David lives in one of our homelessness hostels in Westminster. Art is David’s passion, and his artwork has been selected as the winning entry in Look Ahead’s 2023 Customer Christmas Card Competition. His design features on the cover of our card which will be sent to customers and partners over the festive period.
In January 2009, I decided to leave the UK and go backpacking across Europe. My uncle, who was my last living family member, had recently passed away. He had always wanted to go travelling himself but never got the chance, so I wanted to honour his memory.
I had only planned to travel for a year, but once I was there I quickly got the travelling bug. Back then we were a part of the EU, so I didn’t have many restrictions in terms of crossing borders, nor did I have any time pressures or anything drawing me back to the UK. I travelled all over, through Germany, Italy, Malta, France just to name a few.
I picked up odd jobs throughout my travels. I worked in food processing plants, picked fruit on farms, and even spent time working with circuses where I was responsible for feeding exotic animals like lions and tigers.
After Brexit, it became harder for me to pick up work so I decided to come back to the UK. Because I had been out of the country for so long, I struggled to find accommodation, access benefits, or find a job, and ended up living on the streets of London.
Once you’re sleeping rough, it’s harder than people realise to get off the streets. I think there’s a perception that people on the street are lazy but, in my experience, most people experiencing homelessness don’t want to be there. You can get sucked into the routine of sleeping rough. If you can find places where you can shower, get some free food and have somewhere dry to sleep, it’s hard to break the cycle. It almost felt like I was physically held down by the streets, stopping me from moving on, and before you know it months and years go by.
One night this year, I was in my sleeping bag on the street and a passer-by stamped on me, severely injuring my knee. I was referred to this Look Ahead service which gave me access to NHS treatment and has helped me recover. I’m grateful to be here. I have a place where I’m safe and do my artwork, which I just didn’t have when I was on the streets. I have a platform to build off now to greater independence.
I was so pleased to win Look Ahead’s Christmas card competition. I didn’t think much of it when I entered so its nice to have the recognition and see my work in print. I want to keep building on this and continue to develop my art.