Sustain: putting life into living

MENTAL illness combined with alcohol and drug misuse had Adrian Atkinson plummeting into debt and homelessness.

High pressure selling jobs had taken their toll on his mental health and after several close bereavements, Adrian suffered his first breakdown in 2010/11. Homeless, he sofa surfed around friends and acquaintances for several years, falling prey to the lure of alcohol and drugs as a means of escape.

After getting back on his feet and landing a role as a community support worker in Kirklees, Adrian had a second breakdown in 2017 triggered by family issues and threat of redundancy. Spiralling into debt, he was at risk of eviction. Support from Wakefield District Housing and Christians Against Poverty resulted in a Debt Relief Order and a referral to Sustain Wakefield.

“I was more or less out of debt when I was referred to Sustain but, with the help of my Support Worker Fran, I have been able to stay out of debt. She helped me put a budget plan together and put me in control of my money. She also taught me to open my mail, not just ignore it, and to deal with anything that needs doing straightaway. I am now totally debt free and not fearful of opening my post,” said Adrian.

Sustain worked with Adrian for 12 months, supporting his recovery and as this was nearing the end last September, looking at what he could do to continue boosting his wellbeing. As Adrian was keen to be outdoors and lacked a garden of his own, they put him in contact with Spectrum People, a local charity which provides meaningful activities and support for vulnerable adults, who run Appletree Community Garden and Allotment in Agbrigg.

Appletree is open three days a week and here Adrian was able to learn new skills while meeting and socialising with new people. After developing a love for gardening, soon after going to Appletree Adrian discovered a new passion - for painting.

Although he’d done art in school and had always enjoyed ‘doodling’ doing pencil drawings, the urge to paint on canvas was totally new.

“I had a picture of a leopard on canvas and painted a landscape over it using green and white emulsion. I showed it to a natural art therapist connected to Appletree and she encouraged me. I’m now using acrylics and have done 35 pictures ranging from miniatures to 35 ft square, mural type, creations.

“When I’m painting it’s just me and the canvas, I’m totally at one with it and feel as if I’ve found a new language, a way of expressing myself that goes beyond words,” he explained.

With a more positive outlook on life, Adrian has set up an Instagram page – adrianatkinson01 – and is doing a business course with a view to possibly making an income from his art. Friendly and welcoming, Adrian enjoys engaging with people and would like to continue his involvement with Appletree and through Spectrum People get involved in mentoring a small group of people combining his interests of gardening with art.

“All my life I have worked in high pressure jobs. I am finding joy here. I have an informal support network in place and feel much stronger in my head and more confident to be myself,” he explained.

“I no longer take drugs and am on prescribed medication that takes the urge to drink away. I can have a drink now and enjoy it without the demons. I am doing all right.”

Adrian added: “I’d encourage anyone who’s on the edge to reach out but you do get out what you put in. I thank Fran for what she’s done for me but she turns it around and says that I was the one that did it. Maybe, but she was there to point me in the right direction.”

· Check out Adrian’s art on Instagram: Ade (@adrianatkinson01) • Instagram photos and videos

Website Design by