St Vincent’s Centre in Southend has helped hundreds of homeless people and struggling families, who want to return the favour by volunteering to support others.

Dave Albert, 49, of Sandleigh Road, Leigh, lost his job during the recession and fell into addiction and homelessness, losing contact with his daughter.

Sleeping rough for a decade, Dave described “falling through the net” with no system to protect him.

He said: “I wanted change so much, but I just couldn’t get it. I was screaming for help.

Echo: St Vincent's helped Dave Albert battle addiction and homelessness, helping him to reconnect with his family.St Vincent's helped Dave Albert battle addiction and homelessness, helping him to reconnect with his family. (Image: Ben Shahrabi)

“Thanks to St Vincent's, I’ve been able to rebuild and get relationships with my parents and my 17-year-old daughter back on track. It really has turned my life around.

“It's given me the drive to give something back - and the confidence, passion and determination to change.”

Former gardener Darren Bailey, 47, and partner Emma Hayter, 31, were homeless until the charity stepped in. 

Their experience proved valuable because, unlike other charity workers, they’ve “been there, done that”.

Emma said: “It’s all good saying ‘we understand’ but you’ve not been through what we have.”

The couple has since welcomed a baby, Vinny-Lee Bailey, who they named after the centre which helped them.

Darren, who lived in a tent on the seafront for two months, said: “The charity helped us get our first flat, so our way of saying thank you is to look after the allotment.”

The couple has transformed the charity’s allotment in Springfield Drive, Westcliff, into a well-being area for guests. They plan to grow enough crops next summer to supply the centre’s kitchen and sell at its weekly market.

Iman fled the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt with her three children in 2011, after separating from her husband. Her children now work in skilled professions, and her youngest son is at university.

She said: “This place is kind and helpful. When my mother was sick, the centre helped me get tickets to go back to Egypt and see her before she died. They’re still supporting me. They’re like my family here.”

To show her gratitude, Iman volunteers at the clothing bank and the charity’s Day Service. She also helps teach Syrian and Iraqi refugees English.