‘It’s the peace of mind that there is someone else out there in the local area that can help if needed’ says one of those helped by 50 Backpacks

PUBLISHED: 12:33 29 June 2020

A father-of-three who moved to Wisbech from Leicester around 14 years ago, Jack, 32, was living on a mound near the towns Tesco Extra store on Cromwell Road after leaving his partner, trying to hide himself from view. - Picture: WikiMedia/Geograph/For Reuse

A father-of-three who moved to Wisbech from Leicester around 14 years ago, Jack, 32, was living on a mound near the towns Tesco Extra store on Cromwell Road after leaving his partner, trying to hide himself from view. - Picture: WikiMedia/Geograph/For Reuse

WikiMedia/Geograph/For Reuse

Over a long day in Wisbech, we met up with and chatted to many of those who have been helped and supported by 50 Backpacks.

Spike and his team of volunteers provide a safe zone for them and they in turn acknowledge the vital role played by Backpacks.

We listened to their stories. Here’s Jack. For Jack, it’s the little things that matter most in a bid to cling onto a normal life. As a condition of each agreeing to speak with us - often candidly - we agreed to preserve their anonymity.

But their stories paint a mixed picture of life without a home in Wisbech. And they provide an insight into not just how they see themselves, but how others see them as they strive to get by in what is often a hostile world.

“Even if it’s a ‘hello’, 50 Backpacks gives me a distraction. “Without that and the way I’ve been feeling and wanting to give up, knowing Spike is around, sometimes you forget and seeing him around and people helped to move on, it gives you hope,” he said.

A father-of-three who moved to Wisbech from Leicester around 14 years ago, Jack, 32, was living on a mound near the town’s Tesco Extra store on Cromwell Road after leaving his partner, trying to hide himself from view.

Since letting his family lead successful lives, one of his children preparing to go to university for example, Jack has tried to lead his own. But it’s never been easy.

“People walk past in the street and think ‘look at that p**shead’, but you’re not. You’re a normal person with no support,” he said. “The bits and bobs I had were valuable to me and people passing by, so I had to walk round all day carrying heavy bags so no-one took my stuff.

“There’s no hard feelings between me and my partner. We’re still friends; it was what was best for the kids. They’re not too far from the area. I can see them, but they’ve got their own life.”

After rough sleeping in a tent for three months, Jack was able to find a place at The Ferry Project in August last year having previously stayed there after leaving his partner. This is when he also discovered the work that Simon Crowson, known as ‘Spike’ and founder of the 50 Backpacks Vision charity, was doing and how they were benefitting other homeless people in the area.

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“The only other support is 50 Backpacks for food, advice, guidance, helping you get where you need to get,” Jack admitted.

“Many have turned to Spike and he’s managed to feed them, clothe them, get them somewhere to stay. He doesn’t want anything for doing it, he’s been there before, knows how you feel.”

From talking about 50 Backpacks’ work with Jack and its impact on him, there’s a degree of calmness and a ray of positivity on looking forwards rather than back to his dark days.

Jack has known Spike for around six months, and the relief he has provided in a short space of time is hard for him to describe.

“Spike wants to know what you want, and cares about you and what you want to do with yourself,” Jack said. “If I’ve missed food one day, I’ve turned up to Spike and he’s given me some soup or some toast, just to keep me going.

“50 Backpacks have provided me with stuff I’ve needed, like clothing and deodorant. They’ll provide anything I need if I ask for it. It’s the peace of mind that there is someone else out there in the local area that can help if needed.”

However, due to Jack’s situation and his experiences, using the charity more often is not a suitable option.

“I don’t want to waste his resources while I’ve still got somewhere to stay. It’s not financially viable, but it’s not fair wasting his time trying to help me,” Jack said.

Mental health issues as well as drink and drug problems have worsened over time for Jack, anxiety and depression also a burden. Sometimes, Jack has seen Spike on the streets of Wisbech himself, and the recognition he gives is something that helps ease some of Jack’s worries.

But as he aims to grip onto normality, with a possible reunion with his family in the pipeline, Jack is confident that with 50 Backpacks around, there is somewhere to look back on when he needs it.

“We amicably split, hoping that by being in our own spaces, things might be different, and the family might get back together,” he said. “I’m trying to help myself because I don’t want to rely on Simon because I know he’s got more important things to deal with. People are worse off than me, and I’m trying to grip onto normality.”


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