AN 'inspirational' former drug addict and ex-dealer who feared he would end up dead or in jail now helps others conquer their demons.

Ryan Bird's changing fortunes serve as a beacon of hope, especially after the tragic, drug-related death of Ben Kreisler at St Paul's Hostel last year.

Mr Bird is living proof there is a ladder out of hell. This struggle with all its setbacks, pain and pitfalls, is something Mr Bird, presented with an award at St Paul's Hostel in Tallow Hill on Thursday, knows all too well. When he speaks to addicts or people sleeping rough on the streets as part of his role as a peer support worker, nobody can tell him he doesn't know what it's like to be in their shoes.

He's been there, done that, got the prison-issue t-shirt. But that is in the past now.

On Thursday, the 34-year-old was one of five people honoured at the hostel and presented with an award - a lapel pip - by the High Sheriff of Worcestershire, dressed in his full regalia.

Kidderminster Shuttle: HONOUR: The High Sheriff of Worcestershire, Andrew Manning-Cox, presents a lapel pip to Ryan Bird at St Paul's Hostel HONOUR: The High Sheriff of Worcestershire, Andrew Manning-Cox, presents a lapel pip to Ryan Bird at St Paul's Hostel (Image: James Connell/Newsquest)

Considering his previous convictions for offences of dishonesty, the former jailbird speaks with a breathtaking, almost brutal candour and is strikingly articulate. 

The former St Paul's hostel resident, now living in a shared house in Worcester, explains he was addicted to crack cocaine and heroin - a 'heavy user' for 11 years - dealing and shoplifting to fund his habit.

The money he made would be gone that same day. It took a toll on his physical health too - he was 'six stone dripping wet' when he was using drugs. Now he's a healthy nine stone - putting on three stone in three years.

Kidderminster Shuttle: MISSED: Ben Kreisler, who had battled drug addiction, died last year at St Paul's Hostel MISSED: Ben Kreisler, who had battled drug addiction, died last year at St Paul's Hostel (Image: Supplied by family)

Once banned from Cheltenham, he's now been clean for four years. He has served time at prisons in Exeter, Channings Wood, Hewell, Bristol and Guys Marsh, his first sentence for dealing and the others for shoplifting on a prolific scale.

"I got my job through life experience. I have that experience. I have been homeless. I have been to prison. I have done it all. I tell all my clients. Everyone knows what I have done," he said.

He also knows when addicts are 'pulling the wool over his eyes' - because he has done the same thing himself.

"Because of my past I have a different connection with people," he said.

Since then, however, he has made 'the right choices' and knows the options are there for others to change. 

"A lot of people think you have to change for family - for their daughters or sons. That's not the case. You have got to want to change for yourself," he said.

Now 18 months into his role, he hopes he can go full-time. His role started when he realised he could make a difference, speaking up for staff if other hostel residents were aggressive to them, trying to calm the situation down.

He is full of praise for hostel staff and volunteers and says, if not for St Paul's, 'I would probably be back doing what I used to do'.

At one stage he added: "I think I would have died if I had come out of prison then gone back on drugs. I don't think I would have survived.

"The hostel changed me, just being around the staff that are here.

There is no way I will ever go back on it," he said, speaking about the drugs. "I don't even like drinking. I have just given up fags."

Speaking of his life now, he said: "I never thought this would be possible."

Jonathan Sutton, the hostel's chief executive, said: "Ryan’s journey from recovery from addiction to employment on the Housing First service is an outstanding achievement and worthy of recognition by this award.  

"His determination, courage and perseverance to change his life is an inspiration to others and is testament to the power of hope. Since starting the role, in September 2021, he has made considerable progress and become an asset to the Housing First service. 

"As a Peer Support Worker he provides a unique perspective to the team and his lived experience is essential to engage and encourage Housing First Participants in their own journey. Ryan’s endless enthusiasm, excellent teamwork, and his contribution to delivering high-quality support makes such a difference. 

Ryan is an inspiration to us all and is congratulated for this well-deserved award."