Testimonials and Member Stories
Below we share some of our members stories and testimonials (names have been changed and gender may have been changed to increase anonymity and respect privacy). This may help you to understand who we have supported in the project over the last 10 years and how we have supported them. Importantly, it may also help illustrate the way people’s individual contribution is valued.
Please help us support people by not seeking to establish or guessing or assuming who these stories describe.
Evelyn has been attending the GCP for almost 4 years. She has participated in training, workshops and taken part in a short residential. It took years to develop her confidence enough to the point that she would come away and live ‘in community’ with others – even for a long weekend. Evelyn came to GCP having experienced domestic violence, trauma, years of instability and a 6-month period of homelessness and staying in a large city-centre hostel. She suffers from physical ill-health including chronic back pain as well as depression and anxiety. Evelyn has had a number of very difficult relationships and trusted people who have abused her physically, sexually and emotionally. This started with her parents and wider family. More recently she was in a violent relationship with a partner for a number of years. Evelyn also feels that at times she was let down by services and support.
Evelyn initially struggled to access any support or services, including that offered by the Grassmarket, at the beginning of the pandemic and lockdown. But we persisted. She is exceptionally untrusting of internet-based programmes – concerned that her ex-partner will track her or access her details she is also very paranoid as to the DWP deeming her not entitled to benefits because she engages with activities, classes or courses. Evelyn’s home was broken into in the first few weeks of the lockdown – she felt she was treated appalling by the Police and experienced being dismissed and disregarded. Though little was stolen she felt violated and worried about her safety. She was alone and became very anxious and frightened.
With determination on our part, Evelyn gradually accepted support from GCP volunteers and staff – this started having regular phone contacts with a keyworker and then moved on to twice weekly ‘virtual walks’. GCP supplied her with a laptop and some data via her phone so she could access the on line coffee mornings and classes. GCP delivered food to her 3 times a week as she clearly wasn’t eating or cooking for herself and we became very concerned.
Evelyn benefited from regular ongoing support from phone calls to social distanced home visits, clear demonstrable actions that we cared such as meals and donation of devices to her to get her connected.
Evelyn has described GCP services, volunteers and staff as a lifeline and it is difficult to see how Evelyn would have got through the height of the lockdown without our support. She is very suspicious of agencies, reluctant to reach out and has experienced huge levels of trauma and abuse. She is a highly vulnerable woman. She needs the support of a community that stick with her and maintain a strong bond, like a family, no matter what happens and continually reminds her that she is important, that she contributes to our lives and she is not a burden. The Grassmarket is such a project.
“Up until I was 9 years old I had a loving and caring childhood. My father, who was my closest friend then became Ill and passed away. The very bottom fell out of my world. I then lost another family member, in fact I lost 5 family members over a span of 4 years. One of these was my brother-in-law whom became a father figure to me after the loss of my father. I even created a close bond with my neighbour’s dog which I loved and he was run over. This all fed me the idea that people were against me. I became very scared of losing people and therefore avoiding allowing people to become close to me or was unable to trust anyone. It may sound ridiculous but I’m scared of people getting hurt or dying because of an association with me. I became psychologically very withdrawn.
After I moved to Edinburgh I ended being for homeless for a short period but managed to get a part time job mail sorting and pay a friend some rent and get a room. I slept rough for a few days. I was cold. I was scared but weirdly I began to understand why people who have been homeless for a long time struggle to move into a house or hostel. I couldn’t think about anything and there’s nothing to worry about when you’re roughsleeping. It’s a sad logic and your logic becomes clouded by that experience because without a roof of your head, without your own security then it’s so hard to function.
I had a job at RBS for 2 ¼ years and was made redundant. I knew I wasn’t going to be at the job forever, he didn’t take the redundancy person and a few others had been made redundant. I took advantage of the re-employment teams some redundancy money and savings. I invested in a Training course – learning coding, which I had done but at a beginner’s level. I really struggled. I am light sensitive so the lights bothered me. I tried other tactics such as wearing sunglasses and a visor but that distracted me. The company then put in a light dimmer so the lights could be less bright but often people forgot and put the lights full beam. I totally lost confidence. I kept noticing that others were not struggling as much as me. I found out that most of them had previous experience. The course was condensed from 18 months in 16 weeks. The experience was a hellish experience – added to by the pressure of investing so much of my money and feeling I had wasted my time and money. I struggled with the intensity and level of work. Every day I went in feeling awful and going home tired and then having to do homework of which there was loads. I felt more and more exhausted. All hope and confidence was knocked out of me.
