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Ryan Jones is 23 and from Barry. Not only has Heroes helped him stay out of trouble, it’s inspired him to train to work in a career helping other people. He tells his story here.
“Without Heroes, I would be in a lot of trouble, if not jail. I had never been in trouble before the one incident – in 2011 my ex-partner and I got into a fight and I was charged. I had to complete the IDAP (Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme) and there I met Max, who told me about the men’s group.
“I have changed since doing Heroes. I am nowhere near as aggressive. I would say it has eliminated the aggression out of my life completely. I can’t believe how much I have changed.
“Heroes and IDAP helped me realise what abuse is and the different kinds of abuse and how to prevent it. Everyone in my family says I am like a different person after doing these courses.
“Heroes also helps you understand how the human mind works, how to break habits and how to keep yourself safe. We discuss lots of different topics and you can see how you can relate your own situation to them.
“It is somewhere to talk about feelings. I’ve never had anyone to talk to. Never. To have someone to talk to and who is non-judgemental is good. I can speak to Max and Tammi about any problems I have. They always say they are not the experts but they give the best advice and help me find the best solutions I possibly can.
“I am quite open and talk about my feelings now. I used to say ‘I don’t have feelings’. I have become good friends with two other people in the group and we help each other out. Everybody needs somebody to talk to.
“All my life I was told I would never amount to anything or make anything of my life. With some guidance and support, I have been put back on track. My dad was out of my life for 15 years and I didn’t get on with my step-dad so I didn’t have a good father figure to talk to.
“Heroes has changed the relationship I have with my son. I went through a phase of not wanting anything to do with him. But after going through this course I want better for him.
“In relationships, it has helped me a lot. I now understand it is not nice to be horrible all the time and I have a lot more confidence with talking to people.
“I had a job before I started Heroes but no qualifications. I’m still doing my job but I’m also training on the Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTTLS) course and learning everything I can. The course will give me a qualification to be a trainer, so I can help people, maybe in similar situations to me.
“Because I have been in this situation, I know how they feel and what they will be expecting. They will be thinking people are going to judge them – but these people wouldn’t be in this line of work if they were going to judge. When I can see I’m helping people I feel happy within myself.”
LLoyd and Laura's story.
Lloyd Williams, 28, and Laura Aitkin, 30, are both from Barry. The courses they have taken part in with Max and Tammi have transformed what was previously an abusive relationship, helping them stay together safely. Here are their stories.
Lloyd Williams admits that a couple of years ago his life was a mess. Having already been to prison five times for various reasons, in September 2011 he was convicted of a domestic assault against his partner of a year, Laura Aitkin, and received a community supervision sentence. He had to move out of the home he shared with Laura; access to his son from a previous relationship, and Laura’s two children, was limited; and he had to attend a court-mandated Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP).
“The pressure was horrendous,” says Lloyd, now 28 years old. “Especially because I know now that it was all my fault.”
Although everyone advised against it, Laura and Lloyd, both from Barry, wanted to continue their relationship together. But they both knew things had to change dramatically. Laura told Lloyd about Pattern Changing, a course she had undertaken with Max Chadwick, and which helped her understand more about her relationships. Lloyd rang up to see if there was something that could help him too and Tammi recommended Heroes a self-development course for men, including male perpetrators of domestic abuse, and Lloyd signed up.
He says it changed his life. “It helped massively,” he says. “It inspired me to change. I was an angry person and the course has made me a whole lot more positive. It was a light at the end of the tunnel. For the first time I realised ‘I can change. I don’t have to always be like this’.”
One of the biggest realisations – and challenges – for Lloyd was understanding that he is responsible for his own behaviour.
“Over the years, I thought everything was everybody else’s fault – it couldn’t have been my fault,” he says. “I was very young, very selfish; it was me against the world. Anything that happened was nothing to do with me. If I was in a relationship I blamed my partner for having a past. At the time, I genuinely believed that it was her fault.”
He puts much of his behaviour down to events in his childhood. His mother and father separated when he was about seven or eight. He lived with his mother until he was nine and then he moved in with his father “because I felt sorry for him and guilty because he didn’t have anyone”.
However, Lloyd’s father was emotionally and psychologically abusive towards him. “I didn’t realise it at the time because you don’t when the person is not causing you any harm,” he says.
When the people you view as role models behave in this way, it can shape your own behaviour towards friends, family and partners, and Lloyd soon fell into criminal activities, started taking steroids, and had a very negative attitude towards women.
Heroes, he says, has helped him turn his life around. In the last nine months, Lloyd has completed the Heroes programme three times and is about to start his fourth course. The change in him in that time has been so profound that he has now regained access to his son, his criminal behaviour is a thing of the past, and he and Laura are slowly taking their relationship forward.
“I go along every Monday and when I talk to the lads it has a calming effect,” says Lloyd. “I have never really had anyone I could talk to. I don’t really have anyone now – this is the only thing. I never had a friend or relative I could talk to. I didn’t have the best relationship with my mother because of the way I was. But now my relationship with her is 100 percent better.
As well as strengthening the relationship between him and Laura, Lloyd says it has made them better parents.
“Both myself and Laura have got such levels of respect for the input you have into a child’s life. We talk about things with them, we teach them to understand themselves. If a child runs into the road and you tell them off for being naughty, if you haven’t told them that is naughty in the first place then they don’t know that it is naughty. It is the same with everything unless you teach them properly.”
