Barry Lawes, one of the first people to be given a life ban from Birmingham City Centre for anti-social behaviour, has been given a Shining Star Award by Birmingham City Council.
The one time drug addict and serial offender, now 52, has not only succeeded in turning his own life around, but is now committed to helping others do the same. He is particularly passionate about helping to prevent young people from taking the same path as he did.
Asked what made him want to change his life, Barry says: “The shame. When I arrived in prison, the officers knew me by name. And I could see the disappointment in my family’s eyes. I felt ashamed of what I’d become and I didn’t want to carry on letting them down.” That was eight years ago.
“Sitting down with the other addicts was a defining moment,” he says. “Initially I thought I was better than them, but I soon came to realise that we were all in the same position and after the same goal – recovery. With their support I found my self-worth, and my self-confidence started to return.”
On the road to recovery from his crack cocaine habit, Barry began volunteering for Swanswell, one of the organisations that had helped him, and eventually joined Birmingham City Council’s Citizens Panel. That led to him becoming an ‘Expert by Experience’ with the Birmingham Changing Futures Together programme which resulted in him getting paid work as an Involvement and Communication Worker with Birmingham Mind.
The Birmingham Changing Futures Together programme, supported by the Big Lottery Fund and led by BVSC (Birmingham Voluntary Services Council), is aiming to improve services for people with multiple, inter-related, treatment needs associated with drug or alcohol addiction, offending behaviour, homelessness and mental health problems.
Barry sees himself as the ultimate ‘expert by experience’ – someone who has lived a life that gives him much to share to help others. His message to people grappling with addiction, offending behaviour, homelessness and mental health problems is: “If you find yourself in a difficult situation it’s not hopeless, you can turn it around. Don’t be afraid to access the services available – once I had made up my mind to change I went for everything on offer and I can now be proud of what I’ve achieved.”
One of his achievements is creating his own outreach project, called Chillax, which he delivers on behalf of SIAS (Solihull Integrated Addiction Services). This involves chatting to late night revellers on the streets and making them aware of the potential dangers they face.
But Barry says that probably his proudest moment was going back to court and having the ASBO lifted – presenting as a reformed character and having the judge say “go forth and serve the community”. And he has certainly done that.