Magician Gareth an inspiration for recovering addicts in Islington
- Credit: Archant
Gareth Foreman knows more than most that drug addiction can’t be solved by the wave of a wand. His own cold turkey experience was proof of that.
The professional magician realises it was those sweat-drenched bed sheets, 19 years ago, that led him on the path to being named Islington’s number one volunteer.
Gareth, 47, has helped addicts across the borough for the past three years. Every week, he has given up more than three hours of his time to act as a “recovery peer” to those in need.
His work with the Single Homeless Project was recognised last week, when Voluntary Action Islington named him its volunteer of the year for 2015.
Gareth, of Seward Street, Clerkenwell, was a professional drug counsellor in Holloway and Wandsworth prisons from 2004.
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But even though he decided to take a break and focus more on his magician act in 2012, he still wanted to contribute voluntarily.
“I’ve been in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction for 19 years, so I’m in a position to help people.,” he explained.
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“A big part of what I do with the Single Homeless Project is show that recovery is possible, as I did it!
“I started drinking when I was 13. I took the usual route into progressively harder drugs: smoking dope, then LSD, into cocaine and then heroin.
“I was addicted, on and off, until I was 28. I decided to stop because I’d just had enough.
“I went completely cold turkey with the heroin, which was actually easier than kicking the alcohol in the long term.
“It’s a bad 72 hours for heroin to get out of your system, but alcohol addiction has such a physical impact.”
Gareth says he acts as a “role model of positive change”.
He holds drop-in sessions and accompanies his peers to treatment. He has even set up “nutrition on a budget” cookery sessions for recovering addicts.
“The people I help are going through those difficult times themselves, or are considering giving up.
“One of the hardest things as an addict is to see a way out. When you are going through that process, you don’t see any other future.
“I’ve been there before, and hopefully I can show them that it’s possible. A big part of my recovery was meeting people who volunteered like I do now.”
Gareth sometimes even incorporates his magic tricks into peer sessions.
And professionally, he has found just as much success as with his volunteering.
“Magic tricks were always something I did as a teenager, but I ended up stopping – because of the alcohol and drugs.
“But I was at a party about 10 years ago and a magician was there.
“I watched him and realised I could remember and do all the tricks he was doing.
“I visited the International Magic shop in Clerkenwell, bought my deck of cards and took it from there.”
Recalling last week’s award ceremony, held at Voluntary Action Islington headquarters in Pentonville Road, he said: “I was shocked. It’s clichéd, of course, but I really wasn’t expecting to win it.
“I was listening to some of the stories being told and thought, ‘there’s no way’.
“It was a fantastic feeling.
“But like everybody says, you don’t go into volunteering for awards and I’d like to think I received it on behalf of all the volunteers at the Single Homeless Project.”