Man's journey from homelessness in Cork to owning a coffee shop in Belfast

Anthony Hawkins has turned his life around in recent months
-Credit: (Image: Justin Kernoghan/Belfast Live)


Last Christmas Day, Anthony Hawkins was homeless and had just arrived in Belfast, where he found himself sleeping in his car.

Fast forward a few months and the 28-year-old is now in a new job and a new relationship. It's a remarkable turnaround for the young man who plucked up the courage to get help when he moved to Northern Ireland and hasn't looked back.

Born and raised in London until the age of 11, Anthony found himself in and out of foster care before moving to Clonmel in Co Tipperary where he has spent most of his life.

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When he later moved to Cork, Anthony says for his first six months in the city "life was good" as he told Belfast Live: "I had been in a relationship but then that collapsed. I had to move out of where we were living together as my name wasn't on the lease.

"I was homeless for two weeks before we broke up and when it came to us moving in together, that didn't happen so we parted ways. I was working as a Deliveroo driver at the time so I sold the motorbike I had and bought a car instead, which I ended up living in because I couldn't afford the city's rent prices on my own."

Today, Anthony is working at Thunder BMX shop in East Belfast, run by his friend Mathew Gillespie, where he runs a coffee outlet.

But he reached his lowest ebb last December: "I had a friend up here, Matt, of over ten years who I met through BMX. He also used to run indoor skateparks and I used to love coming here as it was once the only one in Ireland.

"The week before Christmas I decided to come up as it just made sense at the time. I found myself homeless in Belfast on Christmas Day as I was living in my car until the new year. It was the worst Christmas Day I've ever had, just sitting in my car in a car park all day.

"After a few days of being up here on my own, I decided to stop being stubborn and get help. I went to The Welcome Organisation with my friend's help as I didn't know it existed. I think it's the best homeless support I've come across and it felt like it was meant to be for me to come to Belfast.

"I got fed and got mental health support and they helped me get back on my feet. Soon afterwards I got a job at a meat factory at Duncrue but it was a pretty grim January working in the meat factory during the day and sleeping in the car at night. I also have a condition called Raynaud's that affects your blood circulation so it means I'm always cold."

Anthony Hawkins and his partner, Viktoriia Komyna
Anthony Hawkins and his partner, Viktoriia Komyna -Credit:Justin Kernoghan/Belfast Live

He added: "A few days into early February I met my girlfriend, Viktoriia, who is from Ukraine, she helped me start my new coffee business. Matthew had only started his BMX bike shop business a few weeks earlier and there's a car wash beside it.

"I was in the shop one day drinking a coffee when the idea clicked in my head that it would be a good place for a coffee kiosk. Viktoriia was working as a barista and had always dreamt of opening her own coffee shop too so it seemed like the right idea and it became a reality literally within a day."

Looking back over the past few months, Matthew said: "I haven't really processed all that's happened in that time. I'm just taking things day by day. It's been a crazy and weird rollercoaster. The people in Belfast have been really great and I love the place. Business has been tough but my plan is to build it up.

"I just want to show that even if you're going through a bad time, it is possible to do anything. Even when you're in the worst situation possible and feeling like there's no hope, you can turn things around."

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