Homeless, alone and with no self-worth – a woman who hit rock bottom managed to get her confidence back by harnessing the power of theatre at Mercury Theatre Wales.

After facing daily verbal and physical abuse from her partner, Eve* felt stuck in a relationship she couldn’t escape from.

Describing leaving as the best thing she ever did, it also left Eve with no one to turn to and shortly after losing her home, she began sofa surfing and sleeping rough for the next three years – something that made Eve’s already low self-esteem plummet even further, pushing her to contemplate suicide.

After finding solace at Emmaus South Wales, a charity that provides accommodation and meaningful activities for people who have experienced homelessness, Eve was encouraged by staff to star in a play, Finding Home.

Finding Home was a play about homelessness from Mercury Theatre Wales, created with input from people who have lived experience of homelessness. The show explored stories of homelessness, alcoholism, mental health issues, grief and fear, and featured performances from several Emmaus UK residents.

Hillingdon Times: Finding Home's full cast. Credit: PLSS PhotographyFinding Home's full cast. Credit: PLSS Photography

Eve identified that theatre was a brilliant outlet to process the challenges she had faced, as well as improve her confidence, remind her of her creative potential, and gave her something meaningful to work towards.

She said: “The worst thing about being homeless was being on my own. I didn’t think anyone cared about me and I thought everyone was against me, even my family. I was just all alone.

“I found out about Finding Home through the staff at Emmaus.

“I’d never been part of anything like that before and it was great to share that opportunity with others who had the same kind of background and history as me. It helped me realise that other people go through similar experiences, so I wasn’t alone.

“Finding Home made me think about other people’s situations and how other people can get through the toughest challenges with support. It helped me so much with my confidence and self-worth, as well as improving my dancing, singing, and acting skills. I’m in a much better place now.

“If it wasn’t for the support of Finding Home, I think I’d have a completely different attitude towards life. It helped me be confident to be in a play like that and made me come out my shell a bit.

“I’d like to be involved in more plays in the future, and I want to get a job, get a flat, and live independently.”

Artistic Director of Mercury Theatre Wales Bethan Morgan said: “That feeling that you have a self-worth and you’re able to have a conversation with people you haven’t met before – to see that develop in people was amazing and it was really breaking down barriers.

“People hit a certain rock bottom and theatre has helped to build them back up and get them believing in themselves.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do the project without funding from the National Lottery – it’s integral. The opportunities that it’s provided for these people as well as us to learn and reflect on our own attitudes has been incredible. We even had an actor with learning disabilities saying that this project saved his life.”

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.

Hillingdon Times: Strictly star Neil Jones has opened up about his experience of homelessness as a teenagerStrictly star Neil Jones has opened up about his experience of homelessness as a teenager

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.”

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.

*Not real name