From living rough to employment with VolkerHighways

Andy, General Operative on our Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead HTMC, shares his story on how he went from living rough on the streets of Windsor to employment with VolkerHighways.

andy VH article

The pandemic hit me hard. I lost my job as a self-employed handy man and consequently, I lost my home. This led to three years sleeping rough in a tent on the streets of Windsor. I was what they call ‘hidden homelessness’, hiding myself away and going without being noticed, sleeping during the day and walking around at night – I found it safer this way. Eventually I was found by a local church group who visited me the following week with food. 

I didn’t know where to go for help as the Council offices were closed due to the pandemic and I was unaware of the many services that support people who have ended up in hard times, like me. After a while, I was directed to ALMA Beacon. The homelessness charity helped me to get temporary accommodation and pointed me in the right direction to apply for a new passport and other services. 

In August 2023, I was permanently housed and was working for ALMA Beacon as a Facilities Manager part time. Thanks to VolkerHighways’ involvement in the restoration project of the new ALMA Beacon premises, I was put in touch with our Operations Manager who interviewed me for a role with the business. I have now been with the company for a month as a General Operative.

How did ALMA Beacon help to where you are today?

In general, when you are living rough, unless you ask, you don’t get told where these help services are and what they can do for you. 

ALMA Beacon has an ‘open door’ approach enabling vulnerable people to access staff and professionals for support, whether that be providing a hot meal four times a week and toiletries through to gaining budgeting and numeracy skills and support for addiction and mental health issues.

How are you finding your role as a General Operative?

Although I have a background in construction, working as a handy man, it is a different type of role, which can be physically challenging. There’s a lot to learn, but I am really enjoying myself and the varied jobs I carry out. These include removing and installing posts, resetting slabs, cutting back foliage, backfilling topsoil and anything in between. The team have been supportive, teaching me the best way to carry out these works.

I have lived in Windsor all my life which helps in my role as I have the geographical knowledge of the area. I have also just started my first emergency call outs.

Prior to my role as a handy man, I worked for British Airways for 14 years on the check-in desk.

Is there more that organisations, like ours, can do to help individuals who have come from similar backgrounds?

When organisations employ those from a background like mine, I think it’s important that management have an understanding of the individual’s circumstances and issues they may experience. I have been open and honest with my colleagues, which I think is the best approach, and has helped me to integrate into the team.

What are your goals for the future?

I would like to continue to develop my skills and knowledge with VolkerHighways and one day, hope to become a Supervisor.