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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 ACT's prisons pastor, Susan, and outreach & mentoring manager, Rob. 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 a supported house made a big difference. The team were there for me – Jemma (ACT's housing manager) 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. Some of it's my doing, but ultimately it's God.

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

Raymond's story

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I worked in government finance for many years, where my work included mentoring. I’m conscious of the blessing my home is so I wanted to help a charity that provides homes for others – and mentoring seemed a good way to get involved.

I started meeting with Charles a few months ago.

He shares parts of his story with me as he feels he wants, so my picture is not complete and it doesn’t need to be. We’ve been working on confidence in group settings and getting to know the Bible better.

Talking it through

He’s quite shy and an introvert, and I am, too. We talk through strategies to use, thinking ahead to a group setting and talking through ways to prepare and approaches to use – how to behave, what he wants to say, what he doesn’t.

We're slowly opening up about more of our own lives as we get to know each other better. Sharing builds trust and trust leads to more sharing – it’s a virtuous circle.

A hope and a future

Charles's goal is to get more training and then secure paid employment once some specific circumstances make that feasible.

It’s a difficult time to get a job, and there will be knockbacks.

But I’m here to help him through that, to cope with it, learn from it, pick himself up and try again.

I took part in some very useful training mornings and have ACT’s handbook, which is a valuable reminder. It is important and reassuring to know that the backup of ACT is there were I to run into a tricky situation.

If you’re reading this and considering becoming a mentor, I’d encourage you to look into it. Join an ACT training session to find out more. Pray about it. It is a commitment and it can have challenges. But if you feel a draw, maybe it’s God.

I know I’ve enjoyed it.

'My ACT house became a home'

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I’m Mousa. I've just started as ACT’s housing manager after three years working for other homeless charities in Oxford.

I’m really looking forward to helping people achieve goals like overcoming an addiction or getting back in touch with their children.

I already know some of the properties pretty well – because I used to live in one.

Nearly homeless

Twelve years ago, I was doing a master’s degree at Oxford Brookes. Then one stupid mistake took me away from everything. I spent six years using Class A drugs. I almost ended up on the street, but then ACT found me a place in one of their houses.

At first, I was just relieved to have a roof over my head.

But then slowly, slowly, it became so much bigger than that.

Every week, people from the ACT houses and the team all met up, and we would cook and sit and eat together. Sometimes we’d worship together.

I’m from the Middle East and the concept of family is so strong for me. But when I got baptised I lost my family. We’re in touch but I don’t know when I’ll be able to see them again. But in ACT I found true community.

A new chance and a new direction

I also got healed from my addiction, and my ACT house became a home. I had a new start, but I wasn’t sure what direction to take. I was confused.

But I began doing voluntary jobs with ACT, cooking for homeless people.

I was spending time with people who lived on the edge, on the outside, because of things they’d done or painful things that had happened to them.

I said to myself, ‘Mousa, you know what it’s like to be drug addicted and you can help,’ – and Jesus is always with the poor people, anyway.

So something started developing. Those six years I lost to drugs weren’t wasted. They were a learning experience.

I can see so much opportunity ahead of people and I really wanted to give back, so I found a job with a homeless charity.

I also fell in love. When we got engaged, I started wondering who my best man would be, who would be my family. My wife has a tribe of relatives! But who was going to be there for me?

Then, on my wedding day, ACT's Director Dave Portway was my best man. People from ACT were there. They were and are my family. I can’t find words to describe what that means.

Whatever stupid things I’ve done, or mistakes I make, I know they’re going to support me. This acceptance from ACT is huge, beyond words.

A place at the table

Maybe I can explain it best by telling you about the moment I love most every year – the Christmas meal.

The team spend hours getting everything ready – balloons and presents and food and decorations.

Every time, I sit there for a moment in silence.

I look up and down the table at the guys chatting and laughing. Each one has been invited to take their place at the table.

I stop eating and I just sit there and say, ‘Wow.

I can’t wait to walk the journey with the people I’m going to be supporting.

We’re family.

Rostan's story

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I went straight from the airport to join the British Army when I first came to the UK from my home in St Vincent.

I spent 12 years as a soldier, and served in Iraq.

That was where I was travelling one night, in the back of an Army Land Rover, trying to get some sleep.

Something told me to put my helmet on. For a split second I argued with myself, but then I put it on ­– and the vehicle overturned.

