From sofa surfer to role model, how the YMCA turned this Norfolk man’s life around

Jamie Copping. Picture: YMCA Norfolk

Jamie Copping. Picture: YMCA Norfolk - Credit: YMCA Norfolk

A year ago he was living on his family and friends' sofas, but today 'role model' Jamie Copping has transformed his fortunes.

YMCA families team. Photo: YMCA Norfolk

YMCA families team. Photo: YMCA Norfolk - Credit: YMCA Norfolk

So much so that the Great Yarmouth man is now up for a national YMCA Young Volunteer of the Year award for his work with the charity's Norfolk branch.

After a relationship breakdown left him homeless, Mr Copping was forced to move from sofa to sofa to stay off the streets.

But when the uncertainty became too much, Mr Copping approached the council for advice and they suggested he speak to YMCA Norfolk.

The next day he was given a bed in their Great Yarmouth hostel.

Although he admits to feeling scared on his first night, he believes it was thanks to support from staff that he was able to turn his fortunes around.

He said: 'They help you out when you don't know where else to go. They get you back and pull you in the right direction.'

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More than just a hostel, the YMCA Norfolk helps residents build confidence and skills through a range of activities and volunteer opportunities. Mr Copping is about to become a fully qualified archery instructor thanks to YMCA's work with outdoor adventure company Ascend Adventure.

In March, Mr Copping swapped Great Yarmouth for Kenya as part of a two-week visit organised by the charity.

The group of seven, made up of residents, volunteers and staff, wanted to strengthen relations with sister organisations in Nairobi and Mombassa.

As well as learning about Kenyan culture, the Norfolk team delivered donations of books, pens and sanitary items collected back home.

The trip was Mr Copping's first time abroad and he said the experience changed the way he viewed his own life.

He added: '1,000 feet in the air on the plane I looked down and thought 'is this actually happening?' I realised how much I take for granted, like how we have running water and can just go to the tap and drink.'

On returning to the UK, Mr Copping said his confidence and independence are continuing to grow.

On top of volunteering his gardening skills to help the Norfolk win the YMCA garden project, he represented the county at the YMCA National Conference in July, an event which Norwich will host in 2019.

He said: 'The activities have built up my confidence a lot. Before I was involved [with YMCA Norwich] I didn't want to do much, but now I know I'm helping out and making a difference.'

In the past year 2,047 local people have been supported by YMCA Norfolk, including the homeless and children at risk of being taken into care.

A testament to the success of the organisation is the fact they have also been nominated for YMCA of the Year. The award recognises the 'hard work and unfaltering dedication' to improving lives in the local community. One of only five shortlisted for the prestigious title, the charity is hoping the community will back their work by voting.

Meanwhile, their work with families going through difficult times has been recognised with a nomination for YMCA Family Work Project of the year. Staff provide a large range of services to match the varied needs of local families, including mediation for when communication has broken down between family members. Although their main focus is always the safety of children involved, they work with whole families to tackle everything from employment, mental health and substance abuse.

All the awards are decided on public vote, and the charity hopes that when Norwich hosts the YMCA National Conference in 2019, they will be able to do so knowing they are delievering the best service in the country.

To vote click here