I used to run an antique shop. In some people’s eyes I would have been relatively successful, but not in mine. Inside I was incredibly unhappy and bored. I developed a problem with legal highs. It got to the point where I’d be talking to clients and slurring my words. It started off as a relief from work. I went in blindly thinking that they’re not that strong, but things got a bit ridiculous.

I definitely didn’t think I had a substance problem, although deep down I knew. Then my sister died, and I realised how desperately unhappy I was. I looked at her in her bed and knew that I didn’t want to be like that. I don’t normally ask for help, through pride or ego or whatever you want to call it, but I reached out to a counsellor who was working with people abusing legal highs.

I was running out of money. I wasn’t signing on for benefits, so my number one priority was to get back into work. But I was really struggling with my CV. My counsellor suggested I go to SHP at that point, to use the computers and get help finding work.

I came in just to work on my CV, but then I met my support worker and we talked about everything but work. At the end of the session she asked me what kind of work I was looking for and I reeled off everything I’d ever done. Then she said something profound: “You’re telling me all the stuff you can do, but you’re not telling me what you want to do.”

I felt like I was too old to change direction. The kitchen is hard; the hours are long. But I didn’t let that stop me.

That bowled me over, and I went away to think about it. I realised that I really love cooking, and mentioned this to her. It was just my luck that the Beyond Food Foundation had contacted her that day to advertise the chef’s apprenticeships they offer to people who have been homeless or were at risk of becoming homeless.

I started with a programme they run called Freshlife. It’s three weeks long, and you go to their cooking school and learn some basic techniques. After that, I applied for the apprenticeship. There were over a hundred applicants and only eight apprenticeships. In the interview I just talked from my heart about why I wanted it, and they offered it to me on the spot.

I felt like I was too old to change direction. The kitchen is hard; the hours are long. But I didn’t let that stop me, because I love food and I’ve always loved cooking. I’ve always had a confidence in the kitchen that I didn’t have in other areas of my life.

When you begin the apprenticeship, you do forty hours a week in the kitchen. It’s really daunting, but then you start to see your dishes going out and it feels great. The first time I saw my plates come back from the dining room empty it was like a bolt of electricity, knowing that people had enjoyed what I had made.

I’ve since moved on to work at another restaurant. This one is very high-end – they aspire to a Michelin star. It’s been a challenge, but in a good way. I’ve been learning more about the science of cooking.

After I finish the apprenticeship, I’ll have a trade. I’ll be able to work anywhere. My plan is to do private catering: dinner parties, children’s parties and things like that. If it hadn’t been for SHP signposting me to the right opportunities I wouldn’t have got where I am.