An accident at home changed Habinteg tenant John Laville's life forever. Although glad to be alive, his two storey council house, which he'd loved for 15 years, made him feel like a prisoner; he couldn't go to the bathroom or make a meal without help. But, a phone call showed him that things do change for the better; Habinteg offered him an accessible home at its new Kentmere Avenue scheme, which was developed in collaboration with Leeds City Council.
I never used to win competitions when I was younger. Whether it was on Sports Day at school or backing a winner at the Grand National, I rarely found a spark of luck.
So imagine the surprise, when in January, I got a call informing me that I was about to be handed the keys to a wheelchair accessible home; it felt like I’d won the lottery.
The call that changed my life
It was a bright Tuesday afternoon – the sun was beaming through the cracks of my living room’s curtains. My carer was walking towards me, telephone in hand and a peculiar grin on her face.
“It’s a housing association called Habinteg. They want to speak to you,” she said.
The lady on the other end of the phone introduced herself as Claire. She told me I’d been put forward by Leeds City Council to move into a two-bedroom wheelchair accessible bungalow.
The rest of the conversation was a blur, but I remember coming off the phone feeling happy, anxious and shocked all at once. I’ll always remember Claire – she gave me the news that changed my life.
Imprisoned for 18 months
I haven’t always used a wheelchair. I had an accident at home two years ago, but before that I was quite an active and adventurous person. I worked as a limousine driver so I was very used to being out and about. I regularly took my dogs for walks in the park and loved driving to different car boot sales and bagging myself a bargain.
Following the accident, I had an operation that led to my foot being amputated and I’ve used a wheelchair ever since. At first, I don’t think I fully wrapped my head around just how inaccessible the world is.
All of a sudden, not only my home, but all the places I loved going to before my operation, became unwelcoming to me. I had to watch my carers walk my dogs and the thought of venturing to a car boot sale with my wheelchair was awful. I barely left my home.
Small tasks like going to the bathroom or entering my house became pain-riddled missions and after a while my anxiety stopped me from even attempting to leave my living room. I was confined to the bottom floor of my house for 18 months and couldn’t even wash myself or make a sandwich without help.
The home that I’d loved for over 15 years had become a fortress of misery.
A brighter future
My new home in Kentmere Avenue is not far from my previous property, but seems miles away in terms of accessibility.
When I was first introduced to the bungalow, I instantly went out to the garden. I opened the backdoor and got myself outside without a helping hand from anyone. I felt brand new.
It’s been three months since moving into my accessible home and I can’t describe the dignifying feeling of being able to go to the toilet alone again. I never thought a bathroom would be my favourite room of the house, but privacy is something I took for granted when I wasn’t using a wheelchair.
My new home has encouraged me to be more social again, which I’m sure my wife appreciates. The property has made me feel more capable. I’m now able to do basic things again like leave my front door unassisted and even pop to the local store for some groceries.
All of a sudden, the memories of narrow corridors and steep staircases seem like centuries ago.
Nearly two years in an inaccessible property has made me forget what independence felt like, and I almost gave up. Now, when I sit in bed and sip on the cup of tea I made myself, I can’t help but think, I’m the luckiest man in the world.
Find out more about how you can become a Habinteg tenant at www.habinteg.org.uk/find-a-home.