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Ex drug addict praised for volunteering work - 07-06-2007
A former heroin user from Oldham has come up with a gut-busting way of getting others off drugs.

Volunteer Stephen Rowley, 36, has put in more than 1,600 unpaid hours with the Alcohol and Drugs Service's Widening Horizons programme over the past 20 months, helping recovering drug users tackle their addictions through a string of high-octane physical activities.

He has organised rock climbing trips, mountain bike treks and other outdoor pursuits as well as running a group that helps service users organise their time better in order to stay clean.

And his enthusiasm, dedication and hard work have seen Stephen singled out for special praise during National Volunteers Week (1-7 June).

Kay French, the strategic manager of Oldham's Drug and Alcohol Team, said:

"National Volunteers Week is a chance to praise the unsung heroes who don't always get the credit for their efforts and Stephen is certainly one of those people.

"The effort and enthusiasm he has shown over the last two years has been incredible. He is working with service users five or six days a week and then taking them out for weekend trips and organising other activities for them, and all he gets in return is his bus fare."

An ex-service user himself Stephen got involved in counselling after the Oldham Alcohol and Drugs Service helped to turn his life around.

Stephen, who is originally from Ellesmere Port, said:

"I was on drugs for more than 20 years before I came here. I tried so many times to get off them but my life had no structure and I just kept falling back. When I moved to Oldham that all changed because the services and support available here are absolutely first class.

"Once I got clean I knew I wanted to give something back so I enrolled in an NVQ counselling course and started to volunteer. Having gone through it myself I can really sympathise with a lot of the problems my clients are experiencing.

"A lot of people get involved in drugs because of certain circumstances in their lives and once you start it's very difficult to get out of it. The Widening Horizons programme is all about letting people know that there's more for them out there and giving their lives the structure they need to get clean and get working.

"By doing the physical activities we give them something to work towards but we also work with them to help tackle their addictions head on."

Stephen says he would recommend volunteering to anyone looking to give their lives greater meaning and believes the experience has been a life changing one for him.

He added:

"It sounds cliched but the joy I get from giving these people hope is second to none. Being a volunteer might not be the most glamorous thing in the world but it does give you a great sense of happiness and feeling that you are really giving something back. It has given my life real meaning and I can't imagine not doing it."

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