How specialised supported housing can offer people “a new start in life” - Donna’s story

“It’s been amazing. Donna does not resemble the young woman I assessed in her previous placement. She’s a completely different person,” says BCS Director Thelma.

For 37-year-old Donna, Apartment 5 in Woodways became her home in June 2021, following a stay in a locked hospital setting due to her complex mental health needs.

“I like it here because its my own place. Where I was before, it wasn’t great and I had to share. Here I have my own apartment and I get on with the staff,” she explains.

Living in her new home has helped Donna to see more of her family, who live nearby just outside Rotherham. “The most important thing for me is my mum, my dad and my family. I see mum every week. Where I am now it’s easier for my mum and dad to get to,” said Donna.

Also close to Donna’s heart is her pet guinea pig Squeaks, with his cage taking pride of place in the centre of her living room. “I love living here because I have Squeaks, my own pet, which I never thought I’d be able to have. He came from my sister who rescues animals and I got him 15 months ago,” Donna says.

Thelma describes Squeaks as a ‘therapy animal’ for Donna. She adds: “When Donna had him to begin with, he’d jump out of the cage and follow her to the fridge!” Donna laughs: “Squeaky loves eating. He eats anything he can get his hands on!”

A keen cook and baker, Donna has developed her culinary skills since moving into Woodways. “I’ve grown all sorts including tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, and courgettes in the outdoor planters and I’ve cooked with them. I learnt how to bake from mum and started baking since I moved in here.” Thelma adds: “Donna is a great baker and makes all sorts including birthday cakes for staff and people who live here.”

Donna goes shopping with the support of her staff team, to nearby supermarkets. Moving to Woodways has also helped Donna learn how to budget. “Donna will allocate so much for each shop and make her weekly budget last” says Thelma.

Reflecting on other ways her life has changed since moving into Woodways, Donna pauses.

“I remember waiting for my Section 17 discharge to come through and I was very scared when I first went out. When I first came here, it took me a while to get used to it. Going through double doors would freak me out and going out used to panic me. Now I love going out and I’m not normally in that much!”

Sat on a sofa decorated with patchwork cushions she’s made, Donna scrolls through her phone which is full of hundreds of memories.

“That’s when I went for a walk on a nature trail and that’s Bud,” she says pointing to a photo of a French Bulldog taken earlier in January (Buddy is a staff member’s dog and Thelma adds: “He simply adores Donna”).

There’s a picture of Donna laughing in a pool: “I never used to go swimming, but I’ve been swimming in Barnsley and to the gym.” She also uses the space in her living room to exercise and points to a dance mat and a Nintendo Wii in the corner of her room.

And taken only a few days ago, are dozens of photos of a trip to the seaside in Cleethorpes. Donna smiles when pictures pop up of her legs buried in the sand.

“I had a day out and went to the seaside on a train, for the first time,” said Donna. This was a huge step for Donna. Thelma adds: “Before Woodways Donna would never get in a taxi or go on public transport.” The next big trip is to the Clumber Park Hotel in Nottinghamshire. “I’m going to a spa overnight for my birthday,” she says, excited about the pampering treatments that she’ll be having.

Donna has discovered a creative side since moving into Woodways, developing a passion for arts and crafts, something she’s never done before. She is fondly known as the ‘Amazon Queen’ due to regular deliveries of creative purchases (the cardboard boxes are then housed in the art room, reused and repurposed for art projects).

A proud Piscean, Donna has painted sea life including fish and seahorses above her sofa. Donna also painted a sea life wall art mural in the Relaxation Room (including her favourite mammal – a dolphin).

Inspirational quotes, written by Donna, such as “Every day may not be good but there is something good in every day” are framed on walls in her apartment as well as in Woodways’ corridors.

“One of the things I really like about living here is that when I want time on my own I have time on my own, and when I need staff they’re here,” adds Donna.

Pisceans are known for being emotionally sensitive and having empathy for others – qualities which Donna has really developed since moving into Woodways.

Thelma explains: “Donna is an exceptionally caring and kind individual. Since Donna has moved in here, she has developed empathy and now thinks about other people. She has a massive caring streak and that caring streak has become wider and wider.”

“I’ve developed a caring side. I get on with most of the people who live here. Someone new has moved in who comes to me when she needs help – I’m like a role model to her,” adds Donna.