Volunteer role lets Lola help others

Lola turned to heroin to help her cope after her husband died, but after years of struggling with addiction she is now clean and a dedicated probation volunteer.

The 49-year-old, from St Helen’s, spent two decades committing fraud, deception and theft as she funded a burgeoning drug habit.

The mum-of-three completed several custodial sentences and spent time on probation, but interventions didn’t work.

Lola has now been free from drugs for 18 months. She is a volunteer peer mentor for the Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company (M CRC) and is supporting a new Through the Gate initiative that helps people preparing for release from HMP Liverpool.

Lola said: “I’m not trying to use my husband’s death as an excuse, it was my choice to start taking harder drugs – but it was my coping mechanism.

“My life went downhill. Cheque book fraud was my thing. I was in and out of prison on short sentences, a week here and month there, and just took it as an occupational hazard.

“I didn’t care about probation or prison. It didn’t matter to me because I wasn’t ready to change. I didn’t event wait for my family outside the jail when I got released because I just wanted to go and use and the same cycle would repeat.”

Lola was thrown out by her mum and also lost custody of her children.

She said: “I just dossed down wherever I could and spent four years in an absolute mess, until I became desperate to get my family back. That desire made me go through rehab.”

Lola got clean, took a job in a factory, regained visiting rights so she could see her children and was accepted back into her family.

She said: “I’d done okay and thought I could use heroin as a little treat every now again. But it doesn’t work like that. I held onto the job for a while. I fooled everybody, I wasn’t prolific.

“I carried on like that for a number of years. The lies I made really got to me.

“I then got breast cancer, which made me stop. I was also sick to death of lying. It’s horrible being a liar. It eats away at you.”

Lola has now been drug free for the longest period since her husband passed away. She became a peer mentor after meeting M CRC’s volunteer coordinator Louise Gryzb.

Lola completed a nationally accredited M CRC training programme for volunteers, and qualified in December. She carries out three main roles. Lola co-facilitates the Positive Futures intervention delivered to M CRC’s service users. Secondly, she works with service users to help them arrange GP and dental appointments, work through benefit issues and provides support with accommodation advice. And finally, she works on a new initiative helping men prepare for release from HMP Liverpool.

Lola said: “Everyone deserves a chance. I know that from my own life story some are more ready for it than others, but when someone is trying to change, there are so, so many barriers to overcome. If I can help with any of them, then that means the world to me.

“I think volunteers can really help compliment the role undertaken by CRC staff because I can speak on the level. I lived that life and know the obstacles people face.

“I have so much sympathy for our service users because I believe it’s tougher now than it was for me. There’s a chronic housing shortage, jobs are harder to come by – there are fewer opportunities. But probation is doing everything it can to make that difference and to help people make positive change.”

Lola added: “And for any people wondering if volunteering is for them, don’t think about it – just do it. It’s helped me see a different future, my ambition is now to be a probation case manager.”