are isolated. It’s about friends and spending time with people.
“It’s a way to hang out with people and it helps because they have the support of their peers. They have the support of our staff and they do valuable things with other people.
“It’s not necessarily about learning a skill. You can learn to cook or learn to use the tools in our workshop. But it is often more for well-being, mental health and avoiding isolation. A lot of people are isolated, especially during Covid.
Denise added: “The Growing Lives project has helped me a lot. Being outdoors has really helped me. I was involved in the Growing Lives project for a good three or four years. I really appreciated.
“I worked there as if it were a job. I really stuck to my guns and did everything I could. No matter what they asked me, I was ready to do it. For example, there was a door that needed repainting. I had never done anything like this before and when I was growing up it was considered a man’s job. I was never allowed to do anything like this, but Growing Lives allowed me to.
After gaining confidence through Derventio, Denise went on to work in two important projects: Inclusion North, which works with people with autism and learning disabilities, and VoiceAbility, an advocacy service helping people get their a say in decisions about their health, care and well-being.
Now living independently, she has published her first book: I Wanna Tell You My Story, which she produced with the help of self-publishing service Story Terrace, as seen on Dragon’s Den TV.
The book is a poignant memorial to Denise’s mother, Cath, who died in 2021, and who had been particularly proud of Denise’s work with Growing Lives.
She said: “I needed to do this book – my mother wanted me to do it. She used to come to Growing Lives workshops as a visitor. She watched everything we did. She thanked everyone for helping me.
“She was like, ‘This is really helping Denise with her mental health and her confidence.’ I really wanted her to come down and watch what we were doing because I felt proud of the work I did. My mom was always talking about what we were doing. She was proud.
“I have a lot to thank Derventio. They helped me find myself. It was by doing all the volunteer work that I did for them. By doing that I got my confidence back. I had it long lost.
“To anyone who has hit rock bottom like me, I will say this: ‘Don’t give up hope. There is still time for things to turn around for you. There will still be people living in vulnerable situations for many years. Believe in yourself. Things will change. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen over time.