‘I’d been working as a care assistant in an elderly care home for 14 years. Looking after my daughter with help from my parents.  So, I was bringing her up as a single parent with the help of my mother and father. As my daughter got older it became apparent that there were problems, so she went to a specialist school. When she reached her 13th birthday, she went to visit her mother and she never came back until she was 15. In that period, she became pregnant and had my grandson.

'Anyway, my Mum got cancer and developed Alzheimer’s, she was gradually getting worse. So I was keeping an eye on my mother, trying to bring up my daughter because my mother was no longer able to look after anyone, even herself. Everything was put on me and I was going to work and looking after people there as well.

'I got to a point where I went to Bideford Bridge and I was going to jump off. I tried it twice, I even marked the spot where I was going to jump - I’d had enough. I was that close to it (holds fingers millimetres apart) but I just couldn’t do it, if it wasn’t for the cars going over that bridge – because I didn’t want anyone knowing (I would have jumped). So I gave up in the end. It went out of my mind after that. I’m glad I didn’t, but people do (commit suicide).

'One day I was at work, it wasn’t anything anyone said, it was just that something in my head popped – I’d had enough. I was all my life working, bringing up my daughter, mum having cancer and Alzheimer’s and getting worse. What broke me in the end, a part of me disappeared with my daughter, and I gave up. I couldn’t cope. I walked away from my flat, my job, everything. I left as if someone had just made breakfast and walked out, that’s how I left it.

'I called a friend and he let me sleep on his sofa for three months. Eventually, I left and slept on the Tarka Trail for a while and then [a friend] said to me “get yourself up to the field”. There were certain amenities there – a shed, a bore hole for fresh water, chickens in a caravan next to mine for fresh eggs. I’d cycle 20 – 30 miles a day just to get something to eat. Then [a homeless man] on the Tarka Trail told me about Freedom. A place where I could get something to eat, a tent, sleeping bag. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been sleeping rough for about 18 months and I hadn’t heard of Freedom before that.

'Freedom put me in touch with [a North Devon Homeless Outreach team member], he keeps a track of all the homeless people and keeps an eye on them. By this time I knew a lot of people on the street. When you’re not homeless you don’t know them, I didn’t see them [before I was homeless]. It opened my eyes to a different world, a world that didn’t exist previous to that. I met so many people when I was homeless, five of the people I originally met; they’re all dead now.

'I got friendly with some ladies who were running a soup kitchen and started volunteering with them; I was still living in the field at that stage. My daughter moved back to Barnstaple around that time and started coming to the soup kitchen. I was worried she would get involved with the wrong type of people – I don’t mean that in any derogatory way to the homeless people, but there were particular people that she shouldn’t really be in contact with - so I walked away from it. Shortly after that, it closed.

'I was also coming into Freedom at that time – just to get a meal, be somewhere warm, and have someone to talk to. I met [two Freedom workers] and they asked me what my situation was. They were brilliant that lot, they were. They got me into one of Freedom’s houses. For the first two or three weeks I couldn’t sleep in a bed because I kept falling out – it was too soft. We’re not used to, you know, beds; hard floors, [that’s what] we’re used to.

'Then I came into Freedom to ask if I could volunteer. Everyone knew I was a bike fanatic. I live and breathe mountain bikes and most homeless guys, they need a bike. I’ve built my own mountain bike, I was well into it [mountain biking] before I was on the street and I am still.

'So I was introduced to [Salvage manager], and he said he’d heard I was into bikes. I told him I loved it and they (Salvage) have a lot of bikes, so I volunteered there for 3 or 4 hours a week and still do. They (Freedom) introduced me to Pluss and they sent me on a bike mechanic training course with CyTech, it’s the Arc de Triumph of training courses for bikes. It’s the only qualification recognised by bike shops and the Traders Association.

'It was an experience [doing the CyTech course in Cowley, Oxford]. I was terrified of getting busses and trains because of the people because it’s busy and I don’t do well with people. But I went there and stayed in a hotel, did the training and it was good fun.

'I still come to Freedom each day. I need to, to survive. I can’t afford to keep the flat on JSA, it’s too expensive, I can’t afford Economy 7 (electricity). I can’t afford those luxuries, but then your average family is like that. So that’s that.

'I come here now not just because I need to, but because I want to; it’s my community, my friends are here, my colleagues I work with are here. It’s like a new beginning, it started here (at Freedom) and it will probably end here. Eventuall,y I might get my own business or I might work being paid rather than volunteering.

'Freedom didn’t just help me survive; they gave me a community, new friends and numerous new possibilities. And it’s ongoing - watch this space! It’s pretty good considering where I was a couple of years ago. A dark place, a very, very, dark place.'