I started to go to serenity Café for around 7 months which supported people with different needs. I volunteered. I found this a genuine place where I could be comfortable and not be judged. Sadly that closed and I was bereft and alone again with nowhere to go. Then I was in the library one day when a lady mentioned the GCP, she originally mentioned the drop in meal on a Monday which appealed to me as I wasn’t always feeding myself and looking after myself very well. I did a little bit of research of the GCP online and was satisfied that they were doing a good job so filled out an application and did my induction. I could see immediately that the people there were genuine but it still took me 4 or 5 weeks to build trust.
After a few weeks I realised that I had become part of a community. I realised that I had strengths others didn’t and they had other strengths so we support eachother. Some people physically not as well as me but they may have confidence or strength of mind which I really lack. We compliment eachother. Originally it was frightening to come to activities because it was always such a busy place. I also recognised I have issues with male authority figures and it takes me a while to trust them – so I needed to overcome this.
I started volunteering in the kitchen for a few months and then had a dip in my mental health, which threw me out of the routine and I started coming in to GCP less and less. But the thing that helped me get back in is how I thought of GCP as a safety net with people that I had built a friendship with and could trust. I now occasionally meet up with people out with the project.
In the past there were times when I was suicidal. I planned suicide on many occasions. The only thing that stopped me was my sister and my nieces. I was just hanging on for them. Now I think like, ‘why would I want to do that when I feel like I do when I am with people at GCP’. I now always have something to look forward to every week because of the GCP which is really important.
I started taking meditation which made has helped me feel more stabilised. He feel more positive because of the community in the GCP. People have helped me and I have helped them. I feel I have greater self-esteem and self-worth than I ever felt working at RBS. The GCP has a good heart. I go as far as to say it is a heavenly oasis.
I have able to access other support. I was referred to Loreto by my housing officer. They supported me in decision making and giving me feedback which is helpful. They linked me to different agencies. Loreto supported me in managing people in my own house. They helped him install new get new curtains to help with my light sensitivity. These little things have helped him in getting by in his day to day, but thanks to GCP I am focusing on maintaining a quality life week-to-week. That’s about all I can manage but that’s loads than before. I would like to improve my confidence and feel less nervous. If people enjoy my music that’s brilliant. In time, who knows, I hope to be able to dream and set myself goals once more but now its one week at a time.”
“I worked non-stop for 32 years. I was always on the go all the time – but then everything stopped when I became ill.
I stopped working when I was diagnosed with cancer and that diagnosis, and the chemotherapy that followed, knocked me for six and depression set in. I started sleeping all day, drinking a lot and couldn’t get myself to get out of bed in the morning. My hygiene was all to pot as well but I wasn’t really aware of how bad things were getting – I think because I was having mental health problems I just got trapped in my own wee world. I wasn’t eating properly either.
My family were very worried about me. Social Work stepped in and carers came to visit me three times a day, mainly to make sure I was eating. I really didn’t want that, though – that was the work I had done before I was ill – as an alternative, the social worker suggested a visit to the Grassmarket Community Project – and the visit put me back on a positive path. I quickly found a welcoming place in the project’s tartan textiles group where you can volunteer and receive training in textile skills to produce a range of beautiful products. These have gone as far afield as California and Shanghai – and I am so proud to be playing my part in creating goods that raise funds to support the project.
I wasn’t sure how it would go at first as I last used a sewing machine about forty years ago, but I picked it up again really quickly.
Five years on, I now run the group on a Tuesday and I really enjoy it. I teach volunteers how to use the sewing machines. It’s funny – I have guys on the group who started off saying ‘No, no, no I don’t want to use the machine’ and now I can’t keep them off the machines!
This place is very special and it’s been really good for me. We’re all different and we come from all walks of life but we are friends. There are people with vulnerabilities, folk with health problems but we all get on. It’s like a big family.
When I’m here I’m getting a good healthy meal, whereas at home on your own you often don’t bother so much.
I have done other classes here too and the activities are really brilliant. The art group is really relaxed and it’s great for chilling out. I’ve also done some things I would never have dreamed of doing before: things like kayaking and even abseiling!
It’s fair to say that coming here saved my life. I think that, if I had continued the way I was going, the drink would have killed me. I would have been dead. I’ve no doubt about that.”
