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From lost cause to MBE - Vicar who was homeless in Chester shares inspirational tale

Mark Edwards hit rock bottom sleeping rough on city streets

The Reverend Mark Edwards with his MBE

A former Chester resident who spent time living on the streets of the city has published a book about how he came to be homeless and sectioned in the Old Chester Victorian Mental Asylum – The Deva as it was known then – as a teenager in the early 1980s.

Life After Care is the triumphant story of how Mark Edwards overcame his terrible early years including several suicide attempts following a battle with mental illness, anger issues, and sexual and physical abuse while growing up, before finding himself sectioned as a teenager and then homeless on the Chester streets.

The Reverend Mark Edwards

 

Mark Edwards MBE was only a toddler when he, his baby brother and three sisters were taken into care, after family conflict, alcoholism and his mother’s mental health issues pulled the family apart.

Separated from the girls, the two boys were shipped from one foster home to another, never feeling wanted or settled. Mark developed a quick temper and deep distrust and resentment of authority.

Settling at last at The Ivy Cottage Children’s Home in Lincolnshire, the next seven years were regimented and strict. Mark’s abandonment issues were fuelled by his anxiety and depression, and he became a moody, difficult, sometimes violent teenager.

It was during this time in the late 70s that Mark came to Chester to live with his sister Shene and her husband Graham in Saltney.

After attempting suicide he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

A large part of Mark’s book consists of diary entries from his time in ‘The Deva’ which gives some insight into what it was like for a young person to be sectioned on a mental health ward in Chester in the early 80s.

Following his discharge from the hospital Mark found himself homeless in Chester and during this time he slept on the church floor of a local mission hall and spent the day volunteering at the hospital.

 

Mark Edwards with his wife Lesley

 

Mark said: “Thanks to the compassion and support of a local minister Pastor David Combs from the Chester City Mission who ran the night shelter for the homeless my life started to turn round. He found me a bed sit and gave me pocket money working as a volunteer with the Chester City Mission.

“I met my future wife who was studying at the University of Chester through the Soup Kitchen of the Chester City Mission. We started courting and everyone including the minister tried to talk Lesley out of the relationship citing it would never last because we were from two different worlds.

“We were married in 1984 at Chester City Mission and have been married 33 years and have four children and two grandchildren.”

During his time in Chester, Mark was employed by the Chester County Print Unit on Sealand Road on the YTS scheme which the Government of the day had just introduced. Following this he spent short spells at the Chester Grosvenor Hotel and Foster Menswear.

Mark later trained to become a vicar with the Church of England, working towards his O Levels and A Levels as an adult student along the way, but faced many obstacles: family illness, late-diagnosed dyslexia, resistance from the Christian community to him entering the priesthood, marital strain resulting from his mental illness, and a questioning of his own faith.

Mark and Lesley Edwards with two of their children Mark Jnr and twin brother Joshua

 

However, thirty-five years later The Reverend Mark Edwards now lives with his family in Newcastle Upon Tyne, where he is a parish priest, a father of four, grandfather, first ambulance responder and a prominent figure in his local community.

In 2010 he received an MBE at Buckingham Palace for his services to the community, and was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013, proof that even ‘lost causes’ can shake off the horrors of their past and give back to others even more unfortunate than themselves.

His book ‘Life After Care’ proves that giving, rather than receiving, can be a powerful tool in the road to recovery from mental illness.

Life After Care, is published by Trigger Press mental health advocates as part of their innovative self help mental health books inspirational series, priced £11:99 from Amazon or most good book shops.

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