When I was growing up, I always wanted a mentor. It’s not that I didn’t have any visible mentors in my life. When I look back, they were there, plenty of them: family, friends, even fellow students. They were there. I remember a teacher at primary school, Miss Myers, who gave me my first diary. It was a printed notebook, and she told me to write my ideas and feelings down. She even gave me quiet time, away from my friends to make notes. I still obsessively jot things down, 20 or so years later, in notebooks, on scraps of paper, on blogs… So maybe what I felt I lacked was the structure of mentorship. Not so much the support of friends who are there because they choose to love you or families who have a responsibility to be there. I have always felt mentorship to be different to all of that. There is a responsibility, but it’s different. It ensures their guidance and assurance is unbiased, neutral. They can also be a great sounding board without judgement. They take a step back. They can inspire you. I meet many people in Tottenham and like myself; I think they would benefit from a mentor. I have always looked for it at my place of work, in new groups, wherever. Growth arrives via many different streams, and I believe mentorship to be one of them. If he or she is local, then even better. So imagine my excitement when I was sent this (extract below), and then I had the opportunity to meet the person described here. Through his work, Oliver Ashton Hill helped a local with something small, but it made a big difference.
I am supported by a kind, generous and compassionate man called Oliver. Supporting someone is not an easy task. You must take all their fears, hopes, dreams and desires and assist them through some of their weakest moments as well as their triumphs, at the same time managing to maintain a professional relationship. Oliver is a natural. The only conclusion I can come to is that he must have been a trapeze artist in a former life because he navigates the highs and lows with ease.
When I told Oliver that as part of a community outreach program, I was unable to transport a group of people who are suffering from social isolation to the RHS Garden Wisley, he jumped into action and made one of my dreams a reality, by navigating yet another trapeze act formally known as finding funding for the coach, which was proving elusive.
That is how Jules, Felix, Ellen, Vivian, Mrs Pamela Anderson, Mrs Blossom Harris, Natasha, Angela, five ladies from the over 55’s club and I found ourselves at RHS Garden Wisley. It turned out the impossible had truly become possible.
What is your professional background and how did you become a support worker/leader?
My work background begins in music and the pub trade, working mainly at the famous Sir Richard Steeles pub and a music promotion company called Bugbear. Then through a chance conversation with a regular at a pub, I was working in, I got a job in media – MTV, where I stayed for five years. Then I moved to a friend’s multi-media agency called Atomic 360. Feeling un-skilled I decided to train as a web designer. Towards the end of my postgraduate in Web Design and Development at Birkbeck College, I began studying Person-Centred Counselling (PCT) at City Lit College and found that whereas web design was an effort, working with people was more interesting and it came more naturally to me. In one hour at City Lit, I knew all of my fellow students’ names and had begun to know parts of their stories. At Birkbeck, I felt anonymous and never really worked out who my classmates were. I decided to park the web design and got a retail job at Folk Clothing, to support me through my studies. I spent 18 months volunteering with people who were struggling with addiction at Community Drug and Alcohol Team (CDT) on Blackfriars Road. This was a great team working under difficult circumstances and one of the blueprints for what I am doing and attempting to re-create now!
I did my counselling placements at City and East London Bereavement Service and at Number 42 – where I still work co-facilitating a men’s group and seeing individual clients. As I was coming to the end of my training, I got a job at Single Homeless Project (SHP), where I discovered that I had a knack for proactive problem solving and helping to get peoples’ voices heard. However, SHP wasn’t the place for me and when my girlfriend’s – nan’s – best mate’s – daughter – passed a message through the channels that Tenancy Sustainment Team North was looking for staff, I interviewed and got the job, which brings us to my present workplace at Tenancy Sustainment Team North (TST).
I am now studying Group Analysis at the Institute of Group Analysis and I hope that I will complete this training and end up working as a group analyst in the distant future. I can see that groups hold a lot of opportunities for working through social issues and family traumas.
Tell me about the mentoring/support scheme?
I work for a company called Look Ahead Care and Support who currently have the contract for Tenancy Sustainment (TST) in north London. We are, hopefully, the last stage of the Rough Sleepers Initiative (RSI). When people are independent enough to leave their hostel and live semi-independently in a self-contained flat, they will be assessed for our service. If accepted, they are offered a two-year tenancy, which comes with a support worker. We work with people for two years with a view to them becoming independent of our service and able to move on into their own tenancies.
How/when did it start?
Look Ahead won the TST contract in April 2012 and it is currently out to tender for April 2016.
Where is it available?
Entry into our service comes via Clearing House a central agency currently run by St Mungo’s. Clearing House coordinates the matching of people to properties; they receive referrals from outreach agencies and hostels.
Who provides it?
Look Ahead currently but this contract only runs until April 2016
How many people so you mentor/support?
I support 16 people at the moment, four of whom are Tottenham residents.
What areas of the scheme are most rewarding?
Seeing people making progress towards independence is amazing and it’s a great, yet a bittersweet moment when people leave the service. I really enjoy being part of a team that supports it’s members to in turn support vulnerable people.
What do you enjoy most?
I enjoy working creatively and thinking of new ways of improving our service. I love working with external agencies and have several new collaborative projects in the pipeline.
What made you take part?
I wanted to gain experience to find out what my niche could be. I have a passion for working with people who suffered bereavement and trauma with a particular specialism in working with those who have turned to addictive behaviours to deal with pain. Since working in my current role, I have focused on working with groups and I hope that this will provide the framework for my future work.
How did you get involved with the day trip for locals in Tottenham?
A Tottenham resident came up with the idea and I thought, great! Let’s make this happen. I am well supported by my managers and they were very good at providing the money for the coach. It was a really good opportunity to work alongside a resident and even though there were a few bumps in the road, we supported each other through them. It was a big moment for us and I believe [it] helped with both our confidences.
Would you like to do it again?
I would like to do this trip again as it was a wonderful opportunity for people to switch environments from one that is [the] inner city to one where people exist in a way that is more sympathetic to and in harmony with nature.
How can people get involved to mentor or be supported?
Apply to be support workers through services such as Look Ahead, Single Homeless Project or St Mungo’s or for specific homelessness jobs try:
Remember: the way into TST is via Clearing House that takes referrals via outreach or hostels. There are generic floating support teams that people can self-refer to. You will need to live in the borough of the agency that you are applying to for support and have support needs.