ROCKED by a spell in prison, homeless, destitute, and lonely – how a London man used sport to aid his recovery.

Lacking any self-confidence and low in mood after finding himself homeless for the umpteenth time; Matthew started going along to sport sessions at the Single Homeless Project.

They provided him with secure accommodation, counselling, and the ability to try his hand in a variety of the sport-related sessions that run weekly, from frisbee to table tennis, bike mechanics to football.

Single Homeless Project (SHP) is a charity working to prevent homelessness and help vulnerable and socially excluded people in London to transform their lives.

SHP’s Sport & Health Project aims to transform the health and wellbeing of homeless and vulnerable people through sport and physical activity, and thanks to a £300,000 grant from The National Lottery for the two-year project, more people who have experienced homelessness are getting active, prolonging their lives, improving mental and physical health, and reducing isolation.

Ealing Times: SHP puts on a range of sporting activities to show people experiencing homelessness the value in sport and exercise, as well as promoting their own confidenceSHP puts on a range of sporting activities to show people experiencing homelessness the value in sport and exercise, as well as promoting their own confidence

And Matthew, who was released from prison earlier this year and was at his lowest possible ebb, discovered sport has not only increased his own confidence, but helped inspire others.

“When I got released from prison, I was very frightened to the point of thinking that I was being targeted by everyone in general – I was getting the impression that I was going to be erased,” said Matthew.

“Before I even went to prison, I realised that things did really need to change because it was just going nowhere and I truly felt like if I continued being homeless, I wouldn’t be surviving long.

“Luckily SHP were kind enough to give me a place. Having a roof over my head is fine but with SHP they’re offering sports and trying to get people fitter and healthier.

“I’m trying to get myself back to how I should be, feeling healthier and coming up with ideas of things to do, trying to better myself.

“Realising there are people who do genuinely want to know you and have a positive relationship. A lot of the time when you’re homeless it’s quite singular. By doing the sports I’m starting to build relationships again, it’s a lot better for mental health.

“My hope for the future is that I have one. It’s looking more positive and I’m feeling more positive about it.”

Ealing Times: Sports Lead Sam Sainsbury (front) with some of his sport-loving clients doing the signature National Lottery gestureSports Lead Sam Sainsbury (front) with some of his sport-loving clients doing the signature National Lottery gesture

Sam Sainsbury, Sports Lead of the Sport & Health project, said: “We initially started our project as a large proportion of our client group were isolated and sedentary.

“We wanted people to re-engage with statutory services that they haven’t engaged with – we just find using sport to get people motivated increases their overall motivation.

“A long-term aim is also to falsify the stigma that homeless people don’t want to get involved in sport and don’t want to take care of their own health.

“Matthew’s been heavily involved in all sessions available to him, getting stuck in with the sports programme. The great thing about Matthew is that he’s also an amazing ambassador for clients in the hostel. He has a great desire to get other people involved, he’ll be the one encouraging people.”

Strictly Come Dancing star Neil Jones, who struggled with homelessness as a teenager, is highlighting the incredible support National Lottery-funded homeless projects have provided to people all over the UK during the last 10 years.

The 31-year-old professional dancer is now a regular fixture on screens across the UK, but just a few years ago he was in a very different position and, for a brief time, he even found himself sleeping rough on the streets.

Ealing Times: Strictly star Neil Jones is supporting the National Lottery who have funded projects helping people experiencing homelessnessStrictly star Neil Jones is supporting the National Lottery who have funded projects helping people experiencing homelessness

With Christmas fast approaching, Neil is helping to highlight the extensive funding and support The National Lottery has provided to homelessness projects over the last decade.

Since 2010, more than half a billion pounds (over £576 million) has been awarded to more than 3,000 projects that involve or support homeless people or help tackle homelessness throughout the UK.

Jones said: “With winter upon us and Christmas just around the corner, now is the perfect time of year to spare a thought for those who don’t have a home to go to or have somewhere safe, comfortable and warm to sleep over the festive period.

“It’s tough to think about the difficult things they’re going through at this time of year because it’s such a time of joy for most of us, but it’s important to recognise that there are so many people out there who really do need our help.

“Thankfully, there are countless incredible charities and organisations doing some really incredible work supporting homeless people across the UK with National Lottery funding.”

Ealing Times: Neil Jones, who dances on Strictly, is now speaking out about his own experiences of homelessness as a teenagerNeil Jones, who dances on Strictly, is now speaking out about his own experiences of homelessness as a teenager

The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, alone has awarded more than 600 grants worth around £80 million to projects that involve homeless people since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

David Knott, Chief Executive of The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, we are able to provide much-needed funding to incredible organisations that are making an important difference to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

“Whether supporting people experiencing homelessness to improve prospects for employment, supporting with mental health or providing a safe place where people can build their confidence and self-esteem, dedicated groups and their volunteers are working tirelessly with the homeless community, so that they are better able to overcome challenges and hopefully go on to prosper and thrive.”

Thanks to National Lottery players, more than £30 million goes to good causes across the UK every week, which in turn helps charities and organisations which support homeless people in our communities. To find out more about National Lottery funding go to www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/funding.