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Chat and coffee led to life-changing support

When Fiona Hughes (pictured) met Alice for a chat and coffee on a bench overlooking the lake at Brynmill Park neither could have known how much it would change the young woman's life.

Fiona_Hughes

Alice was bright, articulate, intelligent and shy, and as they chatted, she confided in some of the difficulties she was facing and agreed to meet with Fiona again.  The meetings always took place in the open air, where they would 'talk and walk' in local parks and along the promenade.

It was during one of their subsequent walks that the 25-year-old disclosed to Fiona she was a sex worker. She had been involved in an abusive relationship, had lost confidence, felt isolated and was trapped by her circumstances.

The pair had initially been in put in contact by a mutual acquaintance who thought that Fiona, in her role as one of Swansea Council's Local Area Coordinators (LACs), may be able to assist.

Fiona got to know Alice over a period of months and talked to her about her strengths, skills, interests and eventually they started to discuss the changes she wanted to make and her longing to start over.

She introduced her to a Domestic Abuse Support worker and the One Stop Shop in the City centre and also provided information on voluntary activities that Alice could undertake whilst exploring educational opportunities in the profession she was interested in studying.

Alice is now in college, no longer in an abusive relationship and no longer a sex worker. 

"We last spoke a few weeks ago and she believes it was a moment of serendipity that brought us together because her life has changed so much in a relatively short space of time" said Fiona.

"Sometimes going for a coffee with someone you don't know - having the warmth and genuine interest from another person who allows you the opportunity to talk about yourself, can help you to see options. We explored what she liked and she wanted for her future - in other words, what a good life looked like to her."

Alice is grateful for the non-judgemental assistance provided by LAC saying:  "Fiona came into my life when I thought nobody could help me.  I felt so ashamed and just didn't want to go on.  I'll always be grateful for the time she spent with me and thank her from the bottom of my heart." 

There are now 10 LACs working in communities in Swansea and very shortly there will be more.

They have a wide-ranging brief that includes helping people to develop skills and ideas to avoid crises by finding practical solutions to everyday problems and non-judgemental assistance.

Fiona covers the Brynmill and Uplands area and has lived in the community that she loves.

People are introduced to her by doctors, nurses, social workers, family members, acquaintances and friends.

Some may be elderly,  recently bereaved, recovering from illness or have lost confidence in their ability to socialise and become an active participant in the community.

"Isolation can occur for many reasons and you become stuck in a mire where it becomes very difficult to pick yourself up," Fiona explains.

She also comes into contact with many younger people, especially in her patch with its proximity to the university and colleges and high proportion of rental accommodation.

These are people who are often active on social media and this may add to their feelings of loneliness and isolation, according to Fiona.

"They see this wonderful portrayal on Facebook of people out having a fantastic time and looking beautiful.  This can have a profound effect on individuals who are isolated and result in low self-esteem and self-worth,  which in turn may lead to depression, further isolation and loss of confidence," she adds.

"It's my role to walk alongside people and support them as they are work towards their vision of a good life.  To introduce them to activities within the community, and to provide information and signposting.  If they do not want to work with me, that's fine, however things can change and people always have the opportunity to contact me in the future."

Councillor Mark Child, Swansea Council's Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: "Since we started the Local Area Coordinator scheme three years ago I have heard of many examples of the good work they are doing in their communities but not many as moving as that of Alice.

"The team has assisted many hundreds of people who might be lonely or isolated to prevent the need for intervention from social services or other agencies and at a time when the public purse is tight this is invaluable."

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