“I’ve been attending Grassmarket Community Project for over a year. Making contact with GCP has helped me get my life back on track – and presented new opportunities to reuse old skills. My problem was the drink. I served my apprenticeship as a joiner and drinking was a normal part of working life from the very start. It was just what you did, a few pints at dinner time and after work. The daily diet of drink took its toll. I started taking time off work because of the drink. One pub I went to had a group nicknamed The Monday Club – it was all building trade guys like me, off on the sick. Back then, you didn’t worry about losing your job – there was plenty work, and if you were paid off on the Friday you could get a new start somewhere else on the Monday. I lost quite a few jobs. I eventually realised the damage drink was causing and tackled the problem head–on. I was making myself ill. I was sick every morning and I knew it couldn’t go on. I felt awful, so I stopped drinking – and I haven’t had a drink for fourteen years now.”
Life took another setback when Jack’s dad became ill. “I looked after my dad constantly for two years, until he died. Then I realised that I was going to have to find work and somewhere to live. It got on top of me; I suppose life fell apart. I had no previous experience of the complicated benefits system but one Job Centre adviser directed me to a project that would help turn my fortunes around. She told me how important it is to have computer skills; for filling in forms, job searches, creating a CV, everything seems to need some computer knowledge now. When my adviser suggested I take computer classes at the Grassmarket I decided to give it a go. I quickly felt at home. I thought it might be like going back to school, but it wasn’t. It was a small friendly group and after a few sessions I got to know the others and came out of my shell. I enjoyed the learning too; I looked forward to the weekly sessions.
When that course ended, I volunteered for the furniture workshop, one of the Community Project’s social enterprises. Under the supervision of Tommy Steel a team of volunteers we transform unwanted church pews and other wood into beautiful, bespoke pieces of furniture and home furnishings. I thought I might be able to use my old skills. You don’t forget what you’ve learnt and the experience gained over the years, even if your skills are a wee bit rusty! I took to it right away and Tommy was brilliant.
I won art prizes at school for his drawing skills, and found the ideal opportunity to use these talents. I get to sketch out intricate designs onto wood and then burn on the image in a process called pyrography.
I had planned to just attend the drop-in on a Friday, but I enjoy the work and the company so much that I’ve been here every day now for a year! Tommy also encouraged me to talk to and support the Friday group. I didn’t think I would be much suited to that, as I’m quiet by nature, but it’s worked well. The banter is good! After having lived in a hostel, I now live happily in sheltered housing in Colinton. It really suits me. I’m on my own, but I have all the friends and company I need at the Grassmarket. I often bring home some scrap wood and make things: presentation plaques, ornaments and I even made my own fire surround! I do get wrapped up in the burning work and I’ll have to watch my electricity bills! Finding work at my age isn’t easy, but there’s been some interest in the things I’ve made so you never know what’s around the corner. I’m lucky that my drinking hasn’t caused any lasting physical damage and old family relationship problems have been resolved as well.
Life’s taken some twists and turns and there have been pretty dark times when you wonder if it’s all worth it. But things are good now. I gave myself a kick when I needed it and the Project has given me the friendship and support to help get my life back on track. I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Ruth came to the project having recently lost her first job in Admin due to her stress, anxiety and mental health whilst employed. In that job she felt out of her depth and struggled with the lack of support she experienced their and lasted only 2 months. She felt like she had failed. She felt worse than before she had started working.
She was known to the Grassmarket from over a year ago when she was first referred to the Grassmarket. She undertook 3 months volunteering as part of her recovery following being admitted to hospital for alcohol related incidences and suicidal thoughts. Her CPN referred her to the Grassmarket – a young vulnerable woman, very isolated and continually expressing thoughts of being a failure. Her mental health had deteriorated.
Ruth came back to the Grassmarket in June 2019 at the time of us recruited for the year 2 cohort of pre-apprenticeships. She expressed interest but the vacancies had been filled. When a young man struggled with his placement and left the programme Ruth took the opportunity. She has in 2 months massively grown in confidence. She takes up every opportunity she can and goes the extra mile. Sometimes she volunteers to answers the phone and direct visitors to the workshop. She is almost unrecognisable from when she first arrived.
Ruth volunteered to be part of a panel speaking about the project, about social enterprise and her life experiences to an international conference. She answered questions in front of 60 people in two workshops. She detailed her vulnerability and journey so far. She described the immense gratitude she felt towards the Grassmarket and for the Apprenticeship funding and support of the BBFF. She described how she had found life such a struggle and felt safe and supported at the Grassmarket.
Ruth goes from strength to strength enjoying admin tasks and supporting our Finance Administrator with tasks such as filing and completing checks. She has also accessed the opportunity to volunteer herself in the community befriending a young person in the community – following some training she will be supporting them and helping them with their struggles.
Ruth has been on an incredible journey and the support she has received from the BBFF could not have come at a more critical time for her. This has provided her, in her own words with: ‘A family, a group of people that support me and help me. The woodwork instructors have taught me so much already and I am feeling so much more confident.’