THREE years ago former alcoholic Gary Topley was in a prison cell for committing criminal damage.
But this week he was telling experts in Parliament the remarkable story of how he has turned his life around from dependent drinking and helped others recover too.
The dad was invited to discuss improving alcohol treatment services as leader of the unique peer-to-peer support group Free From Addiction – which has won acclaim for its grassroots approach and seen Gary scoop several awards. “It was a bit overwhelming,” said Gary, 32, of Birdholme.
“When you’re sat in a pub drinking pint after pint you are only interested in that next pint so I didn’t think, three years back, sitting in that prison cell, I’d be doing what I do now.”
On Tuesday MPs and key alcohol-related health organisations heard how Gary set up the group after stopping drinking – inspired by his young daughter – on January 1 2009.
He hopes the fresh approach, which encourages people to follow interests like photography, will spread and that more funding will become available.
People in need of help from all over the country have already been in touch with him. Gary, who gardens at the group allotments to relax, said: “Surely this is cheaper than going through the whole NHS system and detox.
“Sometimes professionals don’t see how strong these groups can be, that’s because we’re all speaking from the horse’s mouth, we’ve all been through it.
“The vision for the future is to get more funding for diversionary activities, and get our own premises so we can reach out to more people and have a solid base.”
Gary also met Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins after the Alcohol Harm Reduction Parliamentary Roundtable meeting, organised by the British Liver Trust.
l Free From Addiction meets at Grangewood Surgery every Tuesday. For more details visit www.freefromaddiction.co.uk or call 07522118448.