Former rough sleeper helped by addiction charity meets William on her birthday

A former rough sleeper who suffered with addiction for 15 years before turning her life around said it was “really lovely” to meet the Prince of Wales on her 34th birthday as he visited a charity in the West Midlands.

Prince William visited homelessness and addiction charity Betel UK’s new headquarters, employment skills training and community outreach centre in Aston, Birmingham, on Thursday and heard the stories of dozens of former service users including Becky Ellis.

William listened as Becky told how she had been homeless for 10 years, four of which she was on the streets, and had been in addiction for 15 years when she found Betel.

She had been in and out of prison, had lost custody of her children and was suffering with mental health issues, but told the prince the charity had “completely changed my life”.

Becky, who is now a catering manager for the charity, said: “Now I’ve got my children back in my life, I have a husband and we have a new baby.

Prince of Wales visit to West Midlands
The Prince of Wales meets missionaries Evan (right) and Cambry Yoder with 11-day-old baby Harry (Jon Super/PA)

“The beautiful thing about this place is that the people who help you have been through it so it helps you to see if they can change, so can I. It gives you hope.”

Speaking about the prince, she said: “He was really lovely and down to earth and was inspired. He listened to my story and asked a lot of questions, he was really nice.”

During his visit, which included a tour of the charity’s onsite salon, theatre and cafe, the prince met the youngest person in the building – 11-day-old Harry Yoder, and his parents Evan and Cambry, missionaries from the US who are working with Betel’s residents.

Evan said: “He was asking us how and why we got to be here. He was very normal. He is a dad so he wished us good luck with getting sleep with Harry, who is the newest person he met today. It’s the other Harry and William pairing.”

Kelly Williams, a mother-of-seven who suffered with drug and alcohol addiction over 18 years, said it was “surreal” meeting William, who she described as being “like an old mate”.

She said: “At first I was so nervous, but he was so easygoing and you could tell he was there to listen, which was beautiful.

Prince of Wales visit to West Midlands
The Prince of Wales talking to staff at the charity’s onsite theatre as service users take part in an improvisation session (Jon Super/PA)

“He said it was fascinating and he wanted to know more, I really wish I did have more time as there’s so much more I could have told him.”

Kelly shared with the prince how both her parents were addicts and she had lost the five children she had at the time.

She said: “I was so broken, in my addiction. It was very lonely, very chaotic and quite violent at times and I had to fend for myself a lot. I felt invisible at times.

“When I came here in 2017, it really saved my life and it saved my children’s lives too as Betel opened the door for them to come and live here with me. It was extraordinary.

“I have learned a lot of skills here. I have real, genuine friendships, which is something that I was lacking before because of a lack of trust – if I couldn’t even trust my parents, who could I trust?

“Coming here and being allowed to heal and break free from my old life and now have a new life is just incredible and I’m so grateful.

“I now have a wonderful husband and we have our son. He has a son as well and we all live together. I never thought this would happen.

“I always thought there must be more to life than the lifestyle I was living, I just didn’t know where to get the help.

“I have a future now, which is incredible. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

The prince said hearing the stories of those who had turned their lives around was “powerful stuff”.

She said: “It makes me want to cry. The timing is amazing, we just finished the building and to have him here to see it will give good exposure to what we do here to help the homeless, the addicted and the marginalised and we’re hoping more people will come in through that.

“He is so lovely, so easy to talk to and I feel like we all could have talked to him all day. He was so interested in our people and the situations they have been in.”

The prince posed for a group photograph with volunteers, service users and staff before he left amid the sound of clapping and cheering from the crowd.

The charity opened its first residence in Birmingham 28 years ago and now has 13 recovery residences in 11 urban areas in England and Scotland including in Nottingham, Manchester and Derby.

The Prince and Princess of Wales previously visited one of Betel’s other cafes inside Coventry Cathedral in January 2018 and promised to return when the charity had set up its UK headquarters.

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