Project helps tenants in Daventry tackle hoarding

Pictured (left to right): DDH tenant Nick Churchyard, DDH Tenancy Sustainment Officer Roz Williams and psychotherapist, Eliese.
Pictured (left to right): DDH tenant Nick Churchyard, DDH Tenancy Sustainment Officer Roz Williams and psychotherapist, Eliese.

A new scheme to help people conquer hoarding is being launched in Daventry.

Daventry & District Housing (DDH) has launched a pioneering project to help its tenants overcome hoarding – with the help of a psychotherapist who helps people understand and manage their behaviour.

Eliese clearing items from another tenants' garden.

Eliese clearing items from another tenants' garden.

An increasingly widespread problem, NHS data indicates that approximately 2 to 5 per cent of the UK population – potentially over 1.2 million people – experience symptoms of compulsive hoarding.

Hoarding can be a major issue for tenants, their neighbours and housing officers because of the subsequent health and safety risks it creates. For landlords, the financial implications are significant, with cleaning bills running into the thousands while tenants can even face eviction if their behaviour spirals out of control.

DDH has enlisted the services of a Northamptonshire-based therapist who meets residents in their homes over the course of 12 one-to-one sessions to help them overcome their urge to hoard and provide hands-on help to actually clear out their clutter.

The first tenant to undertake 12 therapy sessions with psychotherapist, Eliese, was 58-year-old Nick Churchyard, a serial hoarder who lives in Woodford Halse. The sessions have helped Nick tackle his issues and made a massive difference to his life.

DDH tenant Nick Churchyard and psychotherapist, Eliese.

DDH tenant Nick Churchyard and psychotherapist, Eliese.

“If my behaviour hadn’t changed then there’s very real chance that I would’ve been homeless. That is for sure,” said Nick.

“Since working with Eliese, I’m more open to being questioned, I feel more confident and have started engaging better with other people.”

Faced with three problem areas; collecting newspapers, failing to dispose of rubbish and buying too many of the same products when shopping, Nick’s property was full to the brim, with parts of the building inaccessible and falling into disrepair. The problem became so severe that he was edging closer and closer to eviction.

After working closely with Cara Wilkinson, a Housing Officer for DDH, Nick left his previous home in 2011 to move into a more manageable, smaller property. He then worked with DDH Tenancy Sustainment Officer, Roz Williams, before agreeing to undertake regular therapy with Eliese earlier this year.

Uneasy with change, Nick found therapy as uncomfortable as it was enlightening but it helped him realise when and why he’s inclined to behave in a particular way.

“I use the awkward analogy of being asked to take my clothes off in public, it feels that squeamish,” Nick said.

“You develop this weirdo persona that you hide behind but it’s difficult to put that down afterwards and that’s when the hoarding by default starts.”

Tenants like Nick are referred for therapy, which is funded through DDH’s corporate social responsibility budget, after hoarding tendencies have been identified.

Eliese, who previously worked in project management and for the NHS before starting her own business, Pine Tree Counselling Therapy, talks in glowing terms about working with DDH.

“It’s such an innovative project and it’s really exciting to be involved with,” she said.

“Hoarding fascinates me. It’s a complex coping mechanism. I have a collaborative approach with the client and it’s not just about doing the therapy, I also roll up my sleeves and help with moving items.

“Studies have revealed that a lot of the therapy comes when you’re actually throwing things out. You can sit and be theoretical but if you’re actually there you can be hands on, challenging the beliefs and behaviour.

“I’m really glad that DDH are very practical to their approach to this. They’re not expecting me to work with tenants for three months and then produce a show home. But if the resident is more aware of their behaviour and they understand it, and understand the consequences, then that’s an easier platform to work from.”

Nick’s progress has astounded Roz Williams, a Tenancy Sustainment Officer for DDH. Roz explained how even though there had been initial resistance and it had been a painful process for Nick, he still agreed to complete the therapy.

“There has certainly been a positive change.” Roz said:

“Nick has been more and more willing to engage as the process has gone on and he’s certainly become more confident in social situations. He has agreed to task-based plans with regard to cleaning and recycling and made other compromises that have significantly improved his living environment.

“We don’t call it cured. Knowing how to manage it and being able to help and encourage Nick is an on-going piece of work. We’re trying to ensure that it doesn’t affect where he lives or anybody else and we will continue to work together to maintain that.”

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