'I went from jail to Buckingham Palace'
“Be the change you want to see and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”
Admitting you have a problem with addiction can often be the hardest step on the road to recovery.
But a host of former ‘addicts’ are aiming to prove it is never too late to change your life around.
Members of Red Rose Recovery and Lancashire User Forum (LUF), many who are recovered alcoholics and former drug users, are working together to show others the way.
Red Rose Recovery was set up seven years ago by Peter Yarwood after he had spent years in prison for crimes committed to fund his drug habit.
The 44-year-old says he went from being a grade A student at school to being expelled and turning to drugs. By the age of 15 he had been sent to prison.
But thanks to the mentoring support of a prison officer, he turned his life around - so much so he was even invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.
He says: “I had a really good upbringing but my parents split up when I was a teenager. It was a really traumatic experience and I lost my main role model. That rejection from my dad was something I could not deal with. I went from being a grade A student to being expelled from school. I got enticed into gangland Manchester, where I grew up.
“I started drinking and taking drugs. I ended up in prison at 15 to fund my addiction.
“I was stigmatised in there for being a drug user and was attacked – I still have a scar under my eye. I swore I would never go back but I ended up in a vicious cycle, going round and round.
“But finally in 2005, I finished my final prison sentence. I was taken under the wing of a prison officer, John Ashton, who used unconditional positive regard.
“Up until then, no one had shown me any compassion.
“He became my mentor. He called me by my first name and he talked to me. He believed in me and gave me opportunities to grow inside prison.
“He started to have conversations about what my assets were. No-one had ever used that language about me before. I was always told what was wrong with me and I would never amount to anything. But this prison officer talked to me differently and we built up rapport and trust.
“I started to apply the things I had learnt in prison.
“I joined Lancashire User Forum, which had been started by Lancashire Drug and Alcohol Commissioning Team, in 2007.
“The team’s aim was rather than feeding us all the time, they taught us how to fish so we could sustain the group ourselves. My job was to create a platform for people to come together and focus on what we can do. Society was judging me and people like me and we only thought we were good enough to be left on the margins. In order to reintegrate into society I knew I had to change and help people like me.
“I understand the mindset of someone who has been entrenched in that lifestyle. They believe it is not possible to change. But I am here to show them visual evidence it is possible and it is contagious.
“We built up LUF with smaller meetings of around 70 to 80 people at various locations within Lancashire and we have a bigger county meeting of up to 200 people.
“Once we had built the group up, we realised we needed to put on training, volunteering and peer mentoring. We built up a charity, Red Rose Recovery, with former Lancashire Constabulary Division Commander Neil Smith as the chairman.”
Red Rose Recovery is known as a recovery infrastructure organisation, providing a network of support for addicts, working closely with LUF.
It helps people find activities and training opportunities which can help with relationships, housing, education, and employment.
Last year, it was honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services, where Peter met Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace.
He adds: “I can’t believe I have gone from being in prison to going to Buckingham Palace. I never thought that would happen. I met the Queen. She said I was doing great work. It was fabulous.
“I feel like it has all been a bit of a dream. But I could not have done this on my own. The people behind the scenes need recognition.”
Peter has now been able to form a good relationship with his mother, Kathleen, who runs Families Matter support group for relatives of addicts, with his partner Emma Daggers, who has her own story to tell.
Emma, from Lostock Hall, had spent 25 years of being hooked on heroin, methadone and benzodiazepine.
But the 43-year-old has been clean for two years and has made it her ethos to shout out that you can change and is now supporting people through Families Matter.
She is now a qualified therapist, public speaker, trainer and a significant driving force behind LUF and Families Matter.
The mother-of-two says: “After working with LUF and Red Rose Recovery, I noticed a gap in terms of helping families so we meet once a month every Thursday.
“Addicts and their partners or parents come and people share their stories and we have training.
“I spent 25 years with an addiction. I was on heroin, methadone and benzodiazepine. I could never stay off it.
“It was caused by what is known as ACEs (Adverse Childhood Effects). My mum and dad split up and I ended up hanging around older people on the acid house scene. I started to party and take drugs at the weekend. Then during the week they went to work but I wanted to carry on. I couldn’t stop.
“I ended up in prison and if it was not for my mum, I would have lost my two children.
“I had hit rock bottom and I wanted to kill myself.
“Someone said to me, you don’t need to use, there is another way. I didn’t believe them at first – I had to see it for myself.
“I went into rehab and did the 12-step programme and I began the road to recovery two years ago.
“Peter is my partner and we drive each other. When he is down, I pick him up and the other way round. We need to network and support each other.
“I can now drive a car and I have been offered another new job, I am now having to barter and choose between two jobs. To come from where I have and be told I am useless to now being valued and respected, I want to be inspirational to others.
“Be the change you want to see. You have to break your own cycle, break the rules and addicts will follow to reform.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. You don’t have to live that way anymore.”
Emma Daggers and (above,) with her
Peter and his mum Kathleen
Red Rose Recovery (RRR)
Red Rose Recovery is known as a Recovery Infrastructure Organisation, providing a network of support for people with addiction.
The service helps its users find activities and training opportunities to assist with relationships, housing, education, and employment.
The organisation, which has offices in Fox Street, Preston; Fleet Square, Lancaster; and Cannon Street, Accrington, has links with the Lancashire User Forum (LUF).
For more information visit www.redroserecovery.org.uk.
Lancashire User Forum (LUF)
The Lancashire User Forum was originally set up in 2006 and is a county wide group for individuals, family, friends and carers who have been affected by addiction.
In its infancy it was made up of a handful of service users supporting each other.
Now the LUF is made up and led by service users supported by their friends, families and RRR locality workers. This gives the service users a voice in how recovery should be accessible and what is best practice.
For more information call 01772 821440.