AS A teenager, David Lawrence sprinted for the county, played water polo for England and the world was his oyster – but now, aged 53, life is very different.

He has severe diabetes and is unable to walk to the end of the street, run a bath, cook a meal or even make a cup of tea by himself. Far from running around after his two teenage sons, they look after him and he can’t imagine how he would cope without them.

His situation is a far cry from his life 15 years ago before his health and marriage fell apart. Swindon became home when he started working as a lorry driver for a warehouse. The hours were long but the pay was good and there was no shortage of overtime.

Things were going great – he bought a house, met his wife and they had two sons. But life turned for the worse when his wife started suffering mental health problems, which resulted in divorce and David gaining custody of their children.

By this time he had given up his 60 a day (80 at weekends) smoking habit and was cutting back on the convenience food, such as Cornish pasties and milkshakes grabbed on the go at service stations.

But the harm was done, as David discovered when he started feeling tired and the doctor diagnosed type 2 diabetes.

He said: “Diabetes runs in the family and I didn’t think it was a big deal, but it has become completely debilitating. I’ve lost sense of the nerve endings in my hands and feet, which has affected my balance and mobility.

“The muscles have wasted so I struggle to do pretty much anything without assistance. I can’t drive so rely entirely on my scooter to get about.”

But that didn’t stop David from being his usual bubbly self and trying to stay active in the community. He volunteered at the Cub Scout group, where his sons were members, and also found love with a woman he had known for years because their children were friends.

They set up home together, got married and life was great again. But then things fell apart and they were effectively homeless.

A friend offered to let them stay at her house for a few weeks. Then a call from Swindon Council, prompted by a family support worker at the boys’ school, helped them find their feet on a more settled basis.

“A lovely housing resettlement officer rang and came out to see me,” said David. “I was in a right state, running up massive credit card bills and basically at breaking point. I’m dyslexic and can’t grip a pen, so she helped me fill in forms to prove I was homeless. I felt ashamed and guilty because I’ve always paid my own way and been a home owner.

“I didn’t want to claim benefits, but had no option. I was put in touch with lettings agents and started viewing properties. There’s a stigma against DSS clients, so finding somewhere suitable wasn’t easy.

“Eventually, though, we found a house near the town centre which is now starting to feel like home. The housing officer even brought over some provisions from the Foodbank and helped me to source secondhand furniture. I was penniless and at my lowest ebb, but she picked me up and got me back on track.”

Six months on, David and his sons have a better routine and are enjoying life again.

“We go shopping at the weekend – me on my scooter and the boys, looking out for bargains. They do all sorts of things, from helping cook to checking my bath water temperature and changing needles for my insulin injections “ I know I’m a burden. But they are so much happier now and laughter is one of the greatest medicines.”

Watch a short film about David’s story at


The Big Conversation is a Swindon Council project which aims to provide a way of having a better dialogue with local people and build mutual understanding.

The council needs to make it easier for people to understand the challenges it is facing in terms of rapidly increasing demand and decreasing resources. Just as important, they also need to get better at listening and understanding what really matters to local people in the places they live.

By raising awareness and stimulating debate, communities will be more informed and the council will also learn more about people so better decisions can be made when tough choices have to be made. It’s called the Big Conversation because the council is starting a dialogue, which will continue for many years.

Information will be available online, at meetings and in printed material. An infographic has been created to illustrate the challenges and also explain things such as where the money comes from and where people’s council tax is spent.

For more information, visit, or the Facebook page, and also talk about it on Twitter using #Bigconversation.


  • Swindon Council has an annual grant allocation of £79,000 to help prevent homelessness. This money is used to fund a variety of support, such as rent in advance, deposits, rent or mortgage arrears, a Sanctuary Scheme for victims of domestic violence and court desk funding so that households receive legal assistance in possession cases.
  • It is estimated that on average a homeless person costs the public purse between £24,000 and £30,000 per year, a small proportion of which is funded by the local authority. This covers costs of providing accommodation and support, such as medical assistance, to someone previously sleeping on the streets. Through early intervention and support, these costs can be greatly reduced.
  • Swindon Council has prevented 1,141 households from becoming homeless, with the majority securing accommodation in the private sector, between July 2010 and June 2012.
  • To help manage rising demand, the council recently introduced a Home Advice website which helps people to assess their circumstances and find out about the options available. This has enabled staff to focus on more complicated and vulnerable cases.
  • The Housing Resettlement Team comprises three full-time staff, working with approximately 60 clients at any one time.
  • They help individuals and families who are homeless, or at risk of becoming so, often in crisis situations.
  • Helping clients to develop independent living skills, assisting with budget management and sustaining a tenancy, and signposting to other agencies with more complex cases are amongst the services they provide.
  • Coinciding with the recession, demand for this type of service has increased but the number of people the team can help is limited by reduced resources.