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Stories and updates from the ACT community

Eddy’s story

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Before ACT, my life was run on self-will. God was around me, but I wasn’t open to him. I was using illicit drugs, a long-term relationship broke down and I became homeless.

Then I went to jail.

The first time I came out I ended up rough sleeping and five days later I was using again – then back in jail.

I got to know Rob (ACT’s outreach & mentoring manager) and Susan (ACT’s prisons pastor), so when I was coming up to release again I wrote to ask for support.

Rob came to pick me up at the gate the day I got out. We went for a cheeky McDonalds – it tasted so good after prison food. I was so nervous coming out, so seeing a familiar face massively helped.

We had a good chat about the days ahead on the journey to Oxford. ACT were great at liaising with my probation officer and my family – there was lots of communication.

A home of my own

Moving into an ACT house made a big difference. The team were there for me – Jemma met with me on Mondays, on Wednesdays I’d go to the ACT family breakfast, on Thursdays a group of us would go do gardening work. Spending time positively like this really helped, and so did seeing people at different stages of recovery, journey and faith. I could see how much people changed if they really wanted to.

There have been lots of transformations. I’ve seen people who were addicts using less and less, and getting clean. I’ve seen people choosing not to commit crimes any more. I’ve seen people really change.

One thing that helped me a lot was not being rushed to move out. I could talk to people who know me, pray with them and look for discernment. There’s so much support behind the scenes that no one else would ever know about.

Moving out, moving on

I moved on from an ACT house last year. It’s not an easy time for anyone because of the pandemic. But ACT have been brilliant. Even though I’ve moved out I’m still 100% supported. I know if I’ve got a problem I can phone someone and we’ll get a coffee. The door’s not closed on me.

I set up my own business seven months ago, and ACT really helped me. I’ve done something similar before but this time it’s all done right – business accounts, money for the tax bill. I know good comes from that. I’ve taken on two lads and we’ve got four months’ work booked in. It’s beautiful to have a full diary like that.

It’s mad how things have changed.

Life is really good.

'This is the family'

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James* has been part of the ACT community for several years, and lives in one of our supported houses. He explains what this has meant to him in this very challenging year:

Before ACT, I'd spent most of my life in institutions.

I am now clean, a full-time worker, and I’ve never been in a better place.

This isolation and lockdown has been very hard. I KNOW without my faith and staff contacting me daily, sending food parcels – I know where I would be.

I'm so blessed, lucky – however you wish to look at it.

This is the family.’

*name changed

A city-wide outpouring of kindness

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Shared meals, 1:1 mentoring over coffee, house visits, cooking sessions and celebrations. Because ACT is a community, so much of what we do is designed around spending time together as we support people to rebuild their lives after homelessness or prison.

But the COVID-19 pandemic meant that had to change overnight.

Thanks to our brilliant volunteers – some of them former rough sleepers themselves – supporters and funders, ACT has been able to focus on meeting people’s most urgent needs as the crisis has unfolded. Collaborating closely with longstanding partners across the city, we radically reordered our activities to adapt to the fast-changing situation.

We’ve been cooking up to 70 hot meals a day (nearly 500 a week!) for Oxford’s homeless community. An amazing team of community members, staff and volunteers has been hard at work every day preparing meals packed with protein, carbohydrates and vitamins. These are then given out to people who are homeless or vulnerably-housed outside St Aldates Church.

11 practical ways to stay safe and well during the pandemic

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This is a tough time for everyone. While key workers are working flat out in highly challenging circumstances, others are finding themselves alone and fearful about the future. Whatever our experience, many of us are feeling increased levels of anxiety and loss.

It’s particularly hard for rough sleepers and people recently released from prison. Many have poor mental and physical health, reduced immunity, addiction issues and other vulnerabilities that place them at heightened risk at this time.

Alongside official government advice to:

  • stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times when you go out
  • wash your hands regularly

there are other ways to stay as safe and well as possible throughout this period.

Here are eleven practical suggestions:

  1. Find and stick to a daily rhythm that suits you. A routine can bring welcome structure, so try getting up at the same time each morning, and including regular activities such as meal preparation or calls with friends or family.
  2. Prioritise regular exercise – this can help lower your stress levels, increase your energy levels, boost your mental health, and improve your sleep.
  3. Get out into a green space whenever you can. Research shows that just 15 minutes spent outside in a park, meadow or wood helps people to feel psychologically restored.
  4. Be intentional about eating balanced meals. Boredom and stress can lead to poor eating patterns, which in turn can lead to a dip in mood. Break the cycle by being as thoughtful as you can about what you eat.
  5. Keep up contact with friends and family. Physical isolation doesn’t mean social isolation, and there are lots of fun ways to stay in touch – from online pub quizzes and virtual coffees to retro-style phone calls.
  6. Cut back on the media you follow. Too long spent following the news can be overwhelming. Try checking in just once a day to stay up to date.
  7. Switch off. Carving out regular time to reflect quietly, pray or meditate can bring much-needed calm and space.
  8. Make a self-soothe box. Fill an old shoe box with things that are helpful or special to you – like the lyrics of a favourite song, stress toys, a room scent or notes from friends or family.
  9. Treat yourself by spending time doing the things you love – whether that’s dancing, listening to music, painting, watching comedy, growing some veg...
  10. Breathe. If you’re feeling anxious deep, slow breathing can really help. Try box breathing, for example, where you breathe in for four counts, hold your breath for four, breathe out for four and hold for four. Then repeat.
  11. Be self-aware. Do you know the signs that indicate you’re not coping? Maybe it’s headaches, an inability to focus or irritability – whatever they are, watch out for warning signs and take action when you spot them.

If you find yourself struggling, we recommend the help that these organisations provide:

24/7 Mental Health Helpline for Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire for advice about ways to access mental health support

Samaritans for people finding it hard to cope

Turning Point for drug or alcohol issues

Mind for mental health concerns

Cruse Bereavement Care for support with grief

Christians Against Poverty for debt counselling

Citizens Advice for help accessing benefits

Contact ACT

40 Pembroke Street
01865 254800

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