FENLANDER CHRISTMAS SPECIAL: Octavia View’s priceless gift to homeless people in Fenland

NO room at the inn. It’s one of the best-known lines of the Christmas story and one that strikes a special chord with homeless people. They know all too well the discomfort and despair that homelessness brings, particularly at this time.

Happily, for a few of them in Fenland this Christmas is different. They have found a home and, with that, renewed hope. It is in Octavia View, a previously empty building in the heart of Wisbech that has been transformed into a modern centre providing accommodation for up to 24 single homeless people as well as a range of other facilities for the wider community.

Octavia View is the fruit of a close partnership between the Luminus Group, a local housing provider, Fenland District Council and the Ferry Project, a charity that is part of the Luminus Group.

It is run by the Ferry Project. FDC played a key role in helping to attract more than �3million of external funding and continues to give its full support to the project.

John and Peter* are among the residents who have moved in there since it opened in June.

John came to the Ferry Project in November for a second time, after the break-up of his relationship left him homeless. This had plunged him back into a recurring cycle involving self-harm that had first struck him five years ago, when a previous relationship ended.

Because it wasn’t the first time he had become homeless, it also made him feel a failure.

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John is an intelligent and thoughtful man but he has a history of mental problems and continues to take medication for anxiety, insomnia and paranoia. Support staff are now working with him to overcome his feelings of isolation and depression.

He is developing his literacy skills and his new found enjoyment of reading is boosting his confidence and ability to talk to others about his difficulties. He has also been pursuing training as a forklift truck driver and volunteering for local charity shops.

For him, the next stage is becoming confident enough to move out of Octavia View into independent living in his own home.

Peter has similar hopes. He lost his job as a successful welder after an industrial accident. He turned to alcohol as a way of coping; soon he was spending all his money on feeding his addiction, at the expense of food and rent.

Desperate to stop drinking, in April he sought help from the Ferry Project and Addaction, another local charity. With their support, he worked out an action plan to take control of his life.

He was delighted when a hospital space became available for detoxification treatment but he was also worried about living without alcohol. Despite those fears, he underwent the treatment and has been dry for two months. Now he, too, is hoping to move to more independent living next month, after which he will be aiming to start a new career.

John and Peter are just two of the individuals for whom Octavia View is proving the starting point for a new life. They are not alone.

Since it opened in June 16 residents have taken up further education, 14 have entered pre-employment training, nine have gained work placements and volunteering and one has got a full-time job. In addition, 30 residents have successfully moved on to their own home.

As Christmas presents go, those are hard to beat.

* Their names have been changed