Chris Sylvester was working with the Howarth Foundation as an ambassador but has now been employed as a business and client coordinator by the Leeds-based charity.
The charity was founded by former policeman Andy Howarth to help break the cycle of homelessness, addiction and criminality through employment opportunities.
Mr Sylvester said businesses should keep an “open mind” on hiring people from tough backgrounds such as his.
By the age of 13, he was a registered heroin addict. Mr Sylvester then spent a lifetime in and out of prison before finally hitting rock bottom and turning his life around two years ago.
“I think society on a whole massively benefits from what we’re involved in, what we’re promoting,” he said of the foundation. “We can help solve a lot of problems in society if we come at it from a business perspective.” The charity identifies people who are ready for a second chance and then helps businesses hire them, using its extensive employment law and human resources (HR) expertise to look after any issues along the way.
Mr Howarth issued another plea to businesses in and around Leeds to open up opportunities for people like Mr Sylvester.
Hiring people from difficult background is not only the morally right thing to do, he says, but can also provide commercial benefit.
“Businesses are missing a trick because Chris and all the other people that we have worked with are the most loyal and committed workers,” Mr Howarth said.
“We’re not asking businesses for money but we’re asking them for something that is far more valuable – time, patience and understanding,” he added. “It needs people at the top to engage and invest.”
The former policeman founded Cleckheaton-based Howarths Law in 2003. However, he took a step back from the business five years ago. He and his wife Helen then set up the foundation in 2017.
Recently, Mr Howarth has had his own personal health battle. Despite undergoing treatment for cancer, he has continued to push to help people like Mr Sylvester turn their lives around.
Mr Sylvester said that the former policeman is a “massive role model” to him.
Both of them were born and raised in Leeds. While one became a policeman, going onto work for CID and Special Branch, the other would spend time in and out of prison.
Despite first meeting Chris Sylvester when he was at his lowest ebb two years ago, when he’d only just actively started confronting his demons, Mr Howarth sensed that the ex-offender had qualities that would be useful to the charity.
In his new role, Mr Sylvester will be developing partnerships with businesses and other projects that help homeless people turn their lives around. Mr Howarth hopes that he will also act as a good example of not just recovery but also prevent others falling down a similar path. He said: “Enforcement and punishment isn’t the answer, it’s prevention and recovery.”
Mr Sylvester says he wants “to make a real difference in society” and set a positive example for his own daughters. He added: “Over the years I’ve caused a lot of problems. I’ve caused misery and pain for years and years to everybody around me. My actions have massively impacted society. People that I will never meet – I have cost them through my actions.
“Now it means I can give back. I can make a difference not only to my daughters but also people that I’ll never meet.”
Back to school
In addition to his new job as a coordinator, Chris Sylvester is also hoping to go to university and study for a business management degree.
He is currently awaiting his results after attending college to make up for the education that he missed out on earlier in life.
His attempts to set a positive example are paying off. Mr Sylvester said: “My youngest daughter passed her Sats and I’m ever so proud. She’s got really high grades and she’s about to start high school. That’s a really big thing for me.
“It’s what I’ve encouraged and what I wanted. I explained that I went back to college to try and get my GCSEs.”