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From a homeless drug addict to a chef - Rob Sampson’s incredible story

PUBLISHED: 06:00 22 December 2018 | UPDATED: 17:10 22 December 2018

Rob Sampson, who is now working back in the kitchens.

Rob Sampson, who is now working back in the kitchens.

Archant

It has been a long and difficult road for Rob Sampson.

Flourish Employment Academy graduation day. Rob Sampson.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYFlourish Employment Academy graduation day. Rob Sampson. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Just a few years ago he was standing on a Norwich railway station platform ready to end his life.

Months earlier he had been sleeping rough in the city and was addicted to heroin.

But today, the 50-year-old is a changed man.

He has been sober for almost three years, has his own flat, a fiancée and until recently was working as a chef.

Rob Sampson working in the kitchen. Picture: Mustard TVRob Sampson working in the kitchen. Picture: Mustard TV

His message to those in a difficult position this Christmas is that things do get better - but it’s not easy.

Originally from Cambridge, Mr Sampson had been working as a chef since he was 16.

He was married, had a house and a good job.

But his life fell apart in 2012 in tragic circumstances.

George Finn (LEAP Marketing Officer) and Rob SampsonGeorge Finn (LEAP Marketing Officer) and Rob Sampson

His wife was killed by a drink driver and Mr Sampson spiralled into a deep depression.

He said: “I just lost the plot. He was a drink driver but he didn’t get much of a sentence.

“I went from alcohol to heroin. Anything I could get to numb the pain.

“I had a pretty good job, and a lovely house. But it got repossessed and I ended up on the streets.”

Mr Sampson initially moved to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, where he lived in a tent on the beach.

But thieves stole everything he had - including his dog - and he came to Norwich in 2014.

“I thank my stars I ended up in Norwich,” he said.

“But at the time I was feeling suicidal every day, not just because of what happened to my wife, but also because of the situation I was in.

“I slept at Norwich market for several months. I had no self esteem.”

Despite living on the streets, Mr Sampson managed to get himself clean from Class A drugs.

But his depression continued and he eventually decided to try and end his life.

He said: “I remember waiting for the train to come, but it was delayed for 10 minutes. I kept waiting and waiting, but eventually I lost my bottle.

“After I left the station St Martin’s [Housing Trust] phoned about 30 minutes later.”

At that moment Mr Sampson’s luck finally began to turn. He was offered accommodation at the charity’s Bishopbridge House on Gas Hill.

“I was chuffed”, he said. “I was offered four walls and a roof.”

From there he moved onto Genesis Housing and was introduced to the social enterprise Norwich Leap.

Through its trading arm, The Feed, Leap helps train disadvantaged people – including the homeless - in catering.

Mr Sampson said he was taken on as a volunteer chef and eventually given a job.

“The biggest thing for me was that it changed by focus,” Mr Sampson said. “They made me realise what was important and what was not important.

“It gave me a purpose and I could pass on my knowledge to these guys.

“Weirdly, when I was working at The Feed, I was working at the same [Norwich market] stall I used to sleep in front of.”

The market stall has since closed and Mr Sampson was made redundant last year.

Despite the set back, he has managed to maintain a positive attitude and continues to volunteer.

“I just picked myself up and dusted myself down,” he said. “The old me would have been so despondent and bitter.

“I have been able to sustain myself and I am just so happy to have a place I can call my own.

“I have two cats and a lovely fiancée. I have a normal life that I never thought I would have.”

He hopes to get married next year and wants to return to college to begin teaching.

Mr Sampson said it was important for those who want to get off the street to ask for help.

He said: “I’m a firm believer that you are only two steps away from being homeless.

“When something major happens in your life it all depends on how you handle it.

“I handled it the wrong way and got into drink and drugs.

“You have to want to get off the street and handle your problems, whether it is addiction or mental health issues,” he said.

“In Norwich you have all the support you need [from local organisations].

“But you need to be prepared to ask for help and that can be hard, especially as a man.

“Things will get better, but you have to make it better yourself.”

• Do you have an inspirational story? Email luke.powell@archant.co.uk

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