Spiralling debt and crippling loneliness have made life difficult for Martyn in recent years. Here he tells his story and how he has found new contentment through his community.
When you can’t get out of the house, you feel well and truly down. Like a prisoner in a cell. I tried to commit suicide three times.” Martyn shrugs, gives a broad smile and takes a bite of his sandwich. Today, at a Bristol harbourside café, he’s feeling more positive.
Martyn’s sharing a goodbye coffee with Saba James, from Community Navigators Bristol, a free service which provides personalised support to help people over 50 feel less isolated.
While their work together is now coming to an end, Martyn says it’s helped him find new direction and contentment.
How it all began
“I used to have a good social life, when I lived in St Paul’s,” Martyn says. “And I was busy. I loved doing illustrations of animals, birds of prey – that sort of thing. I loved fishing too. Once I pulled a 20lb carp out of the river at Snuff Mills.”
But things spiralled a few years ago when Martyn was moved to Fishponds by the council. He didn’t know anyone, and struggled to get around because of his osteoarthritis. Dyslexia made catching the bus difficult too: “I can read the times but not the destinations,” he says. He felt cripplingly lonely, with debts mounting. “I’d have three bills at the end of the month and have to choose which one to pay,”
Martyn’s GP referred him to Community Navigators Bristol. Saba met Martyn for several sessions in his home and in local cafés. She got to know what mattered to him and found out what was stopping him getting out. Together she and Martyn worked out a plan.
“It can just be so hard,” says Saba. “You don’t have access to money. You have no transport. You have a learning disability. You don’t know what help there is. And no one is listening to you. But once someone helps you start making a few subtle changes it can transform your whole mindset and make a huge difference to your life. It’s amazing to see people start feeling that life is more positive and optimistic. It’s a bit of a domino effect, really.”
A priority was helping Martyn get on top of his finances. Saba discovered that he was eligible for more benefit than he’d been getting, which has made a big difference. He’s even started saving a little each month.
She connected him with a local service called STOP for some practical admin support at home, so now someone comes along every week to help him with things like bills, benefits and sorting out post. “The biggest thing has been getting the money sorted,” says Martyn. “It has been such a huge relief.”
Next was getting Martyn some transport. Once Saba had arranged a free mobility scooter, the outside world was unlocked for him again. She arranged to meet him at cafés to help build his confidence about getting out and about.
What’s unique about Community Navigators Bristol is that it is completely personalised, Saba says. “What I did for Martyn I wouldn’t necessarily do for anyone else,” says Saba. “There is no ‘care pathway’ in the traditional sense. It’s collaborative, dynamic – and changes as we go along.”
Facing the future
And how is Martyn now? “I’m getting out and about – it’s more of a social life than I originally had. I’m a lot happier and nowhere near so depressed. I’m more like I used to be. More myself.” As Martyn scrunches up his empty sandwich wrapper, Saba says: “You do seem more confident. I definitely see you smile more now.”
“I asked someone out last week,” Martyn says. “She said she’d think about it. I wouldn’t have done that before. I wouldn’t have had the confidence in myself. This service has changed my life in every sense,” he says. A long-term plan is to get fishing again, once Martyn has decided where to go – maybe back to Snuff Mills or St George’s Park lake, he reckons.
He’s proud of his skills with his scooter, cackling as he tells a story about an unplanned off-road incident in the early days. “Look,” he says, tapping the speedometer on the little dashboard, “316 miles I’ve done, already.” And with a nifty three-point turn and a jaunty blast of his horn, he’s off.
If you are over 50 and you’d like to feel more connected to your community, get in touch with Community Navigators Bristol, a signposting and support service funded by Bristol Ageing Better. You can also refer someone you know. We’re looking for volunteers for the service too:
All referrals are checked for eligibility, as this free service
has limited capacity.