It hasn’t been easy dealing with his past behaviour and experiences or his feelings though. “It has made me very emotional,” he says, “especially the stuff with my dad. A lot of times I have been crying about things and Max and Tammi have helped me to accept it and move on. I don’t blame my father. He just did the best job he could with the skills and knowledge he had at the time, passed down to him from his parents.
“I am not ashamed of what I am now doing,” he says. “I admit I was wrong.”
Lloyd is so convinced Heroes can transform lives of people such as him that he is preparing to take the training that will enable him to deliver his own Heroes groups and to train other people to deliver the courses too.
“I have been in prison five times, I have no qualifications. This is an opportunity. I’ve gone along to a group voluntarily and it has changed me. Now to get a qualification that is equivalent to an A-level, and a career….. I was heading in the direction where I thought I would spend the rest of my life in and out of custody.
“I spent so many years messing up and finally this is an opportunity to do something about it,” he says. “I want this to be my life.”
It was about a month into their relationship when Laura says Lloyd started displaying signs of abusive behaviour. At first, it was mostly emotional abuse. He was jealous, possessive and controlling. Laura’s self-confidence vanished and she lived in constant fear. Soon, things became violent, culminating in what the 30-year-old calls a “serious incident” after a drunken night out together. Laura fled the next day to her mother’s house. The police were called, Lloyd was arrested and spent a couple of weeks in custody.
Two years on and Laura says things couldn’t be more different. They are taking things slowly but are committed to moving forward together. The couple have worked with Tammi Owen in couples’s therapy sessions and Lloyd is starting his fourth Heroes course and the couple attend the Early Intervention Programme together.
“The courses are about staying together safely or separate amicably,” says Laura. “And thankfully we have been able to stay together safely.”
Laura says that although she understands why people warned her not to stay in the relationship, and that she knows violence is never acceptable, she knew that Lloyd could change and recognised much of his behaviour was a reaction to what he had been through when he was younger and the relationships in his life.
She says following his release from custody his behaviour changed instantly. “Whereas before I was always worried that it [violent behaviour] was coming, there was never a moment when I thought he would re-offend,” says Laura, 30. “The emotional abuse was still there to start but as soon as he started IDAP, it changed. That was a nine month programme but about half way through it got frustrating for him. A lot of the men were not prepared to take responsibility for what they were doing; they were just there because it was court-mandated. Lloyd really wanted to make this the time of rehabilitating.
“Heroes was the tipping point for him,” she adds. “He doesn’t go into it a great deal as it’s all confidential, but that is where I see the biggest changes.”
Now, the physical and psychological abuse has completely stopped. “I know that if Max and Tammi thought he would re-offend they would take me to one side and say ‘this is not a healthy situation’,” says Laura. “They don’t dress it up. They helped Lloyd realise he was wrong and that he can’t say ‘I did it because…’. You can never justify violence.
“But I also recognise my responsibility for choosing to be in that relationship. I feel much stronger now and if there were any signs, as a mother, I would have to say enough is enough.”
She says they are equals now. “My opinion matters just as much as his does. We compromise a lot now. We don’t get to spend every night together due to custody and access arrangements with our children, so nights when we get to do normal things like walk the dog together and then cook tea are great.”
Even before the abuse started, she says the relationship wasn’t ideal. “We were both in a very dark place when we met and we had the same insecurities in each of us. I saw his jealousy and I would think if ‘I can’t do it, why can he?’ It was tit for tat.”
Now, though, they have both learnt to accept responsibility and not to live in the past. “I don’t bring up the past when we are arguing because there would no point us being together,” she says. “You can’t hold on to that resentment. I can’t bring that up every time we have a disagreement. I can forgive but not forget. I will always remember how much hurt he caused me but it wouldn’t be fair to punish him forever as he has taken responsibility.”
Laura feels so empowered by what she has learnt and how her life has changed that she wants to work in a role supporting victims of domestic abuse. “Domestic violence is never going to stop unless you can understand it needs to stop. It is like an alcoholic, never going to stop unless you acknowledge there’s a problem. I see so many women on courses who have been in relationships for years and they say ‘he doesn’t hit me any more’ but the emotional abuse is more damaging.” She hopes her experiences can help them.
Closer to home, Laura says the courses are helping her and Lloyd them to become better parents. “I hope I can show my children the way people can manipulate you and make you insecure,” says Laura. “I was 17 when I got pregnant and I don’t want my daughters to feel as vulnerable as I was, or pressured. I want them to think ‘My mum never really got far when she behaved like that. But now she is more confident she is doing really well’.
“I have made mistakes and been through some really difficult things but if that means my daughters won’t have to go through it or make the same mistakes, then it will all have been worth it.”
Our New Online Wellbeing and Mental Health Units are now available
Mental Health & Wellbeing Awareness for Front Line Support Professionals £25
Understanding Mental Health & Wellbeing Awareness for Front Line Support £55
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BLUEPRINT ONLINE PROGRAMMES
Blueprint offers 2 programmes for professionals wishing to work with or work more effectively with men or women, who are living with, or have lived with, abuse from their partner. You may be a professional who works with families, you may be working in a supportive role with an individual within a family and want to develop more awareness on how to engage men or women to address their own personal issues.
Blueprint also offers 2 programmes for individual men and women who want to become more aware of their situation and develop tools and techniques to help themselves and move on if they wish to after living with abuse from current or past partner.
These programmes can be used together in a supported environment between a professional and an individual if they wish to do so, to support each other and encourage open communication and learning from both sides on impact on living with abuse and how professionals can support you in your choices and become more aware of what help and support is available.
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