Former drug addict on turning his life around and role as Sheffield food bank volunteer

At his lowest point, Mick Hanley says he was taking a cocktail of drugs just to ‘block out’ his feelings after the death of a friend and family issues.

Sunday, 20th September 2020, 7:00 am

But after finding love and discovering religion, he turned his life around and is now helping others who have fallen on hard times as a volunteer at Sheffield S6 Foodbank, on Gilpin Street.

Born in the Bolton area, Mick began experimenting with drugs when he was 12-years-old finding himself part of a group of likeminded friends.

"I was just following the crowd," he said. “It started off as cannabis but then it escalated onto amphetamine, tablets, valium, temazepam – anything I could get my hands on just to get off my head and block everything out.

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Mick Hanley, caretaker and member of the food bank, has been clean from drugs for over 10 years but recalls relying on food banks during his addiction

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"I wasn’t thinking about the implications at that point, the long term effect and what it was doing to me plus what it was doing to my family as well.”

Things continued on a downward spiral for Mick who spent time the majority of his early adulthood living in ‘grotty’ bedsits and hostels as his focus remained on where to get his next fix.

Thankfully though Mick, now aged 52, received help and after numerous stints in rehabilition and detox facilities he was able to kick the addiction and get his life back on track.

S6 Foodbank has seen demand for its services increase over the coronavirus pandemic as more people fall on hard times

Today, he lives in Stocksbridge and works as a caretaker at St Thomas’ Church while also helping out within the church network.

Mick realised he first needed help with his addiction when he was 38, as his health began to detoriate from years of substance abuse.

He said: "Phil, my drugs worker, worked for Bolton Community Drugs Team and put it in my head about going to rehab. I told him to give me a couple of days and then I’d give him my answer but we were that close he’d already booked me a room.

"I’d broken out in a load of ulcers on my legs and I just wasn’t functioning. At that point I didn’t know what rehab was, I’d just had a hip operation and was still on a lot of drugs.

Former drug addict Mick Hanley has transformed his life and is now volunteering with Sheffield S6 Foodbank

"I was taking about 90ml of methadone which is equivalent to nine bags of heroin, but it made me feel normal because I was used to taking that amount. Plus I was taking heroin, tablets, and drinking up to 3 litres of vodka a day on top so I was always in a world of my own.”

It was then Mick moved to Sheffield, spending seven months in the specialist rehabilitation service at Storth Oaks, Ranmoor, before moving into his own flat.

Trying to adjust to life outside of the facility was difficult though and Mick later moved to The Greens – a recovery-focused accommodation in the Southey Green area.

"I had a flat for four or five weeks and had another drugs worker,” he said. “I just couldn’t hack it. My drugs worker came round one day and I was hammered. He told me there was a room at The Greens if I wanted it, so I said get me in as I knew what road I was going back down that I’d been on for 25 years.

"I spent 18 months there, it was brilliant. That was the turning point for me.”

While at The Greens, Mick volunteered in the kitchen at The Archer Project in Sheffield city centre and it was here he met his wife, Julie, with the pair marrying in 2015.

Julie then introduced him to St Thomas’ Church and, as they say, the rest is history.

As caretaker of the church, Mick has been involved with the S6 Foodbank for numerous years but became more involved recently as the pressure on its services grew due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Clean from drugs for over 10 years now, he recalls having to rely on food banks during his darkest days and knew he had to help in any way possible.

So instead of being placed on furlough from his caretaker role, Mick was recruited to the S6 Foodbank – which is run by St Thomas’ Church – and now helps collect and deliver food, toiletries, and other essential items for those in need.

"I’ve been in that position myself and I knew how hard it was to get help back when I was using them anyway,” he said. “Instead of furloughing me, Chris Hardy - the manager of the S6 Foodbank – wanted me to help there.

"I became the food bank driver. Me and Bob, the other driver, go and pick up the food. We can go as far as Harrogate, York – whatever gets donated we pick it up.

"We can get five tonnes of food in and it just goes straight back out again.

“I’ve talked to a couple of food bank users and they turn round and say I don’t know what it’s like. I was in that position in 2008, I was a drug addict for 25 years. I know where they’re coming from but I’m in such a better place now and I’ve got god.

"It’s been good for me to give back, instead of taking. I’ll work at the food bank as long as I’m required.”

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