Peter Smith’s inspirational journey from the streets to the boardroom

Peter Smith has seen the best and worst of life. Overnight he decided to choose himself over the bottle. Sophie Sandberg explains how he’s now helping others do the same.

Voluntary Action Leicestershire- Helping people change their lives for the better in big orange letters is the first thing I see as I’m standing outside a tired-looking concrete building. Without the eye-catching sign, I wouldn’t have thought much of the building or the work that goes on behind those glass doors.

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I take a deep breath before I make my way into the building. It doesn’t take long before Peter Smith, the managing director of Aspiro, steps out of the lift. When you first hear the word ‘managing director’ most of us would probably think of an authority figure, but the man in front of me, although he looks professional, has a certain glow about him that is so rare nowadays. He immediately tells me that they will soon relocate to a location that’s more suitable for the organisation and excitement just beams out of his eyes. I would never have been able to guess what this man has gone through to get to where he is today.

“Nowadays I only drink this,” he says with a chuckle as he takes a sip of his Pepsi Max. We walk into a fairly large office full of desks and computer screens. Even though there are people around us Peter doesn’t seem to mind and starts sharing his story with me.

He said his addiction took a hold of him when he was in his twenties and after splitting up from a long-term relationship it only got worse. “After the split-up, I replaced it with the pub and I realised that drinking was more important to me. I realised that drinking was my first love.”

It was not until he had spent three weeks living on the street, after being kicked out of a Buddhist centre due to disorderly behaviour and spending six months in a homeless hostel that he was admitted to a mental health unit that he got the help he really needed. After already having gone through rehab a couple of times before, this was the first time a psychiatrist looked beyond the drinking and diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. “I almost feel grateful that I’ve got a mental health problem because had it simply been drinking I’d dread to think where I’d be now.”

“If I could, I’d tell my younger self that the answer is not in a bottle and that alcohol won’t take away the fear.” He said that drinking made him lose all his fears in life, made him more confident and made him feel better about himself. “When I had my first drink at the age of 14 I found something that took it all away and that’s why I loved it so much.”

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 09.56.04When Peter talks about his past he refers to it as his ‘former life’. He used to be a social worker with a background in employment work, which he got back to when his daughter was born 16 years ago. That’s when he started controlling his drinking and ended up as an operations manager. When that job came to an end he founded Aspiro, a social enterprise that supports people in a more personal way. “The term Aspiro means to aspire, so I’m very keen on helping people achieve their aspirations as oppose to let someone just go into the first job that comes along.”

 

 

With pride he says the organisation provides employment advice and specialist support, plus learning opportunities for people from disadvantaged groups.

Peter has just started, what he refers to as, his ‘legacy project’ which he calls the ZERO project, a recycle and upcycle scheme for business waste in Leicester. “The ultimate aim is to bring communities together because Aspiro is very much working with individuals but I want to do something more than that.” He wishes to put this concept into various communities to help them take pride in their area and work together to a point where aspects such as age, ethnicity and gender become irrelevant.

Peter has now gone back university to complete a degree in humanities and art, and although he has got a lot on his plate, he says his biggest priority is his…

Suddenly the iPhone on the table starts vibrating, he answers the call and we take a five-minute break. It’s his daughter. “Having a child, certainly for me, has been the making of me” he says, and it’s the way he says it that makes it so believable.

“I absolutely adore my daughter and she really is my reason for living. I want to see my daughter do well in terms of feeling confident and really like herself.”

What this man has gone through is, for me, something unimaginable. He looks just like anyone else. No labels are there to tell me any different. It’s just his story and drive that makes him extraordinary.

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