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Ashford dad who hit rock bottom after divorce and redundancy was saved by Dover charity Emmaus where he has set up gym

At his worst, Steve Pope would down two bottles of vodka in a day.

On another occasion, while sober but distracted by his troubles, he crashed his car into a ditch.

Thrown into despair by redundancy and divorce - and without a home to call his own - he even thought of taking his own life.

“I could have deliberately driven my car into a wall,” he says. “I could see no other way out.”

But now he has turned his life around with the help of Dover homelessness charity Emmaus and is preparing to open his own gym.

The 55-year-old told KentOnline: “The hardest thing to say is two words and one letter: ‘I need help.’

“But asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness or defeat.

Steve Pope at the gym at Emmaus Dover
Steve Pope at the gym at Emmaus Dover

“By actually understanding your own vulnerability, it makes you stronger because you're learning to cope with and recognise it.

“We’re not machines. We’re not robots. We are human beings - we are a sum of all parts.”

Mr Pope lived in Kennington, Ashford, until he suffered a double blow in autumn 2019, splitting up with his wife and being made redundant after being a warehouse supervisor with the same firm for 25 years.

He had to move out and stay with a friend in Bethersden and would, in his pit of despair, down vodka in his room.

“I drank heavily before my marriage and job ended - but afterwards it got worse,” he says.

Steve Pope at Emmaus in Archcliffe, Dover
Steve Pope at Emmaus in Archcliffe, Dover

“I would go on week-long binges and the highest amount I could drink was two bottles of vodka in a day.”

He would drink at home alone so he never got into any accidents or trouble with the law.

But he was so overwhelmed by his worries and depression he once crashed his car while sober.

“It was in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown period - I put my car into a ditch,” he says.

“I was so distracted by my problems, I wasn’t concentrating on my driving.”

Steve Pope training hard at the gym at Emmaus, Dover
Steve Pope training hard at the gym at Emmaus, Dover

Mr Pope was unhurt and was able to flag down a van whose driver towed the car back onto the road.

As he suffered with his mental health he had suicidal thoughts, but never attempted it.

The one saving grace was that his son from his marriage, now 28, was continually supportive during his crisis and their relationship remains strong.

Mr Pope’s fortunes first began to turn in June 2021 when he learned about Emmaus and moved in there less than a week later.

He got support and counselling and saw his mental health improve.

Steve Pope at the gym he helped set up at Emmaus, Dover
Steve Pope at the gym he helped set up at Emmaus, Dover

He now lives at the charity’s centre at Archcliffe Fort and has helped set up a gym there.

The keen weight trainer is now encouraging fitness and nutrition among fellow residents, called companions by Emmaus.

The number of people using the fitness facility has increased sevenfold within the past year.

“I’m a true believer in the connection between physical health and good internal health which leads to good mental health,” says Mr Pope.

“Emmaus has given me a chance to reset my life.

“I want to help other people with mental health issues, within a safe gym environment, so they can begin their own journey in small achievable steps.”

He recently achieved a fully-funded level two gym instructor qualification, supported by Emmaus, and hopes to eventually open his own gym.

Mr Pope, who was born in Canterbury, agrees that men, notorious for bottling up feelings and worries, should especially open up more and ask for help.

KentOnline previously reported how former drug addict Blake Murray, from Deal, has set up a men’s mental health group to help others in similar situations.

“It’s generational. Our fathers and grandfathers were brought up to keep a stiff upper lip, keep your chin up, just crack on,” says Mr Pope.

“But now the issue of mental health has become more prevalent in our society, especially among men.”

Emmaus Dover offers up to 27 people who have experienced homelessness a home for as long as is needed.

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