From homelessness to hope in Swindon: 'The person I was is completely different now'
A Swindon man who saw his life fall apart after losing his job three years ago is smiling again after being helped back into work by The Salvation Army.
Mark Wheatley, 44, went from one difficulty to another when he lost his job as a retail manager in 2011. Just a few months later, his relationship with his partner broke down and he ended up homeless.
It was a terrible time that knocked the confidence out of him, so much so that he wasn't able to look people in the face.
The council put him in touch with The Salvation Army's local Lifehouse where he quickly received a room and warm welcome.
But it wasn't an easy adjustment for Mark and at first, he kept to his room, avoiding social interaction with others in the house.
"At first I was nervous and scared, and hardly spoke to anybody, I had very little confidence at all," he says.
But Mark realised he couldn't hide away forever and after a few weeks he signed up as a volunteer of the Recycles scheme to keep himself busy.
The scheme gives Lifehouse residents the opportunity to learn new skills by refurbishing old bikes and doing repairs for people in the community.
His supervisor, Rick Bartlett, recalls Mark didn't really have any interest in repairing the bikes at first and was more interested in the retail side.
But slowly, they gave him bikes to build and repair and Mark discovered skills he didn't know he had.
"It turned out he was a good mechanic and so we put him through the Cytech bicycle maintenance industry standard qualification," said Rick.
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"The changes I've seen in Mark – it's almost like two different people. He came to us quite down on his luck and quite depressed.
"He is now confident and moving forward. It is a total change around."
Mark agrees: "We joke about it now but the person I was two years ago is completely different now."
And it's not only Mark who has received a welcome boost.
"This job can be quite challenging but it is stories like this that makes it worthwhile," says Rick.
The Salvation Army continued to support Mark through his NVQ Level 2 qualification in engineering and they now employ him as a relief cycle mechanic.
The days of being on the streets are well and truly behind Mark, as he now lives in a housing association flat in Swindon.
"The Salvation Army do so much work that people don't know about. They help people who are in need get their confidence back by not only listening to them but also helping them in practical ways," he says.
"I am really proud to wear my Salvation Army shirt home from work on the bus."