'I felt like a nobody': What it's like to sleep rough in freezing weather

Homelessness is an issue that needs to be tackled in Norwich, says David Powles. Photo credit should

St Martins has launched its winter campaign to make people aware of homelessness - Credit: PA

As the temperature dips below freezing and winter draws in the plight of the city's homeless community has been thrown into stark light. 

With Christmas around the corner St Martins, Norwich's homeless charity, has shared the message that everyone can support those sleeping rough. 

As part of its campaign to raise cash and awareness at this vital time, the charity has released some short films detailing the lives of three people it has worked with.

The three people - Sherese, Eddie and James - worked with local author Jacqui Burgoyne to tell their story.

Jacqui said: "We talked with Sherese, Eddie and James all through this project. Sharing ideas, discussing how we wanted the films to not just be short quotes but actually to help people understand their lives, what happened, how it happened.

"We particularly wanted to get away from the clichéd images of unhappy people sitting in the cold on a grey pavement.

"Sherese, James and Eddie may have experienced something like that in the past, but that's not who they are now. We wanted to show all the sides of who they are.”

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martin's Housing Trust. Picture: St Martin's

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martins - Credit: Archant

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Dr Jan Sheldon, St Martins chief executive, said: “We appreciate the tremendous support and empathy local people have for those experiencing homelessness.

"While people often consider the physical needs of a person experiencing homelessness – hunger, cold and danger - they may not have considered the reasons that led to people becoming homeless and the emotional impact homelessness can have.

"This campaign shows how anybody can experience homelessness. Often the people we support have suffered significant trauma and have demonstrated incredible resilience to overcome it. St Martins are here to support people in these difficult circumstances and help them move on in their lives.

“The bottom line is that no-one chooses to be homeless. An event such as the loss of a job, illness or death of a family member can cause immense pressure that pushes a person into a position where they can no longer cope.”

To find out more about St Martins visit www.stmartinshousing.org.uk

Sherese's story

Sherese Fetcher, 24, who is being helped by St Martins charity

Sherese Fetcher, 24, who is being helped by St Martins charity - Credit: St Martins

Having moved to Norfolk from Grenada as a child, Sherese Fetcher, 24, grew up on an army base in Dereham and describes her family as dysfunctional and abusive. She was depressed and self-harmed.

With nowhere to sleep at night, she rode night buses in London and went out partying with the intent of finding some friends to crash with at the end of the night.

Sherese said she tried for years to save a deposit to rent a house but she became desperate and got involved in the drugs trade, which ended with her getting caught and going to prison.

She was homeless when the first national lockdown happened and was given a room. From then she has been supported by St Martins. 

Sherese said: "Homelessness is something someone is going through. It’s not their be all or end all. A bit of kindness can be a massive help on their journey.”

James' story

James Lillystone who is being supported by St Martins homeless charity

James Lillystone who is being supported by St Martins homeless charity - Credit: St Martins

James Lillystone grew up in a chaotic household in Norwich where neglect, violence and drug use was commonplace.

He was taken away from his mum and instead of entering the care system his nanny and auntie took him in. 

At 14 James described himself as "a bit of a terror", selling drugs and drinking alcohol.

He then settled down with a good job and a girlfriend with whom he had two children.

However, the relationship broke down and everything fell apart.

He started drinking as well as using and dealing drugs.

James was sleeping in a friend’s shed when he first spoke to Pathways team and then moved into St Martins’ hostel.

He said: “I went into Bishopbridge House with no more than the clothes on my back. Addictions, scars, malnourished, not feeling good about myself, feeling deflated like I was a nobody.”

James has received counselling, move-on accommodation and is in touch with his children, something that gives him immense happiness.

Eddie's story

Big Issue seller Eddie Stannard who is being helped by St Martins

Big Issue seller Eddie Stannard who is being helped by St Martins - Credit: St Martins

Eddie Stannard, who sells the Big Issue in Norwich, was abandoned by his mother at a young age and he and his twin brother had to fend for themselves after their grandmother had died.

Sleeping in sheds and committing burglaries became a way of life. 

Eddie spent time in prison and suffered a devastating loss when his brother was murdered in 2016, which led him to relapse into taking class A drugs.

Now living in St Martins accommodation in Norwich, Eddie is determined to move on with his life.

He expresses a desire to help others who are homeless by ensuring they have the right information about services that can help them so they don’t suffer by sleeping on the streets or turning to crime.