We’ve taken a little time out of HI Future’s pacey schedule to talk to Keith Ashley – AKA Mooch – who’s personal insight into homelessness and experience working in the sector is bringing an invaluable take on the work we’re doing to create secure and stable futures for people who have experienced homelessness and are ready for work.
Ensuring that the voice of those people impacted by the issue is central to the homeless employment solution we’re designing with businesses, charities and public sector departments, Mooch’s own experiences in moving back into employment brings a much-needed perspective on how we can support people back into work.
Tell us about you, your work and interest in homeless employment.
I was born in 1956 – 10 years after the end of World War II – and was brought up in the slums of Manchester. I remember those early years clearly, but for me and my mates, they didn’t feel like slums. They were much more fun! No one had very much, but what we had we shared. It was very close-knit, no matter what part of Greater Manchester you visited. I had a kind of happy childhood, and we never really went short.
My interests are many and varied. They weren’t always on the right side of the law, but hey, living on the edge could be fun and kept me on my toes. What I’ve always found interesting is people, though. There’s nothing better than speaking to our older generation about their lifetime, and I also love to read. It’s somewhere I can go to escape.
When it comes to my job – administering funds from the Big Change to people looking to take their next step in their journey out of homelessness – not only is it very rewarding, but it’s also really interesting. I meet people from all walks of life, and it enables me to find my way to what’s important to me.
In addition to the people who are struggling, I work with over 70 support workers and the CEOs of over 30 charities on a daily basis, so every day brings a new conversation.
What encouraged your decision to go back to work?
I’m just your typical Manchester kid… always willing to help and always up for a nobble. The life I led didn’t really give me any encouragement to work for anybody, only myself.
Personally, I was supported back into work by the people behind the Manchester Homelessness Partnership. They encouraged me to make a difference and to help our homeless, and I soon realized that people listened to me, and the more they listened, the more I felt inspired to help.
That said, I think I had enough about me to be directed into something more than just a job. In reality, the Big Change job chose me and slowly helped me realize that I could really make a difference to some of the most vulnerable in our society. As a result, I’ve found it really easy to encourage others to find a journey they’re happy with too.
What support was available in getting back into work?
I’ve had so many people supporting me and a whole lot of people inspiring me. I don’t always know I’m being supported, as it’s not something I needed for over 50 years, but over the last four years since leaving prison, when I look back, I think the people who supported me didn’t do it for any other reason but to help and not for anything in return.
In particular, Eleanor Watts from the Big Change was a huge help. She backed me when I said I was ready to start working. At that point, I was already doing voluntary work, so I had people around me who could support me back into work. I was helped when I needed an up to date CV at the Mustard Tree, and there was a network at my local library, where I found others in a similar situation as myself.
How were you feeling when you started your new job?
When it came to starting at Big Change, I was nervous. My anxiety was beginning to build and my stomach was turning over and over, but I also felt excitement in the run up to my first day so together, it balanced things out.
All and all, it’s been interesting and fun. I’ve been in the role for over a year now, and I’ve never really been looking for support. I just got on with it because that’s how I was brought up. But – and it’s a big but – I realize not everyone wants something in return for their help. It’s taken me 50 years to realise it. I reach out for help now, and it’s always there.
I’m not a bad fella. It just took a while to accept it that’s all.
To find out more about Big Change Manchester and their innovative alternative giving fund, check out their website here.