Today is one of the proudest days of my life. It has nothing to do with the announcement that I am leaving Urban Forum after 8 years as chief executive – that’s yesterday’s news. It has to do with one of the most inspiring stories of personal success and a man I have had the pleasure of calling a friend for the last 15 years.
You probably won’t have ever heard of Jimmy Carlson, unless you’ve been homeless or worked in homelessness, but today he was awarded an OBE for services to tackling homelessness. A fine public accolade for a man who has demonstrated unparalleled strength, courage and resilience over recent years.
I first met Jimmy in 1997 when he was a service user at the Alcohol Recovery Project (ARP). I was working for a charity called Groundswell that helped homeless and ex-homeless people to run community projects and have a greater involvement in services. He soon became actively involved, first in driving client involvement at ARP, then with Groundswell as a volunteer.
Jimmy had fairly recently before been resettled from a homeless hostel to his own flat – where he still lives today. His life, I think it’s fair to say, had been pretty chaotic before then, after years on the streets and in homeless hostels as he struggled to come to terms with his drinking.
Today he is one of the most passionate, skilled and inspiring advocates for client involvement in homelessness. His work has touched the lives of many thousands of people throughout the UK, as a trainer, speaker and activists. Countless homelessness services now involve their service users in the way they design and deliver services as a direct result of Jimmy’s advice and involvement. He has set up a drop in for alcoholics who want a safe space to socialise away from the pub. He has developed a huge number of strategies and plans for services to transform their services to be more responsive and effective. Homeless people throughout the UK have – whether they know it or not – benefited from his work.
I do not imagine that there are many ex-street drinkers and ex-homeless people who have been awarded OBEs. That is befitting as Jimmy is as unique as the honour that has been bestowed on him.
Since I left Groundswell Jimmy and I have remained friends and he is much loved by my whole family. I am so proud and so honoured to call him a friend.
Today is one of the proudest days of my life. Congratulations Jimmy, your honour is well deserved and your story ought to be an inspiration to others. Whenever someone says ‘it can’t be done’ or ‘how could I ever achieve that?’ I would simply say, look at Jimmy Carlson and you will believe that there is no limit to the amazing things that people can achieve.
Post-script [Monday 18th June]
The response to Jimmy’s award has been incredible. I’ve posted links to a few of the hundreds of news channels and papers that have covered his award. And the response to this post on social media has been amazing (though not surprising).
I spoke to Jimmy a couple of times over the weekend. On Saturday he was, quite rightly buzzing and he said, with his phone red-hot with calls from journalists and friends, he was ‘on cloud nine’. I think he was slightly overwhelmed by it all, but enjoying it nonetheless.
On Sunday – in a typical show of why his is worthy of his honour – he was off on a day trip to the seaside with the Haven Club, the self-help group he founded for recovering alcoholics to socialise in a safe alcohol free environment. Not for the superstar lifestyle….after all the attention and celebrity status of the previous day, Jimmy just got straight back to doing what he does best! Helping others to make a positive change.