When Martine Harding left Fieldhead hospital two years ago, her confidence hit rock bottom.
She was suffering from mental health issues, including depression, and had lost her job, her family and her home.
Living life on the streets, with no one to turn to, the mum of three couldn’t see a way out.
“I felt like I didn’t have any support when I came out of hospital. I was homeless and sleeping in a hostel,” 40-year-old Martine said. “I was so low in confidence and felt like I didn’t have any purpose in life.
“I was sick of the sight of the same four walls and feeling like I had nothing really to get up for on a morning and I told my case worker I needed to get busy.
“I wanted desperately to get back out in public and start speaking to people again and as I’d been unemployed for five years, my case worker suggested I undertook some voluntary work.
“I applied at local charity shops but got rejection after rejection due to my mental health issues which was incredibly demotivating.”
Martine, from Ossett, went for an interview at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) charity shop on Westgate in Wakefield, managed by Tracey Jeffels.
“I was really nervous; I was obviously still homeless at the time so I didn’t feel like I was dressed for the part and my low confidence and self-esteem meant I found it difficult to talk to people, to even look them in the eye. “I was pacing outside the shop for nearly an hour and it was only when it started pouring with rain that I forced myself to enter.
“But Tracey welcomed me with open arms as a much- needed volunteer and didn’t bat an eyelid about my mental health issues.
“For a long time all I could see was darkness and, as cheesey as it sounds, the BHF gave me a chance to see the light.
“Tracey pushed me when I’d given up on myself. I regained my life and felt like I had purpose again. On my first day, she even bought me new clothes from the BHF shop!”
Martine, whose grandfather died following a stroke and a heart attack, was initially meant to work at the store three days a week but enjoyed it so much, she volunteered for six or seven days each week.
“It feels fantastic to be part of the BHF cause. It gives me a huge buzz to support other volunteers and to support the hundreds of people who are affected by heart conditions.
“Knowing someone is still living and walking around due to the money that we raise is an amazing feeling.” Despite having no qualifications, the shop encouraged Martine to take up the BHF NVQ scheme, which is open to all BHF volunteers. With the support of a tutor she completed her customer service and retail course, to gain her first two qualifications. After a year of working at the shop, she secured a paid role in the charity as assistant manager of the new BHF Furniture and Electrical store in The Ridings.
“I had been working at the store for a year when Tracey told me about a full-time vacancy as an assistant manager. She encouraged me to go for it and I was thrilled to be offered the job.
“When I took up the position, I also started a BTEC management apprenticeship, which I’ve already passed parts of. I’m really grateful to BHF for giving me the opportunity to prove to everyone, and prove to myself, that I wasn’t a dead-beat.”
Tracey said: “Martine, and what she has an accomplished, is fantastic. When I first met her she was very timid but there was a glimmer of something there and she blossomed. She is so connected to the cause and a real ambassador for the British Heart Foundation.
“We need more volunteers, like Martine to support the charity. Every minute people can spare is greatly appreciated and we are committed to supporting them in return.
“As well as gaining invaluable life skills, our volunteers can work towards qualifications, gain work experience and develop personally, like Martine has, in terms of confidence and career direction. Some of our staff also go on to paid roles in the organisation.
“The community in Wakefield have always been behind us and our two city centre stores generate thousands of pounds for the charity every year. We want to encourage even more Wakefield people to volunteer and to donate stock - clothing and furniture - so that we can keep up our fantastic work.”
The Mayor of Wakefield, Coun Janet Holmes, visited the BHF Furniture and Electrical store, last week to show her support for the stock and volunteer appeal at both the city centre shops.
The BHF is one of her chosen charities and is a cause close to her heart, having experienced a heart attack herself and losing her husband, former Mayor of Wakefield, Brian Holmes to the same condition last October.
Coun Holmes said: “The British Heart Foundation is a charity that is very close to my family. The BHF is always incredibly grateful for any donations, stock and volunteers and I have been working harder than ever this year to raise the profile of the charity and support the fantastic work they do. Heart conditions are one of the biggest killers in the UK so it’s hugely important to support charities like the BHF which support people who are ill with heart disease or other heart conditions, fund the training of doctors and nurses, maintain cardiac wards and fund crucial research.”
To find out more about the foundation and how to get involved in volunteering or donating stock, visit www.bhf.org.uk