This summer I had many reasons to celebrate. I reached my 40th birthday; I achieved a new job with the VOICES project, and best of all I became father to a beautiful baby girl. The last two years have marked a real turning point for me.
I was born in Stoke and have lived here all my life. After leaving school, I worked in the construction industry for over 20 years with my Dad. Through my hard work, I built a reasonable life with a mortgage, social life, and the usual trappings of domestic life. However, over several years, drink and drugs started taking over my life. Although I continued to work as a functional addict for a long time, the impact of my addictions grew.
I lost my driving licence twice for driving while drunk. I received a police caution for possession of cocaine and developed a reputation for being drunk and disorderly at football matches. I was also charged with assaulting a police officer. By 2010, I could no longer afford to pay the bills and became homeless. My lifestyle had a chronic impact on my mental and physical health to the extent that I was very unwell. I suffered with cirrhosis of the liver and a hiatus hernia. This lifestyle also had an impact on other people around me. It felt like my life really couldn’t get any worse.
However, after some reflection I entered a long process of rehab. In 2011, I moved in to a flat where I received further regular help from a psychiatrist and my Smart Moves support worker. I also received help from RIOT (Recovery Is Out There) and eventually became a volunteer with them. Inspired to help others recover, I applied for and gained employment with RIOT as a Project Coordinator.
Through this work and my volunteering, I was invited to take part in a focus group to talk about my experience of complex needs in the summer of 2012. This eventually became the “Expert Citizens Group”. Following on from that, a wide range of partners got together and submitted a bid to the Big Lottery Fund for what was to become the VOICES project.
I was proud to be appointed Chair of the Expert Citizens Group and we were delighted when the National Lottery announced that our bid had been successful. We had played a central role in developing the bid. Expert Citizens are also at the centre of project delivery.
As a Service Coordinator with VOICES, I feel really well placed to help other people with complex needs to make the best of the help that is available to support their recovery. It is also exciting that I’m working with a wide range of agencies to identify what works well for people with complex needs and what can be even more effective.