Charity Champion or Volunteer of the Year nominee – Steve Harding
Former heroin addict and alcoholic Steve Harding attempted suicide four times and says he would ‘just take anything to escape life’.
But now the 50-year-old builder is clean, sober and using his experiences to help other people – including teaching his bricklaying skills to people struggling with their mental health.
Steve, who was brought up in Mow Cop and now lives in Burslem, has trained as a mentor and volunteers with organisations including Expert Citizens and Stoke Recovery Service. He’s also used his bricklaying skills to support British Ceramics Biennial projects.
“I’ve always worked and have been in the building trade since I was 15,” said Steve. “I used to go out for a drink every evening and slipped into taking recreational drugs. That became an addiction to heroin and when I stopped using drugs I became an alcoholic. I’d just take anything to escape life.”
For decades he continued working despite his addictions until he says ‘it all became a bit too much’.
He attempted suicide four times, had to be resuscitated three times and on the final time was told by a paramedic that he was lucky to still be alive.
“I thought I must have a purpose,” he said. “I gave up on giving up. I thought that suicide isn’t working so I’d better make the most of life. When I started doing good things, good things started happening to me.”
Steve says his epiphany also coincided with visiting his grandad’s grave at St Thomas’s Church in Mow Cop and meeting people at the church which he says was ‘the first time in my life I have ever met kind people.’
He spent 16 weeks in rehab where he learnt the tools that proved enough to pull himself out of what he calls ‘a four month blip’ during lockdown.
Steve has been nominated as a Charity Champion or Volunteer of the Year in the Your Heroes Awards by Philip Parkes, network coordinator of Expert Citizens.
Philip said: “Steve has shown personal fortitude by overcoming his own addiction and poor mental health which has, at times, been significantly challenging for him. Now he volunteers as a peer mentor supporting people who are on their own recovery journeys.
“He has proven to be someone they can count on, never failing to show up and do his absolute best for them and for Expert Citizens.
“He has worked on several projects for Expert Citizens in collaboration with Staffordshire University, Keele University and the Health Research Authority as well as Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
“He has undertaken his AET award in education and training because he has a desire to teach brick laying to people with experiences of addiction, homelessness and poor mental health to provide a positive social environment and meaningful engagement for those on a journey to a better life.
“Steve is always positive and shares his positivity with everyone he meets. He never shies away from a challenge and has shone at public speaking events, always with the mindset of helping others at the heat of everything he does.”
Lee Dale of Expert Citizens supported the nomination and said: “His positive outlook on recovery always shines through and the effect this has on customers who may find it difficult to engage with traditional support services is phenomenal.
“I’m so proud of Steve and his personal recovery journey from where he was to the person he is today. I’ve been managing Steve as a peer mentor for over 12 months now in what is a very challenging social climate, working alongside the most stigmatised and marginalised groups of people.
“Steve recognises how socially isolating addiction to drugs and alcohol can be and will always reach out to customers on the level they are currently at, always aiming to reconnect people back into community activities and things most of us take for granted.
“Steve has been instrumental in the development of a community here at Expert Citizens, creating a beacon of light for all stuck in the cycle of reoccurring homelessness, addiction and poor mental health.”
Steve said: “I don’t feel very deserving of an award but it’s nice to be recognised for the things that you do. I’m thankful to Expert Citizens and all those who’ve supported me on my journey.
“It makes me wonder how many more people struggle with their mental health and addiction but seem to function and hold down a ‘normal’ life.”