How I went from being helped to helping others in need

Timothy Pereira explains how he feels privileged to share the freedom he experienced through a project from an Elim church

When disability forced Timothy Pereira to give up his teaching job, he soon fell into debt and poverty. Struggling to afford basic essentials, food parcels from members of Christian Life Church in Birmingham made a huge difference.

As he began to find his feet again, Timothy signed up as a volunteer for the church’s Life House project, an initiative which supports people struggling with poverty or needing crisis support in the area.

Today, he is coordinator of the project, a role he has held for the past three-and-a-half years.

“I’ve ended up being quite privileged, but I understand where the clients we work with are coming from.

“It means I can now help lift other people up,” Timothy says. The ever-growing project offers a huge range of services to the local area, including a clothing bank, a food bank, free school uniforms for up to 100 disadvantaged children per year and crisis support for adults and asylum seekers.

A drop-in centre also offers adult education, advice, advocacy and safeguarding services. The project takes referrals from other agencies or refers clients to charities such as Christians Against Poverty when specialist help is needed.

“We’re next to one of the most deprived areas in one of the most deprived cities,” says Timothy. “We serve the church congregation and clients from a diverse range of backgrounds.”

One of the Life House team’s main tasks is offering crisis support for issues such as benefits and housing. Birmingham is transferring to Universal Credit and the move is having a huge impact on people’s mental health, Timothy says.

“We’re getting clients who say they’ve attempted suicide. We’ve seen spikes in mental illness, evictions, debt and people having to go to court.

“Several of our clients say they came to us after they realised they might be forced to turn to crime if they didn’t get help. We’ve just employed a counsellor because the demand for counselling is massive.”

And as Timothy experienced himself, disabled clients need help navigating the benefits system and making applications. With so much demand for the Life House’s services, he has been keen to make the project more professional.

“This year, we relaunched as The Life House. Before that, we were The Ark, which stood for Acts of Random Kindness. But you can’t be professional and random.

“We were working with more and more clients, more third sector agencies such as the probation service, and Birmingham City Council. We had to professionalise, and now we’re well respected. Rather than working randomly, we work systematically with people until they no longer need food parcels or clothes.

“We no longer measure success by the number of food parcels we give out, but by the number of people who don’t need food parcels any more.”

Looking ahead, Christian Life Church is keen to grow the project. Timothy is seeking funding to extend the building to expand the food and clothes banks and the children’s work.

He is also aiming to get accreditation to be able to give legal and financial advice. Being able to provide practical help to clients in crisis is hugely rewarding, Timothy says. “There are times when we’ve essentially saved people’s lives.”

But ultimately, being salt and light in the community is the most important aim.

“By working with the council or building a good reputation for a faith-based project among other agencies, we’re helping to build the kingdom of God. All our clients know we’re Christians, but I’d love to have more opportunity to share our faith with them as we help them practically. Jesus cared about the whole person, and we try to do that as well.”

Getting access to my kids again

When staff at the Life House met Joseph Davies, he was a rough sleeper and a drug addict who was denied access to his children. They helped him get a job selling the Big Issue and he was then able to come off drugs and secure temporary accommodation.

When a local business noticed how Joseph was turning his life around, they offered him a job. The Life House staff were able to support him once again, helping him with the practicalities of taking on and keeping his job.

Today, Joseph works full-time, pays his own rent and his children visit him whenever they want. He puts his transformed life down to the help he received from the Life House.

A safe place for my baby

A relative took teenage mum Donna to the Life House after she escaped from long-term sexual abuse. Her abusers had confined her to the house and she became pregnant by one of them. She escaped soon after giving birth and when she turned 18 was placed in emergency, temporary accommodation with her child.

The Life House found a suitable place for Donna and her baby in a women’s refuge, which she moved into that same afternoon. The refuge gave her specialist support to reintegrate into normal life and learn the life skills she had been denied as a child. The Life House provided food and essential baby items.

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