That helmet saved my life, and I believe that prompt was from God.

After Iraq I developed post-traumatic stress disorder. I was in Germany when I left the Army and it was an alien world to me. I didn’t know how to adjust to civilian life, I had no support and I really struggled. Then I made some mistakes and got into trouble.

I ended up moving to Oxford, homeless. I went to lots of different organisations to look for help. They promised to support me but as soon as they heard I’d got into trouble they turned their backs on me, just like the Army did.

Then I met Rob from ACT. I told him my story and he said they could help me. To my great surprise, they did what they said they’d do.

They gave me somewhere to live. They helped me get therapy and medication for my PTSD. They brought me into a community of other guys in a similar situation, and I realised I wasn’t alone.

They found me a mentor who helps give me direction. I needed that after being on the streets. To know I could talk to him, that he’d be there for me every week – that was a big development.

What does an ACT house mean to me? It’s everything.

My current status is that I don’t have recourse to public funds (NRPF) and I’m going through a really long, difficult application process. If I didn’t have accommodation I’d be out on the street.

My house is somewhere I can have a foundation and start afresh, somewhere that gives me an opportunity to choose which direction to go in. I studied when I was in the Army and I have two degrees – one in engineering and one in child psychology. I want to work in overhead engineering when I’m back on my feet.

For now, the least I can do is get on board and participate so I’ve been volunteering with ACT’s meals for people who are homeless. I’m part of the welcome team at church and I also volunteer with a food bank.

I want to do everything I can to support ACT. Without them, I don’t know where I would have ended up. They made me feel like I was somebody again.

Jemma's story

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After a family move, I’m now leaving my role as Housing Team Lead after 11 amazing years. But I can’t do that without sharing my journey with you.

Back in 2011, I was working as a Ward Sister through a particularly difficult time in the NHS and I started really praying into my work future.

Just a little while later, something extraordinary happened with a basement flat my husband and I were renting out.

Each year we’d advertise it for young professionals. But this year we felt led to rent to someone other landlords wouldn’t consider.

So, when a man who’d just left rehab asked to rent it, we agreed.

But when we visited six months later, we found the flat in darkness and the tenant really unwell. His housing benefit had stopped because he hadn’t filled in the right forms. No rent was coming in and we had little choice but to get advice about eviction.

Then, as I walked down the stairs, eviction papers in hand, something completely unexpected happened.

I had a sudden, strong impression of Jesus standing in front of me. Deep down I felt that going ahead would be like asking Jesus to leave the flat – and I couldn’t do it.

So, instead, I told the tenant we’d go away and pray and find a way to help him.

Back outside, my husband looked at me and said,

We can’t ask Jesus to leave our flat.’

We’d had the same experience on those stairs. But we felt powerless to help. We didn’t know the system or how it worked.

Realising how complicated it was proved a real eye-opener. How can a person who’s struggling navigate such a system successfully?

I felt a powerful sense of blinkers coming off, and an awareness of the need for justice in this area starting to rise.

At a church conference shortly afterwards, a speaker from another city shared about her church’s housing response to the poor, and a nurse who’d left her job to start it. Two friends came up to say they felt it related directly to me.

So, after 17 years’ nursing, I found myself handing in my notice and approaching ACT’s leaders.

ACT had no houses at the time. I took on an unformed role, with no clear sense of what I needed to do. I spent weeks praying, thinking and listening.

I felt like I wasn’t achieving – or even doing – anything. I’d spend time on my journey into work just crying out to God in frustration.

Then, one day, as I was walking down the street I saw a familiar figure coming towards me.

It was our former tenant, and he brought a strong reminder of why I was doing what I was doing. He’d just been released from prison and didn’t know what to do next.

Not long afterwards, a couple in our church got in touch to say they wanted to buy a house for ACT.

We looked at a 5-bed property which could house plenty of people at the same time.

But then former rough sleeper Seamus gave an inspired word.

Not knowing anything about our plans, he told us he’d had a picture of two houses. The first was big but crumbling because it had no foundations. The second was a couple of streets away and much smaller. But it had deep foundations.

In the end we let go of the idea of the 5-bed house and found a much better, smaller one just a couple of streets away.

And so my role developed. I focused on supporting the people who lived in the first house, and then the second (which included our former tenant).

My learning curve was steep.

