When Ryan Hopkins first heard about Street Soccer programmes at the Change Centre, he believed that giving football another crack would help keep him busy and ease his anxiety. Fast forward 18 months and he is now a beacon of positivity within ‘Dundee’s biggest living-room.’
“I first heard about Street Soccer through a family friend who was at Andy’s Man’s Club”, he said.
“He invited me up to a session to help me get through the anxiety I was dealing with at the time, I was also homeless and staying on my auntie’s couch, so I needed something to keep me busy. I had no idea what Street Soccer and its programmes were about and I just wanted to forget about the things that were going on in my life at the time.
I played ice hockey for many years and I always felt that I cut myself short in terms of sport, I knew how beneficial it was but family life and other stresses took over. I had always been a big football fan and the chance to come in and take up something that was free was a big boost to me. It really helped me.”
Ryan highlights that throughout lockdown periods, he suffered. A relationship breakdown resulted in a period of homelessness and feelings of depression.
“I knew I needed a support network as my depression started to creep back in. I knew I needed to reach out and thankfully I fitted in instantly at the Change Centre. I felt at ease from the moment I walked in.”
His progression at the Change Centre has been rapid. Going from player, to volunteer and then sessional worker, he is now almost a year in to his new role as a Positive Change Worker in Dundee.
“After COVID, jobs were few and far between and when you have anxiety issues, it’s tough to go through that interview process and deal with that rejection. I found the opportunity here as a chance to improve myself, get my soft skills back and engage with people, making myself feel a lot more comfortable in public settings. It was an organic progression within myself.
My progression was really quick but that was down to feeling so comfortable. Within six to eight weeks, I was asked if I would like to volunteer and that gave me a massive lift. It made me feel like someone seen you, someone cared about you. I grabbed it by the horns. If I was keeping myself busy, I was keeping my anxiety at bay. I was finding a purpose, which was huge.”
After joining Street Soccer sessions in early 2021, Ryan was well aware of the impact that the Change Centre was having on his life and credits this to improving his relationship with his children, later in the year.
“I started to feel so much better, my life was improving in every way. I was becoming better with my children again. I felt comfortable around them and I knew I had responsibilities around the corner both at the Change Centre and at home. That helped.
Fast forward to April 2022, I was asked to apply for some new positions that had come up through funding. I was a bit overwhelmed at that time as I didn’t expect someone to have faith in me. However, I applied and was successful. Now, I am the Change Centre’s Positive Change Worker. It’s completely changed my whole outlook on life. It’s absolutely fantastic.”
Ryan is incredibly open about his own journey and how that allows him to support others in overcoming their own battles. Most will know him now as incredibly cheery and always up for a laugh. He underlines that an attempt on his life in 2018 was a major turning point.
“I now credit that as the best thing that ever happened to me. That incident made me realise I needed help and allowed me to reach out. I have always vowed that I could never go back to that state. Now, I do everything I possibly can to not go back there. That latches on to a level of positivity, where I read more, I have a great relationship with the gym and my food. Routine is very important for me now. The positivity that I have inside myself feels too good, to ever let go of. To enjoy life again is incredible.”
Overcoming battles with depression and anxiety is never linear and Ryan believes that it’s small things that perhaps have the biggest impact, as he states he continues to learn more about how he can support others.
“Going through that experience yourself is key. You know what worked for you and the changes that helped your life, so to try and pass that on to someone else makes you feel great. It gives you purpose and your wage almost becomes irrelevant to the work you’re doing. If someone comes in asking for you personally and you can make them leave with a smile on their face, that beats any monetary value that exists.
When others hear my story, it really breaks down a barrier and they immediately take to you. I tell all of the people I meet that my phones always open. Even if its just a wee message in the evening, I know how important that connection can be and we want all players to feel like they have got a support network. I heard from a boy the other week that he had just secured a new job and wanted someone to share the news with – for him to let me know, brightens my day.”
Even casual visitors to the Change Centre in Dundee will immediately feel the impact that the tight-knit community continues to have for people in the city. Ryan’s role as Positive Change Worker means that a big part of his remit is to simply be available for players at all times. He highlights that by being around for a small chat and a cup of coffee is what is keeping many new participants around for longer.
“My role is sort of getting defined as I progress. We know that anxiety, panic attacks, illness can strike at any time, so a big part of my role is just being available. I want all the players here to feel like they can share with me and know that I will focus on trying to help. It’s very important that someone has a release even just for half an hour or an hour. And when you can do that for someone, they are more likely to stay engaged, we don’t lose them and we can help put them on a positive pathway.”
When reflecting on his progress, Ryan believes that by finding the Change Centre at a difficult time in his life, he found fulfilment and hope. His ambition is to continue to provide that for others and is delighted to have witnessed so many incredible changes across the programmes, with players continuing to show desire to achieve more.
“The relationships I have built here have created hope in my life and the tools I have developed here have been so crucial. The community here have progressed phenomenally well in the year or so since its inception. Your differences die at the door, regardless of what you have been through and I think the idea of the Change Centre itself has been incredible for the city.
I’ve become a much calmer and levelled person because of the ethos’ that we implement here. I would happily admit that I no longer get angry. I give everyone the benefit of doubt now, mostly down to what I’ve been through and I know the challenges that many can face.”
A common theme discussed across the centre, among all staff, is that the positive impact over the past year would not be possible without such strong partnerships. The end goal for many organisations is the same and that is to support those in need and create more inclusive and positive communities. Ryan highlights that the growing relationships with partners in the city has become one of his highlights about working at the Change Centre.
“It’s fantastic to see so many partners and local organisations taking notice of what’s happening here and realising that it really does make a difference, working together. It will definitely help Dundonians going forward. We’ve seen the deprivation in this city but we all know in here that we are in this together. It’s built such a positive community.
For me personally, just making someone here feel comfortable is so important. Everyone has a bad day, but giving them the chance to talk is so crucial. The biggest step is stepping through those front doors and after that, we know we have the tools in place to make a difference. “
Ryan is part of our full time staff at the Change Centre in Dundee. You can learn more about the centre, its aims and its programmes online now. Free drop-in sessions take place every week for adults and young people, and provisions are now in place to support parents, toddlers and those with additional needs too.
You can get in touch with Ryan directly on [email protected]