Sophia is a talent violinist with a Cambridge degree. She is also homeless. Sophia has been staying at our Marylebone Project as she continues on the road to recovery.
Sophia grew up with a loving family in the home counties, a bright pupil who picked up the violin aged six and excelled.
She loved everything from Bach concertos to Irish folk music, and passed Grade 8 with flying colours. She won a place to study architecture at Cambridge and began playing her instrument to diploma level.
Then, halfway through her studies, Sophia began struggling with the bipolar disorder that would come to shape her life. Determined not to be deterred, she graduated from Cambridge and pursued a fine arts degree.
But in her twenties the breakdowns became more frequent. Sophia began taking drugs with friends in London — smoking cannabis, then turning to “numbing” heroin and eventually crack cocaine.
Years flew by, spent in and out of psychiatric wards, with relapses followed by spells on the streets, where the pieces Sophia had learned to play for her parents and at Cambridge were used instead to busk for coins.
She hunted for food in bins, spent nights on the streets in pain, and saw loved ones die from addiction-related illnesses.
In 2017, she lost her fiancé, Freddie.
Now 48, clean and in remission, Sophia is sitting in the chapel at the Marylebone Project, a women-only drop-in centre run by the Church Army. She has lived here since losing her flat in Pimlico last summer.
“Nasty things have happened to me and I’ve learned techniques to survive. Needing money led me to do busking. I was regularly given £10 or £5. I was so grateful, but people said they were grateful to me when I was busking, they said I lit up the street.
I’m telling you my story because I think that you have to give a voice to the people who suffer. It also shows that whatever your privileges when you are young, you can crash… Anyone can suffer from mental illness.”
Our appeal is raising money to ensure the project, and others like it around London, can afford to help more women like Sophia.
Using appeal funds, the London Homeless Collective, a coalition of 23 leading charities delivering direct services to people sleeping rough or at risk of homelessness, will work to target the worst gaps — particularly around mental health.
It will create a dedicated cross-sector hub providing displaced women with immediate support, and turn the Marylebone project into a 24-hour female-only drop-in centre.
“My family are relieved that I’m here. They’ve seen me go from strength to strength.”
Sophia holds her violin as she speaks.
She is having lessons again, donated by French violinist Fabienne Fauritte, and finds practicing healing.
Next month she will play a Christmas gig for the project, and once her confidence has fully returned, plans to pay it forward and offer lessons to children with disabilities.
Her message to anyone facing battles with homelessness and drug addiction is that, with the help of projects such as those our appeal will fund, they must never give up.
“I would say to them that there is hope, because it can be turned around.”
The Marylebone Project is one of a few women-only centres in London, and Sophia believes full-time support there is helping her recovery.
Please helps others like Sophia get the support they need - please give now.
Read more about the Marylebone Project...
This article first appeared in the Evening Standard.
Photo credit: Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard.