• Sarah Tempest

Turning Lives Around

Leigham Stephens

Leigham Stephens is an articulate and friendly young man. When you meet him you feel at ease, but he has not had it easy. He describes his life as good days and bad. Thankfully, the good days are becoming the norm since he became a resident at one of Rooftop’s Young Person’s Schemes (YPS) in the summer.

Leigham grew up in Lydney in the Forest of Dean. His parents had split up and he lived with his mum, his three sisters and his younger brother. His mum had her hands full with five children and running her own business, but she always put her children first and oversaw a happy home.

At 16 he left school and enrolled on a carpentry course. He was quite an entrepreneur and sold items that he made at Taurus Crafts. At 18 he moved into doing loft conversions via a friend of his mum. At this point the good and the bad days began to affect him and despite all the help and love shown him by his mum, Leigham had started on a dangerous path.

He says he was becoming a nuisance at home, was not behaving well, was taking drugs and potentially putting his younger siblings at risk. He had ongoing arguments with his mum’s partner, who tried his best to make everything work and to assist Leigham. His mum and step-dad tried to help, offered support and contacted agencies, but he was in a dark place. It became intolerable and was not fair on the rest of the family. Leigham went to live with his dad. He had intended, and hoped, that it would be a short-term move. Sadly, it did not become so, and he began to lose contact with his mum.

His dad was always out, there was rarely any food in the house and Leigham was not in a happy place. He would have friends’ round for company, but his dad did not like this, so he started going out and began drinking too much. People he met took advantage of him, knowing that he was often home alone, and tried to get Leigham to let them hang out in his house. Leigham’s drinking worsened.

Money was an issue and Leigham would regularly have to open the door to bailiffs trying to collect debts. As his dad was usually out, Leigham was left to deal with it. One day his dad said he needed to sell the house, but it would be OK, they would find somewhere together. This did not happen as his dad moved in with a girlfriend.

Leigham became homeless, sofa surfing or staying with the organisation Nightstop. His Grandfather agreed to take him in for a bit, but Leigham’s drinking was too much and the upset meant he again had to move. He thought he’d found something good in private rented accommodation, but that was short lived when that house was sold.

Again, he found himself sofa surfing or with Nightstop. They helped him to get a phone so that he had some contact details, and he regularly found himself in the Council’s offices trying to find somewhere to live.

A room in a shared house run by a company came up, so Leigham moved there. It was £411 for a room, then you had to feed a meter to get any power. There were supposed to be shared facilities, but things like the washing machine did not work and complaining to the landlord changed nothing. Leigham started drinking more and as people in the property regularly had narcotics, he had easy access to drugs.

Every weekend something would happen, and the police would come round to deal with anti-social behaviour, loud music, or drugs. Being drunk became a coping mechanism for Leigham, and he was often in a terrible state. One day, he was arrested on a drug offence and he said that’s when alarm bells rang, he really needed to do something and to change his circumstances. He contacted his mum and said he needed help.

During an interview at the police station he said to the police that he needed and hoped to get into supported housing. PC Dean really helped him and without his support, Leigham is not sure he would be here. He was emotionally and mentally drained, he was living in a place where the possibility of violence was palpable and he had to learn to defend himself as he was hit on several occasions. He was living off foodbanks, taking out hardship loans and was constantly trying to cope without money.

One day the police knocked on the door. Leigham thought, oh no, not again, but it was PC Dean saying pack your bags, you are moving, we have got you a new place.

In July 2020, Leigham moved into one of Rooftop’s Young Person’s Schemes, Lydney Gateway. Our YPS are supported schemes where we offer advice and guidance to allow young people with troubled lives to address any issues they have, and move on to be able to lead independent and hopefully happy lives.

As often occurs, it can be difficult for someone who has been through trauma and addiction to settle in straight away and Leigham received warnings about his behaviour several times. He was given a Notice to Quit if his attitude didn’t change.

Leigham said the fact that staff at the Gateway had time to listen, would chat to him and offer understanding and guidance, made all the difference and was everything he needed to start to turn his life around. He had no one to talk to before, but now he had support.

He took some tests, and these showed that he had become reliant on alcohol, so he was referred to Change, Grow, Live. CGL is a nationwide charity that pioneered taking a holistic approach by looking at everything going on in someone’s life. They realised early on that drugs and alcohol played a role in the cycle of homelessness and offending, so started to look for ways to provide support with those issues. Medical reviews have also made sure that Leigham is now prescribed appropriate medication.

CGL’s support and that of Rooftop staff at Lydney Gateway has had a massive positive impact on Leigham. He says it has given him more focus and he has been volunteering at Lydney Hub where they hold Youth Sessions.

A member of the Hub says “Leigham conducted himself brilliantly. He was polite and interacted with the young people in an excellent manner, he talked to them on their level while still leading the conversation for the youngsters to best get involved with the activity. These comments were echoed by my team and the Hips staff unprompted”

He is now involved with Young Gloucestershire, a project overseen by the Princes Trust. He is currently helping to refurbish a community centre in Gloucester. The Princes Trust group leader for the area, Sophie, says

“Leigham is performing brilliantly on The Princes Trust TEAM Programme so far, he has given 100% attendance and effort during all sessions and activities. He has been happy to try everything and encourage others to get involved. "

"He has been welcoming to all his team members and is always the first to volunteer and help. It is an absolute pleasure to have Leigham on my team, I am happy to be able to be a part of his journey. “

Leigham says he feels a purpose by being part of the Prince’s Trust project, has enjoyed being part of team building exercises and working on the community centre. He took the lead on a presentation to leaders from Young Gloucestershire, the council and representatives of the community centre, and felt a real sense of achievement. He feels more confident and comfortable in himself.

When this project is over, he will move onto CV writing, practices for job interviews and he has a job placement lined up with the Salvation Army. He feels positive about his future and after a long absence, he has now seen his younger brother. He had not seen his siblings in a long time, though his family had not stopped him, and this left him feeling cut off and lonely.

The support from Rooftop has really driven him on and one positive side effect of Covid he says, has been not going to pubs.

“Leigham has fully embraced all the support and encouragement he has received during his time with Rooftop.” Says Gemma Freeman, Rooftop Life Skills Worker. “When he came to Lydney Gateway, he was struggling with his life. Together with the support of the staff, he now has clear goals for where he wants to go. He is achieving more and more as time goes on and is seeing the benefit of his hard work. We are all very proud of him.’

Leigham's family are proud of him too and relieved that he's changing his ways and accepting support.

For young people and their families, when drink and drugs become the coping mechanisms for difficulties, everybody gets hurt. Services such as Rooftop's YPS and those of partner agencies we work with, can help people onto a more successful path and turns people's lives around.