Derbyshire villagers help save homeless man's life

Nuno Fernandes, who used to be homeless.
Nuno Fernandes, who used to be homeless.

If it wasn't for the kindness of strangers, Nuno Fernandes might not be alive today.

He could have died in Derbyshire woodland in the bitter cold.

Good Samaritans' Becky Matthews, Fiona Muxlow and Rachel Scott came to Nuno's aid. Picture by Rachel Atkins.

Good Samaritans' Becky Matthews, Fiona Muxlow and Rachel Scott came to Nuno's aid. Picture by Rachel Atkins.

Nuno, a talented guitar player, was genuinely homeless.

The 44-year-old travelled from Portugal to the UK in search of work last year, but found it impossible to get a job.

He ended up sleeping rough in woods in Holymoorside with no entitlement to benefits and no money to feed himself and return home.

Nuno had hit rock bottom.

But now, he is back in Lisbon and starting to rebuild his life - and that's all thanks to Holymoorside residents Becky Matthews, Fiona Muxlow, Rachel Scott, Dorothy Bateman and Melanie Jane Downes.

After learning of Nuno's plight, the Good Samaritans showed phenomenal compassion and stepped in to help him.

In Nuno's words, they 'saved my life'.

'Genorosity was overwhelming'

Becky explained: "I initially spotted Nuno walking through the village and realised he was a stranger.

"After a couple of days, I heard a rumour that there was someone living rough in the old waterworks.

"My family and I plucked up the courage to go and see if he was OK, armed with food and clothing for him - he was very polite and grateful for the things.

"I couldn't bear to think of someone down there on the cold nights.

"I felt really uneasy with the situation but didn't know what was best to do, so I put a post on our village Facebook page to ask for help.

"The generosity of some of the villagers was overwhelming."

Fiona added: "We provided things like clothes, food and toiletries to Nuno for over three months.

"We gave him some money so he could top up his phone so he could keep in touch with us and ring us if he had any problems from other people.

"Becky and I took him to Pathways (the homeless charity in Chesterfield) where he was given some food and toiletries.

"I took him to the doctors and the opticians for health checks and to Queen’s Park Sports Centre in Chesterfield so he could have showers.

"I took him out for meals.

"He was anxious about being around people so I gradually helped him get used to it again to try and rebuild his confidence."

'He was so touched'

After someone destroyed Nuno's belongings and threatened him, he didn't feel safe in the woods so, with the permission of Reverend Bill Bazely, he moved to the grounds of St Peter's Church in Holymoorside.

Fiona said: "Nuno was always worried about being a nuisance and didn't want people to feel threatened by his presence in the village.

"He tried to keep himself clean and shaved every day.

"He was grateful for any kindness shown, however small.

"I stood outside St Peter's Church with him one Sunday morning to show the parishioners that he was no threat.

"An elderly lady brought him a chocolate bar and he cried - he was so touched.

"He was incredibly lonely and anxious but, gradually, we were able to build up his strength physically and mentally so he could make a new start back home."

Fiona said she took Nuno to Chesterfield Law Centre at the end of last year and met Lisa Haythorne, who advises on homelessness and arranged for him to have a temporary two-week stay at the Lighthouse Homes charity in Rotherham in December.

When Nuno's time there came to an end, he slept behind the community centre at St Thomas' Church in Brampton with the permission of Reverend David Owen.

Fiona added: "As a Portuguese national, Nuno wasn't entitled to any benefits at all so had to rely on our help.

"He tried busking in Chesterfield but couldn't even make enough money to buy a loaf of bread.

"I arranged for him to get emergency travel documents from the Portuguese Consulate in Manchester and took him there to get them and paid for his flight back to Lisbon.

"Since then a very kind family in Holymoorside has donated money to cover the cost of Nuno's flight home.

"I've also paid for him to stay in a hostel in Lisbon for the next month while he looks for work.

"While I was at the consulate, the consul general, Jorge Cruz, asked to meet me to thank me and those others who supported Nuno and helped him get home."

'Thank you for saving my life'

Fiona said Nuno was 'incredibly grateful' for the help he received.

She added: "When I took him to the airport he asked me to thank everyone who'd helped him for, in his words, 'saving my life'.

"At one point, after threats were made to him, he talked about killing himself - he was in such despair.

"More than anything he needed company, so we would go and sit with him and talk.

"He's a very gifted guitar player and enjoyed playing us songs he'd composed.

"He still contacts us each day and we continue to give him moral support."

'The smallest act of kindness can have a dramatic impact'

Fiona, a lawyer, said she and the other ladies received 'a lot of criticism' from some villagers who didn't want to help Nuno and just wanted to see him 'moved on'.

Fiona even had threatening notes put through her door.

"It was more than compensated for by seeing Nuno on his feet again," she said.

"I got involved in helping Nuno as I'm very frustrated at how genuinely homeless people are often demonised.

"There's a lot of misconception and people are too quick to judge.

"Even the smallest act of kindness can have a dramatic impact on a person's life, as we saw with Nuno."

Rachel added: "It certainly polarised the village, but I wouldn't change anything of what I did.

"It was hard work and draining - both physically and emotionally.

"This experience certainly opened my eyes to how hard it is to be homeless, no matter what the person's background.

"It has completely changed me as a person and I've made new friends in the village.

"If any of my children were ever unfortunate enough to be in that situation then I would hope that someone would help them out like we did."