25 February 2021

Before moving to the YMCA, I was going through a difficult time.

I had recently fled an abusive relationship, with no family or financial savings to support me. This required me to move away from the places and faces I’d grown to love; transitioning from life in Wiltshire to life in North Somerset.

I was visited by my support worker and housing officer once or twice a week. Other than that, I spent the first six months alone in a domestic abuse refuge with Curo and LiveWest. My birthday, Christmas, and New Years Day were quickly forgotten – as the isolation made these days feel hollow and meaningless.

A few weeks into 2020, my LiveWest support worker told me that the YMCA had space in their supported accommodation scheme. I thought to myself – “this is great, my next step back to some kind of normality!”. The move was quick, as I didn’t have many personal belongings to take with me. Just the clothes on my back, and the sense of freedom from escaping a toxic past relationship.

Little did I know, that normality would be swiftly muted by the COVID-19 pandemic – but you hear enough of that on the news!

From the start of my time at the YMCA, Margarita was always welcoming, especially during the first few months. She provided invaluable support and guidance, reminding me that life can be good with great people around you! Georgie and Ellie were also great with their support and taking the time to talk, making a hugely positive impact – massively appreciated from all the support staff!

Part of the ‘relationship toxicity’ was me not being allowed to have friends, or by extension, family. I was already in contact with my Mother. Still, I started opening up to caring, thoughtful, and humorous residents at the YMCA – Jade, Ivy, Ethan, and Sammy (in no particular order!). What started as an emotionally awkward and daunting attempt to ‘put myself out there’ turned into the catalyst for four brilliant friendships.

I left in December 2020, 11 months after I arrived. I was ready to start my self-employed writing work again and support myself without additional help. Leaving the YMCA was bittersweet (I didn’t want to leave) – but the support and companionship from staff, residents, and the service as a whole has, and will continue to have a life-long impact!

Thank you, YMCA staff and residents, for giving me hope and a sense of belonging in a time of personal turbulence and trauma.

Best wishes, Ciaran.