Cosimo's Story

I moved to London from Florence 26 years ago and started working in retail. I remember being in the shop and a lady becoming distraught that we didn’t have a dress in stock that she wanted. It put everything into perspective; I needed to make a change and do something worthwhile that had a positive impact on people’s lives.

I trained and went into social housing, helping older people in the community in sheltered accommodation. The mental health aspect piqued my interest, so I signed up to some courses, and didn’t look back. That was in 2004!

Recently, I’ve become Acting Outreach Team Leader in Kensington and Chelsea with Hestia, supporting the local community with a range of practical and emotional needs, but my substantive role is Volunteer and Befriending Coordinator.

The best bit of this role is seeing the befriender volunteers breaking down the barriers with the people they support, helping them to open up, and getting so much joy from doing it.

I remember one person who had a social phobia, and their befriender encouraged them to sign up to a drama class. A year later, they ended up performing in front of 200 people. It was such an achievement, and to know it happened because of the friendship they had fostered was incredible. 

When I first started working in mental health there was a lot more money to support the work. A real challenge of the job in the last ten years has been seeing the impact of Britain’s years of austerity. We’ve needed to find ways to be more creative in providing the same services with a lot less funding, while rising mental health awareness has seen an increase in the number of people in need.

Luckily, the dynamic of our team is so strong as we share the common goal of seeing positive change in our society. We regularly talk about the struggles and victories we’ve faced and share knowledge. We believe that recovery isn’t achieved until people have been supported to establish emotional connections, and it’s important to reflect that in our team too. There’s so much power in human connection.

I feel like my own well-being has improved during my time with Hestia, and my sense of identity has been refined. Activism runs through me - in my late teens I organised one of the first LGBT marches through Florence. Now, I chair Hestia’s LGBTQ+ network. I’m really proud of the progress we’re making as an organisation. We celebrate well-known events such as Pride, but also lesser known ones like Trans Visibility Day. 

Looking to the future, I want to continue supporting the community, empowering individuals, and helping people with their mental health. I’d love to keep doing what I’m doing within Hestia’s LGBTQ+ network too. My wish is that there’ll be more befriending services across London to help people feel less isolated and more able to share their lives with others. So often the main focus of someone’s life is to ensure a roof is kept over their head and anything beyond that is overlooked. There needs to be a genuine enjoyment in life, too.

I think I’m getting that genuine enjoyment now. I’ve realised that passions and hobbies are not restricted to one’s youth: my boyfriend is a musician, so I’ve been learning to play the flute. I recently won an Outstanding Learner of The Year Award from City Lit. I also love photography and making my own pasta.

In the last decade Hestia has really fine-tuned what recovery means by putting the person at the centre. Recovery has to be what the person wants it to be - we need to support them and their specific goals. When we build that mutual trust and understanding, it’s so powerful. Making these connections is essential to Hestia’s growth, but I think it’s also essential to us as people. And at the end of the day, that’s what we all are, and what we all need.

Which book has impacted me the most?

There are many books which have impacted my life, and amongst these, one of my favourites is L’isola d’Arturo, Arturo’s Island, by Italian novelist Elsa Morante. The book is about a boy, Arturo, his dog and Procida, a small and beautiful island off the coast of Naples. It’s a beautiful coming of age book and it was great visiting Procida last year and seeing where it was set. This book was also one of my mum’s favourite books, which is another reason why it is special to me.

Which film has impacted me the most?

I love cinema and there are just so many movies which have impacted me greatly. However, one which I fell in love with immediately was Raise the Red Lanterns by Chinese director Zhang Yimou. The film is visually stunning and sumptuous, whilst at the same time narrating a difficult story of a concubine in China’s patriarchal society in the 1920’s. When the film was released, I had developed a strong interest for Chinese culture and I was studying Mandarin. I was so excited that this was one of the first films of the fifth generation of Chinese filmmakers which went on to win important awards and was selected for the Oscars.

Which song has impacted me the most?

Although I have recently discovered classical music which has now completely taken over my musical tastes, with its layers and variety, one of the songs which moved me the most was Smalltown Boy by the Bronski Beats. It literally helped me coming out as gay, it showed me that it was possible to be who I was, even though it was difficult. It was so powerful!


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