TEN years after sleeping rough as an addict in the streets of Paris, a Solihull man who helps people overcome their addictions is leading an epic fund-raising bike ride.
A decade ago, Nicky Dwyer was homeless in the French capital, believing there was no other option for him other than a life of marginalisation and discrimination.
Now the manager of Solihull Integrated Addiction Services (SIAS), he helps others find a life of hope and purpose.
He will lead a team of former service users – Ben Smith, Ben Murphy, Jack Lloyd, Kevin Earl and Chad Staff – in the Road to Recovery event, cycling a 300-mile trip through the South East Coast in just four days.
Nicky said: “Addiction is not a popular subject to talk about. The stigma and shame that surround addiction is a very real barrier to those reaching out to get the help they need.
“I wanted to mark the occasion with a challenge that would take me and those I support outside of our comfort zone and illustrate to the world that we don’t just recover, we can thrive and be an asset to our communities.”
Nicky’s original plan was to ride from Paris back to SIAS in Chelmsley Wood – but had to rethink it due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “I’d never experienced Paris clean or in a hotel, only ever on the streets.
“I had this vision of recreating parts of my journey of when I was in active addiction now I was clean.”
Covid-19 meant the ride had to take place in the UK – so Nicky chose to start the ride in Margate, another of his old haunts.
“It’s as if it should be that way,” he said. “I used to sleep behind the doctors surgery in Margate, it was one of the coldest nights of the year and I woke up frozen from the bottom of my legs to my waist. I could not move and my hands were frozen stiff.
“I remember saying to myself, dogs don’t live like this.
“To start from here is like an epiphany, its where some of the most difficult times of my life were spent.”
The ride will raise money for addiction recovery service Changes UK, which supports housing in Solihull – and 20 per cent of the proceeds will go to Marie Curie in memory of Ben Smith’s late mum.
Team member and former Changes UK client Chad Staff said: “I spent half my life homeless living in and out of mental institutions and prison. By the age of 32 I was totally disenfranchised, no family, homeless and hopeless.
“I have managed to stay clean and sober and sane for the last six years. Now my whole life today is focused on helping my community.
“We need organisations like Changes UK who give people second chances. I’ve been given a second chance and that’s what this Road to Recovery Challenge is all about. Everybody deserves a second chance.”
The ride begins today (Thursday July 9). The riders are set to return to SIAS in Solihull on Monday (July 13).
Visit https://tinyurl.com/ycnla4ga to donate.