Hi, my name is Ian, and I feel extremely priviledged to be a Trustee of the Open Arms
Foundation, Kent, which was started in 2015 by three of us volunteers, who wanted to reach-out to the homeless of Ashford.
My story starts a lot earlier than this. In 2007, I was in a 'really dark' place with an addiction to alcohol and drugs. It seemed like I was going nowhere; messing up relationships; not holding down jobs, and eventually finding myself street homeless. Being homeless was bad enough, but when struggling with drugs and alcohol at the same time, it just became a vicious circle that looked as if there was no way out.
I spent a total of four years homeless on the streets of Ashford, Kent and have seen friends that I'd made, die over that time through drugs and alcohol.
I started attending a church who prepared a hot meal for the homeless every Monday, and alongside helping in the church, I started to help set up and prepare the meals on the Monday.
While attending and helping at the church, I found my faith in God, who I believe, enables me to have the strength to start climbing out from the situation that I'd been in, and to help rebuild my life for the better.
Over the next few months, I managed to get clean from the drugs, and eventually the alcohol too. I wouldn't say it was easy; in fact, I relapsed a few times, but with love and support, encouragement and practical help, I was pulled up and out from a downward, hopeless spiral.
It was whilst I was serving the homeless on a Monday, that I first met my wife Penny, who also served there. Not only had I found love, but someone who loved me for who I am, and not for what I had! Because, trust me, I had absolutely nothing!
We have been married now for nearly 10 years and have not stopped serving and helping the homeless on a weekly basis.
At the start of 2019, my wife Penny and I, along with another Penny, who has worked alongside us for nearly four years, decided to become a charity in our own right, to try and make a difference to the homeless, vulnerable and needy of Ashford.
I know from personal experience, that the support and compassion of charities that help can be literally life changing, and we believe, that EVERY LIFE MATTERS!
Every person has a story to tell of where they came from and the situations that they find themselves in today, but we CAN alter the outcome of our lives, and have a future that looks so different.
We can replace HOPELESSNESS with HOPE, HOMELESSNESS with a HOME, and a PAST with a FUTURE, through love and compassion for those in need.
I was 18 when I first realised that I was keen to help those less fortunate, and those in need of love and support. I had met with God, who I realised cared about 'these sort of people too!
I registered as an official prison visitor, to just be a friend and a listening ear, and this led on to working for the Youth Offending Service too. These were young, first time offenders, and it was trying to help them choose a better path than the one they'd attempted to go down and yet failed.
I had started voluntarily helping in a church, where an ex-homeless guy decided to start up providing a free meal, coffee, tea and friendly chat for the homeless and those in need, in 2002. it was a very humbling and rewarding thing to do, when realising that in spite of how England is about the fifth richest country in the world, that there were so many people struggling in life! It was so easy for people to fall through 'the gap' in society, and not even be noticed! Some of them had only the clothes on their back; no food, no money and nowhere to lay their heads. My heart went out to those struggling in this way, so I found it very fulfilling to help them in just 'providing them' with the simplest things in life, that many of us take for granted.
My work also involved becoming a Mentor for young people too; those struggling to work out their identity in life. I endeavoured to teach them that each of them mattered as individuals in life, and that they all had a purpose. That they should hold their heads up high and be bold in life. I personally could empathise with them, as I had a very low self-esteem in my early days; was picked on at school for being shy and was very sensitive.
Everyone of us matters though, and I wanted to show these people, that they weren't just 'down and outs', as other people had labelled them as, but they were precious and unique, and they mattered! My heart goes out to these people, and I ended up being married to a lovely man, who was once homeless, living on the streets, and a drug-user and alcoholic. Ian and I and another friend, also called Penny, who we had met through the church, decided to start up our own charity to help these lonely, vulnerable and homeless people. We have a lovely, hard-working team of volunteer staff who help us now, and we want to progress in what we do, to bring healing to our Guests hearts; and to help them get back into society; not to just re-house them, but to help them in every area, to be the precious individuals that they are.