Probation volunteer Ian Sparshott has won two prestigious awards after using his decades of experience as a heroin addict and notorious petty criminal to now help others.
The 64-year-old, who lives in Southampton, committed more than 200 shoplifting offences to fund an addiction to drugs that started in his teens and resulted in him spending years in prison.
Ian quit drugs aged 48, and for the last three years has volunteered with the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Community Rehabilitation Company (HIOW CRC) supporting people on probation to make positive changes to their lives. He has clocked up an incredible 700 hours of volunteer service with HIOW CRC during that period.
In recognition of the work that Ian has carried out over recent years, in December he received a Butler Trust commendation and recognition from the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner. The Butler Trust promotes best practice in the prison, probation and correctional facilities sectors. Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal is the organisation’s patron and Ian is one of 20 people nationwide to receive a commendation from this year’s scheme.
Ian has also received the top accolade in the volunteering in the Criminal Justice Service category in the Safer Awards run by Hampshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Michael Lane.
Ian’s voluntary role is led by HIOW CRC’s volunteer coordinator Ernie Grendall. The scheme trains and supports volunteers to work alongside people on probation with a range of things including support to overcome addiction, advice on accommodation, support with arranging benefits and mental health and wellbeing support.
Ian said: “The awards mean something to me because it is tangible, and it is recognition of the 12-years I have spent mentoring others and the journey I have had.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I made many mistakes from a young age and I spent a lifetime in incarceration and drug addiction because of those choices. When I meet people on probation, they know I’m not faking it when I talk to them.
“I enjoy mentoring very, very much. It’s me, it’s my story, and I love helping others and seeing the glint in their eye as they being to see a more positive future.”
Ian comes from a good family and was doing well at school until he fell in with peers who were taking drugs. He eventually ended up in borstal before getting his first of many jail sentences – aged 21.
He said: “I couldn’t stop myself. I fell in with the wrong crowd and did my best to imitate what they were doing.
“Before long I’d chalked off every prison in London apart from Brixton. I was a drug addict. First it was cannabis, then opiates, heroin, crack cocaine and amphetamine sulphates.
“To feed the habit I became a habitual shoplifter and wracked up 200 convictions. I was a one-man crime wave.”
Ian’s epiphany came in his forties.
He said: “I figured out I was either going to end up dead, in a bedsit sipping cans of Tenants or doddering around as the prison librarian. None of those options appealed to me.
“Of those I was knocking around with, most have died. My lifestyle was an extremely high-risk strategy.”
Ian was accepted into rehabilitation and moved to Francis House, run by Streetscene Addiction, in Hulse Road, for seven months. A decade later he got involved with HIOW CRC after a chance meeting via his contacts at the Princes Trust as he explored training opportunities as his mentoring career progressed.
He said: “I wouldn’t wish my journey on anyone, it was no-way to live. But it has given me the experience and the contacts from the agencies that I’ve worked with over the years to help others.
“Mentoring means the world to me. I’m now in a position where I can use the lessons I’ve learned the hard way to help others avoid those pitfalls, or at least to see that change is possible.”
Ernie said: “I have the pleasure of working with an excellent team of volunteers in Hampshire and I see the terrific impact they have on people across the region. When an offender knows the person they are dealing with is not being paid to be there and has lived through what they are experiencing, and is there only to help them – that has a huge impact.
“Ian is remarkable. He is totally dedicated to the role and I can think of no-one more deserving to receive the accolades that he has received.”