This story is part of the Peer Power series – a photographic collaboration between professional photographer Jeff Hubbard and Peer Advisors. Earlier this year (2022) they worked together to portray their stories in photographic and written form. Each one is unique but all highlight the true value of harnessing people’s lived experience of adversity to become a force for good.
I’m Gareth and I am a volunteer with St Giles and, one day, I intend to become a paid member of staff. I arrived at St Giles in 2019 and had been doing nothing for the past 15-20 years other than drinking, fighting and feeling sorry for myself. It was a pretty awful existence and I decided to clean up my act. I spent two weeks in hospital doing a detox and started my road to recovery. I am happily now not alcohol dependent and trying to give back to my community after loathing and rejecting them for so long. I enrolled on the St Giles Peer Advisor course alongside an eclectic group of other peers. These weeks were full of fun and I learned so much (also about myself). It was eye-opening and real breath of fresh air for the cynical me. Part of the course saw me seconded to the Footsteps to Recovery project of whom I was once a client. This time I was a volunteer and it was great helping clients out on their journeys. All of them were alcohol or drug dependent.
I was then offered the opportunity to volunteer on the St Giles Serious Organised Crime (SOC) team. The Team Leader took me under his wing and introduced me to the team. I was very nervous and quite speechless at first but over the weeks I slowly came out of my shell. I remember being asked questions about my work and my mentor used to tell me there was no right or wrong answer. I was being encouraged to think for myself and answer what I thought. I found this refreshing having never been taught that way before. I felt a number of emotions working with the young clients – shock, bewilderment, love and empathy. I also met their parents and siblings which was personally rewarding. I have never done anything in my life that encompasses so many emotions and I like the fact there are no quick fixes to the client’s problems.
If someone needs help from St Giles they themselves have to put some work in too. Not everyone does, but the majority do and I never see the negative as it may be that someone is just not ready to change at the moment for various reasons.
I consider myself to be in a very privileged position. I am doing good work. St Giles have helped me a path to a better life. They empowered me to become a better human being. They have shown me how to help others in similar positions. It really is a blast!
Well, that is just a brief bit about me.