If you have ever doubted the potential for someone’s work to make or break them, then you need to meet Kevin Elder.
A key chapter of the bike mechanic’s story so far was a soul-destroying job that brought him to despair, but the sequel is all about new beginnings in the Recycles shop.
Kevin is a bright and articulate 54-year-old with an engaging soft Aberdeen accent, who has clearly thought deeply about his journey so far, and where he is now.
The back story brings back painful memories of a whole decade of working the night-shift in a “back-breaking” job, under an uncaring and incompetent boss. Then the death of both of Kevin’s parents, during the same period, following long illnesses, made it all too much to bear.
He is brutally honest about what happened next.
“I gave up my job, sold my house, spent a year travelling around Scotland, and wasted two or three years on alcohol and other self-indulgence.
“I had money in my pocket, so I could have whatever I wanted. But I was stuck in a rut.
“The problem was: having money is great, but I wasn’t fulfilled.
“When the cash finally ran out, I couldn’t pay the rent, and suddenly I was homeless.”
After a two-week period of “acclimatisation” in the sanctuary of Booth House, the Salvation Army’s Swindon hostel, Kevin started thinking about the potential for Recycles to change his situation and his prospects.
But he wasn’t optimistic.
The transition to being a long-term resident meant he was obliged to engage with at least one of Booth House’s two social enterprises, and he admits that, at first, becoming a volunteer in the Recycles shop didn’t sound like the answer.
“I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was 12,” he explains, “and I didn’t think I was mechanically minded. I really didn’t think I would take to it.
“But I did.”
Thanks to on-the-job training and learning quickly from colleagues, Kevin is now a skilled and experienced mechanic – and with perfect timing, because the unprecedented boom that cycling is going through means an increasing demand for people who know bikes, inside-out.
But there’s more.
He says that fixing and rebuilding customers’ bikes “has also given me the opportunity to help other people,” and “That’s a good feeling.”
So is the atmosphere of teamwork and camaraderie that prevails in the shop, for which Kevin is grateful to his colleagues and managers.
“It’s the first time I’ve had a job (albeit voluntary) that has left me feeling fulfilled.”
It all adds up to going forward with a new-found self-esteem and self-confidence.
“Self-confidence never came readily to me before,” he says.
Sometimes you will also find Kevin helping out with Booth House’s other social enterprise, a catering business that supplies local offices and other businesses, and you might bump into him on the streets and cycleways of Swindon, too, because – perhaps inevitably – Recycles has given him the cycling bug.
It’s been a tough road, but Kevin is back on course.
So is he happy?
“Yes,” he says, “but not just happy. I feel something I haven’t felt in a long time. I’m content.”