Ex-drug addict who used heroin and crack cocaine aged 12 is honoured for voluntary work in Leeds

A FORMER drug addict from Leeds who started using heroin and crack cocaine aged 12  has been honoured with an award for his  voluntary work at a homeless charity.

Chris Sylvester pictured with High Sheriff of West Yorkshire Richard Jackson and Harry Gration.
Chris Sylvester pictured with High Sheriff of West Yorkshire Richard Jackson and Harry Gration.

Chris Sylvester, 37, of Armley, said he started smoking cannabis aged 11 or 12 and soon progressed to Class A drugs, which led to a life of crime and prison.

Three-years ago, homeless charity St George's Crypt in Leeds city centre helped Mr Sylvester turn his life around.

Mr Sylvester said he is now drug and alcohol free and is volunteering at the charity where he runs boxercise classes.

Charlie and Diane Creek with High Sheriff of West Yorkshire Richard Jackson and Harry Gration.

Mr Sylvester was one of 32 volunteers and voluntary carers from across the county recognised at the High Sheriff of West Yorkshire's awards event in Gipton this week.

BBC Look North presenter Harry Gration was at the awards ceremony.

High Sheriff of West Yorkshire Richard Jackson launched the awards to recognise the county's unsung heroes.

Former West Leeds High School pupil Mr Sylvester said he started using heroin and crack cocaine from the age of 12 and was a registered drug addict aged 13.

Dick and Jeanette Cartwright, their son Robbie and friend Russell Curran pictured with High Sheriff of West Yorkshire Richard Jackson and Harry Gration

Mr Sylvester said: "I was booted out of school and my life spiralled out of control.

"I spent most of my adult life in and out of prison for all kinds of acquisitive offences, thefts and burglaries."

Mr Sylvester said he started to turn his life around three year's ago at the age of 34 and has now been drug and alcohol free for 18-months.

He said: "I found recovery through St George's Crypt. I went through drug and alcohol programmes called Growing Rooms."

Petre Vojtisek with High Sheriff of West Yorkshire Richard Jackson

"I'm free for the first time in my life I can accept myself for who I am."

Mr Sylvester, who has been teaching boxercise classes for two-years, received his award during a ceremony at The Old Fire Station at Gipton.

He said: "It was satisfying to know I was as appreciated. I felt good that I got some recognition, but I wasn't doing it for that, I was just doing it to help people.

"I'm able to identifty with people and help them through my experiences. That's rewarding in itself."ud of

The award recipients

Christine Lane, training and engagement manager at St George's Crypt, said: "It is great to see Chris giving something back and offering the boxercise classes.

"The clients really connect with Chris as he has been in their shoes and understands their problems. We’re all really proud of him."

The idea for the awards came about after High Sheriff Mr Jackson and his wife Elaine from Huddersfield met the Cartwright family and their friend Russell Curran on a holiday flight to Tenerife from Leeds Bradford Airport in December 2016.

Dick Cartwright and his wife Jeanette look after Dick's best friend Mr Curran, 55, who was left disabled after a motorbike accident.

Mr Curran lives in a home and the Cartwright family have cared for him for around 12-years and take him on family holidays with their son Robbie, 13.

Mr Jackson, who presented the Cartwright family with an award at the ceremony, said: "We were touched by the amount of effort this family went to as voluntary carers.

"The inspiration of that gave my wife Elaine the idea that we should recognise volunteers and voluntary carers."

Mr Jackson presented 32 volunteers and voluntary carers with a High Sheriff's certificate and gifts, including meals out and trips to tourist attractions.

Mr Jackson said: "What a finale to our year in office to be able to honour just a few of the thousands of volunteers and voluntary carers.

"The emotion in the room and the passion of all these inspirational people was wonderfuil to witness."

Mrs Cartwright, said: "It was absolutely lovely to receive the award and it was lovely that Richard and Elaine were inspired to do the awards because of what we have done for Russell."

Diane Creek, 64, and her husband Charlie, 63, of Morley received an award for running the St George's Crypt annual Christmas children's toy appeal.

They have volunteered at St George's Crypt for 12-years and have run the toy appeal for five-years.

Last Christmas they collected and distributed toys to more than 2,000 children who would otherwise have gone without a present.

Mrs Creek said: "We are quite happy to sit in the background and do what we do, but it was very nice to know that the voluntary work you do is appreciated."

Also recognised was 18-year-old Petre Vojtisek, who has been volunteering at Harehills charity CATCH (Community Action to create Hope) for the past six years.

He started aged 12 helping out at the charity's youth club and now volunteers for around four-hours-a-day helping with the charity's finance department while studying for a degree in business and information at Leeds Becket University.

Mr Vojtisek, said: "I appreciate it (the award) a lot. I don't do it for the awards. I have been here a long time now, it has become a hobby for me."

The Office of High Sheriff is an independent, non-political Royal appointment for a single year.

The origins of the office date back to Saxon times, when the Shire Reeve’ was responsible to the King for the maintenance of law and order within the shire, or county, and for the collection and return of taxes due to the Crown.

Today, there are 55 High Sheriffs serving the counties of England and Wales each year.

Whilst the duties of the role have evolved over time, High Sheriffs actively lend support and encouragement to crime prevention agencies, the emergency services and to the voluntary sector.