Dale's Story: Developing as a Leader
I can describe my journey through Centrepoint as a rollercoaster with many peaks and troughs. Most importantly however, I feel like I am ending my journey on a high and I am feeling so positive about the future. I want to share this with Centrepoint, the other young people they support and the generous supporters because I hope my story can inspire others to see the bigger picture.
How was Centrepoint able to support you and enable you to move forward?
I came to Centrepoint in 2015 after I became estranged from my family and experienced a period of sofa surfing. At the time, my mental health was really suffering. Much of what I was feeling was around the circumstances that led me to become homeless in the first place, but I hadn’t had a chance to address those issues fully and blocked them out for a long time.
Having stability with my housing and a safe space allowed me to build myself up. I came to Centrepoint at a really low point and even whilst at Centrepoint, I experienced some serious challenges and rock bottom moments. Through stable housing and support around education, benefits, employment and budgeting, I was able to get back on the path that I wanted to be on all along. The challenges I faced from being estranged from my family and becoming homeless had knocked me off track from my desired destination and if I’d carried on going down the wrong path I would not be where I am now. The support that Centrepoint offered and that I accessed elsewhere brought me back to where I really wanted to be to achieve the goals I wanted to achieve.
Tell me about the work you’ve done around mental health?
Back when I first arrived at Centrepoint, I had very little self-belief and I reached a mental health crisis. There was no more space in my head to contain my emotions so they were manifesting as anxiety disorder and attenuated psychosis. Through my key worker and approaching my GP for mental health support, I began to address these difficulties. I had a counsellor while I was at the hostel who worked alongside my care coordinator. Through the intervention that I sought, I was able to overcome those challenges and find positive and healthy outlets that have helped in balancing my mental state going forward. It was through those experiences that I am now able to recognise when I’m struggling and seek help before I get to crisis point.
With a broken bone or something physical, it’s very visible and easy to understand the harm and how to treat it. For psychological damage, mental health issues or trauma, it’s invisible pain. It can so easily be misunderstood. This can lead to stigma and a person being ostracized which in turn can lead to people not seeking the support that they need.
Through my own treatment, I became really passionate about confronting mental health stigma and raising awareness. I started working with South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and ran a number of different projects and workshops to raise awareness around different mental health issues. The aim was to deconstruct the stigma around it and help people recognise what the symptoms are.
Tell me about being selected to represent Centrepoint in the British Youth Council’s Youth Leadership Programme?
We look at what makes a good leader and what a good leader looks like. We examine how best to lead and to look at those qualities that we have inside us that make us good leaders. We work on nurturing and building on those qualities. The idea is that we go back to the charity that we are working with and take up leadership roles in those spaces.
The programme has been great for my development and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been good to reflect on the things I’m already doing and to think about where I want to take my leadership going forward.
Can you tell me what you mean by 'found' family?
I’m a Black queer man and have faced a number of challenges in being respected and understood because of who I am. Finding friendships with people that acknowledge and accept me for who I am and finding a network of people who are Black and queer helped me to see the commonalities in our experiences as well as our identities. It’s these people who I define as ‘found family’. They may not be your blood relatives, but they are people who can love and support you.
‘Found family’, particularly for marginalised communities and me as a Black queer man helped me make sense of myself. I started to understand who I am as a person and overcome some of the traumas that I’ve faced during my life whether that’s been around identity or homelessness or mental health issues. Finding that network of people who can support me and vice versa helped me to flourish. Now I feel proud and authentic.
Are you able to tell me why you had to take a break during your degree?
I began my degree in 2016 and I’m finishing in 2021. I had to take a study break the year that I was due to originally graduate (2019) because my Grandma passed when I had just started my dissertation. It was very traumatic for me and I was grieving. She was one of the most important people in my life and I just didn’t have the drive or focus to continue for a period of time, but equally during that break, I found other passions that I want to continue to take forward such as my activism around sexuality and sexual health
I was reluctant to return because it didn’t feel the same going back without having her around. However, when I finally handed in my dissertation, I realised how much I really needed to complete it. I needed to complete that chapter. I think it was a lot about my Grandma passing and doing it for her. I submitted it a week before her birthday. It felt like a poetic moment: full circle. She passed when I started it and I submitted it when her birthday was coming up. We weren’t able to finish the journey together, but at least I was able to finish it. It felt like I could stop holding my breath.
How did it feel when you got the result for your dissertation?
The feeling I got when I read my result a few weeks back was like no feeling I’d ever felt before. I don’t think I have ever felt that proud of myself, it was pure elation. I was crying tears of joy for hours and hours. I wish I could capture that feeling in a bottle and store it somewhere for whenever I’m feeling low.
For me, it was really about the journey. One of my earliest memories is with my Grandma talking about wanting to go to university and her wanting to buy me a suit for graduation day. I’ve finally done it. She passed away two years ago so she won’t be here physically to enjoy this moment with me, but I feel like I’ve done it in her memory and her honour and she would have been so proud.
Dale as a young child with his Grandma Bernice
You’ve recently started a new role at The Love Tank CIC. Tell me about that?
In my newest role, I am the project coordinator of the Black Health Matters Project. This focuses on addressing health inequalities that impact Black communities in the UK.
Within the few months that I’ve worked in this role, I have written blogs around the project and COVID-19 and the inequalities that it highlighted across the country.
We also ran a livestream event webinar around COVID and the reluctance surrounding vaccinations. I hosted the event. We had the Regional Director of Public Health London as one of the speakers. It was really successful and a huge achievement for me. We are going to be doing similar events with lived experience leaders and grassroots communities to continue to produce this content. In a year’s time we hope to have skilled up these lived experience leaders so that they can go back into their own communities or organisations and train others to start tackling those health inequalities.
When I was interviewed for the role, I was suffering with COVID myself, but really determined to go for the role. After the interview, I had to go to the hospital as I was so unwell. It was while lying in an A&E hospital bed that I got the call to say that I had got the job.. I am so proud of myself for that.
What does the future have in store for Dale?
I want to continue in my role as project coordinator for Black Health Matters and build on the successes so far.
I also want to pursue some of my other passions now that I’ve got more free time. I want to continue my activism and I also want to develop my writing further. I’m starting to write fiction and in the long run, I would like to have something published. It’s on the record now so you have to hold me to it!
Have you got any last things to say?
Just that I’ve become an adult at Centrepoint and it’s been such a major part of my formative years.
It’s important to share my story with others that are going through similar journeys. I want them to know that you can achieve your goals. Your experience of homelessness does not have to define your future.