Starts at Home - Emma's story

Bernicia is proud to support the National Housing Federation’s ‘Starts at Home’ campaign, celebrating the value of care and support services and how essential it is for people to have a place to call home.

Our Ashirk facility offers a range of services through our specialist team to support families facing homelessness and other crises. They help them get back on their feet, providing a temporary property until they have the skills and confidence to move into their own home.

Families can self-refer to Ashkirk or be referred by agencies such as health services, social care, police, probation or education – with referrals processed by Sunderland City Council.

Gavin Forsyth, Homeless Service Senior Support Worker at Bernicia, leads the team who often support people when their life is at its lowest ebb.

It’s not just about getting people a house, it’s often about helping them tackle the issues that left them without a place to call home.

Here’s Emma’s story. She spent 18 months at Ashkirk with her children, getting her life back on track after a period of intense mental distress and a suicide attempt.

Gavin and the Ashkirk team supported her through her mental health crisis and she now has her own home on Sunderland’s Pennywell estate.

“Ashkirk was like my safety blanket,” said Emma.

“When I was there I know I was safe. I was always on somebody’s radar – somebody was always going to be looking out for me.

“It wasn’t even about the big stuff for me, it was the little stuff where we could have a coffee together and chat about nowt. It gave me that degree of normality back. When I went there I had normality.

“It was gated and I knew it would be safe for my kids. I looked at it as somewhere to live and somewhere to start again.”

Gavin and the team helped get Emma a mental health worker who changed her medication which significantly improved her mental health.

He also worked to get her back dated Personal Independence Payments of £1,800 to pay off her arrears with another social housing landlord, that has helped her get her own home.

“I had a mental breakdown in May 2020,” said Emma. “Leading up to my breakdown I’d lost my home because I’d stopped managing bills and everything.

“So really, I had nothing when I went to Ashkirk.

“There was a time when I had psychosis on the bus, it was probably the most scary time of my life.

“I was hearing voices, I went home to Ashkirk trying to deal with it myself and Gavin knew straight away when he saw me that something was wrong.

“I probably wouldn’t have been here without them because I had a suicide attempt. When I was ill I just felt so alone at times.

“Gavin became my support worker. I didn’t used to do anything for myself, I didn’t even make my own doctor’s appointments, Gavin used to do it.

“He would sit in with me on meetings I had to have with social services with my kids. It was priceless, absolutely priceless because I couldn’t do it myself.

“It was more than just getting a house for me because I genuinely needed the support.

“It took Gavin and the team a few months working with me for me to regain confidence. It didn’t happen overnight because I was so ill.

“But they never gave up. There were times I thought they would be sick of me, ‘something’s happened again’, but they never gave up and were always patient.”

Life has now taken a significant turn for the better and Emma hopes to start a college course with a view to a career in mental health support work.

“I’ve got a family life now,” said Emma.

“When I moved in here it was an accomplishment to get my family home again, something that I never thought I’d have again when I was at the lowest points in my life.”