Lee's story

aaBrighton Lee Radford playing guitar 120503

When I settled at Emmaus it was like coming home at last. I had a bit of a nomadic upbringing which I think contributed a lot to the way my life has turned out.

As part of a Forces family I lost count of the number of places we lived before I decided to leave home. In my house, education was important, but if you weren’t going to study, then you went for a trade, preferably in the Forces.

Unfortunately, even when I was small I never fit into that mould. I liked art and music and at 17 I took off and travelled around Europe.

Of course, after a while I settled down and for many years I ran an employment agency. I would train team leaders to manage other people. I sometimes worked at a frantic pace, putting in long hours. But then I would crash, and not cope, and have days where I just couldn’t face any of it. The work grew more sporadic.

It took six years for me to be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Your thyroid controls virtually everything in your body. Your hormones, your heart rate, your stress levels – the way you feel physically and mentally. This meant that sometimes I was ‘up’ and doing well, and other times I was really down. My illness broke my relationship with my girlfriend. It was hard for us both, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to predict how I would feel from one day to the next.

I was signed off sick permanently as I couldn’t manage to do regular work. I drifted, going from B & Bs to campsites when my funds ran low. Sometimes I slept rough, but I always took care to hide it. I felt that if people didn’t know I was homeless they might speak with me, and offer me opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise. I ate food from food banks and I survived, but that’s all I was doing.

And then I found Emmaus. At first it was just a roof over my head, but now I’ve found more of a family kinship than I have ever felt before. People look out for each other in a way that was unfamiliar to me. Here it is other people first, self second. That is not usually the case in the western world.

My role here is in the garden, which lets me indulge my passion for creativity and artistic interpretation but also keeps me working hard, outside in the fresh air and feeling healthier every day.

Since living here I have had my thyroid out. It was tough at first but now, I can’t describe how good I feel physically.  The mental stuff is a little bit slower to mend, but I am coming along. It can take a long time to let go of past troubles and a view of yourself defined by illness.

The stronger I get, the more I feel I can give back.  I love interacting with customers and I am also taking part in an exhibition with several other companions and artists called ‘Challenging representations of homelessness in the media’.

I spent years not feeling in control of my own life. Here, I know what I am doing and I feel very safe and secure in the knowledge that my actions have a positive impact.