I learned to listen between the lines when someone said, ‘I’ve not touched drugs for weeks…’

I also learned about our limitations and the value of honouring other organisations and their expertise by referring to or linking with them.

It’s been amazing to see God’s covering of the houses, which have grown to 12 over time.

Every house we take on has a story, of how God has moved its owners to make it available, of how he’s led them to the right house, of how its tenants arrive and how they go on to thrive.

I’m thankful beyond words for what I’ve seen and been part of through ACT.

The guys are treasure, and God reveals himself through the faces, words and actions of each one of them.

Billy's Best Eggs Benedict

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Former ACT family member Billy is now a senior chef at a country hotel. Here's his guide to making the perfect Eggs Benedict for an indulgent weekend brunch.

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 2 toasting muffins
  • 4 slices of Parma ham

For the hollandaise sauce

  • 125g butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ½ tsp white wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper

Method

To make the hollandaise:

STEP 1

Melt the butter in a saucepan and skim any white solids from the surface. Keep the butter warm.

STEP 2

Put the egg yolks, white wine or tarragon vinegar, a pinch of salt and a splash of ice-cold water in a metal or glass bowl that will fit over a small pan. Whisk for a few minutes, then put the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and whisk continuously until pale and thick – about 3-5 minutes.

STEP 3

Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the melted butter bit by bit until it’s all incorporated and you have a creamy hollandaise. (If it gets too thick, add a splash of water.) Season with a squeeze of lemon juice and a little cayenne pepper. Keep warm until needed.

To make the Eggs Benedict:

STEP 1

Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil (at least 2 litres) and add 3 tbsp of white wine vinegar. Lower the heat down to a gentle simmer.

STEP 2

Break the eggs into four separate coffee cups or ramekins. Split the muffins and toast them for a few minutes either side and warm some plates.

STEP 3

Swirl the simmering vinegared water briskly to form a vortex and slide in an egg. It will curl round and set to a neat round shape. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.

STEP 4

Repeat with the other eggs, one at a time, re-swirling the water as you slide in the eggs. Spread some sauce on each muffin, scrunch a slice of ham on top, then top with an egg. Spoon over the remaining hollandaise and serve at once.

Cath's story

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I’m a widow and single mum. When my husband died, I stopped work to care for our son.

I also found myself with new resources I’d inherited – and choices to make about how to use them.

As my son neared the end of primary school, I got a part-time admin job with a local mental health charity’s housing project.

It was there that I heard about a conference at the King’s Centre on housing needs in our city and different churches’ responses.

I’d already been thinking about how I could use a flat I’d bought. I met someone from ACT and took their contact details – but didn’t progress it further at that stage. It was clear that conditions on my lease would make it hard to rent the property to anyone on benefits.

Then a few interesting things happened.

The freehold on the flat came up for sale. I realised it would give me lots more freedom in how I used the property. So I spoke to the owner of the flat downstairs from mine about buying it. Together, we went through the process of purchasing the freehold.

For some reason, I’d assumed he wouldn’t be interested in selling the property. But at the end of the negotiation, I asked if he’d like to sell – and he said he’d love to!

After making him an offer I ended up owning both flats and the freehold.

I’d seen the potential when I bought the first flat but now I could see a way to rent both properties through ACT. God’s hand was so evident in it all.

Right from the beginning it was lovely to deal with Dave and Jemma [from ACT]. They were quick to respond, and also to make sure I felt no pressure. We were able to pray together and trust the decision to the Lord.

It’s reassuring to know ACT know what they’re doing. Life gets messy sometimes, but they deal quickly with any issues that arise. They have their eyes open, and are drawing on God’s strength and wisdom.

It’s been exciting to see how God has used the two flats. The holistic approach ACT take – providing housing plus practical, emotional and spiritual support – can be really life-changing.

I’ve also loved seeing how different churches and charities in the city work together in partnership.

Every now and then a tenant passes through my church and I see that they’re doing well. It’s a particular thrill that my property was home for Mousa, ACT’s Housing Manager, at a point in his journey.

I’d encourage anyone thinking about making a property available in this way to do it.

I’d even be tempted to ask, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’



Send us an email at hello@actoxford.com if you'd like to explore making a property available – we'd love to hear from you.

Contact ACT

ACT
40 Pembroke Street
Oxford
OX1 1BP

hello@ACTOxford.com
01865 254800

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