John, 51, has worked in the charitable sector for over 20 years and has dedicated his working life to helping adult survivors of childhood abuse, people with mental health issues and those facing disadvantage.
John began as a volunteer at HEAL (Helping Everyone Abused Live) when he was 33, helping with the once a week drop in support group for adult survivors of childhood abuse. At that time, HEAL was the only organisation in the UK that worked with both male and female survivors regardless of the type of abuse suffered, be it sexual, physical or emotional. Only a very small organisation at the time, it went through some very difficult times and John was asked to take over.
He immediately set about rejuvenating the project and asked the members what they wanted from it. The change was remarkable: it went from a struggling small group that met once a week with 4 members, to a registered charity with its own premises, running 3 weekly recovery groups, a carers & supporters group, a drop in and a creative group. Membership was now well over 40 and it had a waiting list of 120 people. John developed and delivered the volunteer training course used by the charity.
John’s vision and input was instrumental in HEAL receiving the Queens Award for Voluntary Services in 2006.
With input from the members, John produced the Recovery Workshop Programme which provided the help members needed and became the backbone of the service. The huge positive strides made by members were truly remarkable and evidence in the validity of John’s approach to working with survivors of abuse. This was born out by the many testimonials given by members, many of whom went onto employment, volunteering, healthier relationships and much happier and satisfactory lives.
After 10 years John decided to leave HEAL. The members were extremely grateful and reluctant to see him go. A lifelong love of the outdoors prompted John to undertake professional training in bushcraft and survival and in 2007 John co-founded the organisation Greenpath Ventures (GV). One of Greenpath Ventures’ aims is to help disadvantaged individuals, especially those with mental health issues, to gain self-reliance and confidence by learning bushcraft and survival skills. The organisation became a registered charity in 2009. John is now the Manager and senior Bushcraft Instructor.
When GV launched, many professionals were very skeptical and reticent about teaching people with mental health issues bushcraft skills, such as; fire-lighting and knife & axe skills. However, John has always been one to challenge these negative stereo-types and pushed ahead. The positive comments from clients often includes feeling they are trusted and being treated like adults at GV which boosts their confidence and self-esteem.
GV has worked with 1,OOO’s of people since it started; as well as the mental health work, the charity goes into schools, educational organisations and community groups to offer sessions on bushcraft, the natural environment, conservation and heritage. In 2014, John was successful with an application from the Heritage Lottery which allowed them to go into local schools and work with over 1,000 children alone.
Amongst the organisations GV has worked with includes; MIND, The Haven (Personality Disorder), Special Needs Schools, CRUSE, Scouts, Beavers, MacMillan Cancer, Ellen MaCarthur Trust, NHS, Oxford Rd (Alcohol Project), Open Rd (Drugs and Alcohol), YMCA, local schools and Essex County Council.
In 2012 HEAL unfortunately closed, and to fill the gap this created in local services, John was approached by several past colleagues to co-found a new recovery service for adult survivors of childhood abuse. John has been the cornerstone of founding AARCA (Assisting Adult Recovery from Child Abuse), which is currently in the process of becoming a registered charity. Building on the Workshop Recovery Programme from HEAL which John produced, he is now facilitating a new programme and developing a major funding application to expand the service to meet the needs of more adult survivors in Essex.
HEAL (Helping Everyone Abused Life). Under his leadership this organisation became a registered charity and was awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services, in 2006. From a struggling small community group to a nationally regarded organisation it was a huge asset to Essex. While at the charity John trained psychologists, NHS staff, civil servants, crisis telephone volunteers and numerous other staff from both statutory and non-statutory organisations. John wrote and delivered the in-house training programme for volunteers.
John uses his exceptional talent to connect with people who are hard to reach, when asked how he does this he replied; “I simply ask them what they need or want, and trust them” Greenpath Ventures (GV) became a registered charity in 2009. He successfully applied to the Department of Health for Opportunities for Volunteering funding which secured the charity for the first 3 years. He has delivered bushcraft to thousands of people since the forming of the organisation; the youngest being 18 months and the oldest in their nineties!
To further his knowledge and understanding, John has trained in Arclic (Sweden), Jungle (Amazon) and Desert (Sahara) Survival and is regularly asked to deliver talks to local community groups and schools about his experiences which are always well received.
Funding for small charities is exceptionally difficult, but John has persevered and literally raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for several causes and those he has successfully applied to include Awards for All, Heritage Lottery, Department of Health, Home Office, Comic Relief, Sports Relief, Essex Community Foundation, Essex County Council, LankellyChase Foundation and numerous other smaller trust and foundations. He is himself a survivor of sexual abuse, suffering for 5 years between the ages 8-13. This led to him dropping out of school with no qualifications, drug addiction & alcoholism and battling mental illness for most of his life. It was in his late twenties when he finally received the help he needed and turned his life around, gaining academic qualifications at University level and then training in counselling and psychotherapy.
Without making it about himself, he has drawn on his own experiences in writing of the recovery programme used by HEAUAARCA. He has appeared in the media and on the radio talking honestly about his life trying to break the taboo that surrounds child abuse and mental illness.
Even In his bushcraft career John has had to push himself beyond the norms; his determination was further tested when, shortly after his Arctic survival training, in 2008, he was diagnosed with a broken back. Following a complex 8 hour operation to fuse his lower spine and lengthy rehabilitation, John then undertook jungle survival training in the Amazon in 2012 and Sahara survival training in 2014. John uses these experiences to show what can be achieved and always encourages people to fulfil their dreams and reach their potential. John has a unique ability to look at people and think beyond a person’s disability or mental health issue and encourages what they can do and not focus on their limitations.
John has helped change and turn around the lives of countless people, it is hard to judge just how many. Through his work with adults who were abused as children he has helped them move on from being the victims to survivors. There are numerous examples of people who when they first came to the services, were heavily involved with the statutory services due to their mental ill health and self-destructive behaviours such as self-harming, but through their involvement with John, are now working, stopped self-harming and moved on to becoming active citizens. Many of the people John has worked with have themselves been inspired to help other people as volunteers or through employment.
Through his training of professionals, John changes and challenges the way people think about abuse and how they deal with survivors. The feedback from his training sessions are always exceptionally high and he has made a significant impact on many professionals and volunteers on the way they work with this group of people.
John is an extremely humble person. He is an exceptionally positive role model to many victims of abuse and sufferers of mental health issues and is very highly regarded by all the staff that he has worked with both past and present. ‘I have worked with John for 11 years and cannot stress just how dedicated he is to improving the lives of “less fortunate” people.’
In his own words:
I really would like SurvivorsUK to know what their support to me has enabled me to go onto achieve. The support given to me by SurvivorsUK all those years ago was the turning point in my recovery and want to give you guys something back somehow.
He is competing for the Directory of Social Change’s Lifetime Achievement Award, you can vote for him until 27th of January 2017 here.
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