Shropshire man keeps recovering addicts on track with cycling
A Shropshire man is helping people recovering from addictions keep on track with a cycling club, thanks to support from the Big Lottery Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.
Oliver Atkin, 32, from Market Drayton, was an alcoholic for ten years and credits cycling with helping him to tackle his drinking. After overcoming his own challenges, he decided to help others in similar situations. He set up Breaking Chains in April last year – a cycling club which supports people recovering from alcohol and drug addictions – and has now been awarded almost £3,000 of National Lottery funding to increase the support offered.
Oliver said: “I was driving home from the pub I worked at late one night after drinking heavily. I was stopped by the police and had my licence suspended for two years, which was a huge wake up call. I then bought a bike so I could get around and that’s when I fell in love with cycling. It saved my life.
“I was riding my bike everywhere and it really improved my physical and mental wellbeing. I was overweight and lost six stone in six months. Cycling pushed me towards getting help with my drinking. Now I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been and I don’t even think about alcohol anymore. I wanted to give something back to people in a similar situation to me. I’m in such a good place now and I recognised that others around me needed my help.”
After a long road to recovery, Oliver wanted to share the benefits of cycling with other recovering addicts. To set up his club, local charity, Energize, Newport Shropshire Cycling Club and A Better Tomorrow, a local support group for people recovering from addictions, gave Oliver the advice, funding and equipment he needed to get started.
Thanks to the money awarded by the Big Lottery Fund, Oliver can continue to support around ten people every week through cycling. He takes the group on bike rides in Telford and Shropshire, where they enjoy the great outdoors and socialise over tea and cake on café stops.
The new grant, raised by National Lottery players, will help to maintain the bikes Breaking Chains has on offer for people of all cycling abilities to use, as well as cycling gear such as helmets and shorts. The money will also provide people with training so that they can coach and mentor newcomers, creating a lasting legacy for the club.
Oliver, who runs the club alongside his full time job at an electronics company, said: “I can’t thank A Better Tomorrow and participants at Breaking Chains enough for all the support they offer me with helping to keep the club going. Their enthusiasm with drumming up interest and taking part in the rides has been a massive help.
“Cycling gives people a focus and takes up part of the day which would have been spent thinking about drinking or taking drugs. Helping others has made me realise how far I’ve come and how lucky I am to have come out of the other side. Being an alcoholic was like living in a nightmare. I drank 100 units a day. I didn’t sleep properly for six years and I stopped caring about anything, even myself, to the point where I thought about taking my own life.
“I owe my life to cycling. It gave me freedom, energy, a fresh perspective on the world and made me re-invent myself. I’ve even got my partner of nine years, Penny, into cycling and we’ve met many life-long friends through the sport. I can’t wait to see what our future holds and I’m looking forward to developing Breaking Chains further and helping even more people.”
Gareth Stearn, 47, moved to Telford from Dudley over two years ago to help battle his alcohol addiction. Breaking Chains has helped him stay on track and now Gareth supports Oliver with running the club. He said: “Getting involved in cycling has changed my life. I’ve met new friends and learnt how to communicate with people. We have a good chat on our bike rides and support each other through our bad days to help us stay positive. Before, I was drinking heavily every moment I wasn’t at work, isolating myself and wallowing in self-pity. This project has helped me see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Matt Poole, Senior Head of Regional Funding for the Midlands at the Big Lottery Fund, said: “Oliver’s commitment to helping others based on his own experiences is so inspiring and a fantastic example of somebody taking the lead to develop what is important to them and their community. Thanks to National Lottery players, people recovering from addictions in Telford and Shropshire have a place where they can access support to overcome challenges in their lives, whilst meeting new people and learning new skills.”
The Big Lottery Fund distributes money raised by National Lottery players for good causes. Last year a quarter of projects it invested in across the UK were designed to support improved mental wellbeing. 90% of the grants it makes are for under £10,000. To find out more visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk.