Having faced homelessness, drug addiction, and a lack of confidence, a Torquay woman managed to turn her life around using the power of theatre and fun.

After struggling with drug abuse, which ultimately made her homeless, Holly managed to put herself onto a 12-step programme to battle her addiction, and was able to find secure accommodation at The Jatis Project, who provide supported housing to adults who have experienced drug or alcohol problems and who are actively engaged in structured treatment.

At just five and a half stone at the start of her recovery, Holly faced the grave reality that her drug addiction was a matter of life or death.

But Holly had a big focus on staying positive, and was encouraged to go along to Unleashed Theatre’s community drama group, formed specifically for people who have experienced homelessness first-hand, ex-offenders, or people in recovery from some form of addiction – and there she was able to find that recovery can also lead to fun.

Having now stayed clean of drugs for five years, Holly has been able to get back on her feet, and now has her own house, she’s in a loving relationship, and has a stable job at the Walnut Lodge – a local drug and alcohol service to help other people who have faced struggles with addiction.

Ealing Times: Holly has now managed to turn her life around, thanks to the help of Unleashed TheatreHolly has now managed to turn her life around, thanks to the help of Unleashed Theatre

Holly said: “I was very poorly when I started at Unleashed. I really wanted something positive and fun and something to look forward to. Unleashed provided that for me. Before I knew it, I was putting myself up for a part in a play – as a gnome!

“I then was in a play called Black Comedy, which was a big deal – it was the first community theatre drama Unleashed did. I found it so stressful learning all the lines – back then, I couldn’t really retain information, so that was a really big responsibility for me. I had to pretend to kiss someone and I was so embarrassed! 

“I was totally unemployable when I came into recovery and I knew I needed to build my skills up – that’s what I was able to get from Unleashed and my volunteering roles.

“I volunteered at a hospital as I wanted to repay my debt to the NHS specifically as I spent a lot of time in hospital with my addiction, and it ultimately led to my job which I love.

“I went from someone who had no direction, and I discovered who I was thanks to the help of Unleashed Theatre. Unleashed will always be a part of me and will always have a place in my heart. They helped me so much and gave me a lift when I really needed it and I’m so grateful to Unleashed.”

Unleashed Theatre’s Artistic Director Martin Harris said: “In 2004, there was a massive spike in the number of homeless, so I started working in the homeless centre as a volunteer and set up a drama group. We now run sessions every week - 51 weeks of the year - for people who have come off the streets, are on 12-step programmes, people who are in recovery.

Ealing Times: Unleashed Theatre’s Artistic Director Martin HarrisUnleashed Theatre’s Artistic Director Martin Harris

“We're about two thirds of the way through a three-year project with The National Lottery, which included a grant of £130,000. This has been so beneficial to keep us running. We also launched a rehab choir for people who might have been homeless or are in recovery or are isolated people, as well as provide people with iPads during lockdown so that they could keep joining in with our classes.”

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.

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.

Ealing Times: Strictly star Neil Jones has spoken out about his experience with homelessness as a teenagerStrictly star Neil Jones has spoken out about his experience with homelessness as a teenager

“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.” 

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.