A homeless alcoholic eight years ago - last month, Andy Davies graduated

Andy King. English graduate, who had been a homeless alcoholic. Neil Gibson

Andy Davies

EIGHT years ago, Andy Davies was a homeless alcoholic. On September 16, 2008, he had his last alcoholic drink. In July, he graduated from the University of South Wales (USW) with a degree in English.

It’s been quite a decade for the 54-year-old father of three and grandfather of five – but one that has inspired him to work toward a new goal, to show other people that it’s never too late to grasp new opportunities.

Andy readily admits that, at his lowest point, he wanted 'his life to end’, after living on the streets for almost two years and rarely having a place to sleep that wasn’t outdoors.

Originally from Gobowen, on the Wales-England border, just north of Oswestry, Andy left school with no qualifications, immediately joining the RAF.

“I was 16 and it was all very new to me. I’d grown up in a small village and suddenly was mixing with these guys from the big cities. I just wanted to fit in,” he explained. “Drinking was a major part of the culture, and I became alcohol-dependent within 18 months.”

Getting married, having children, and holding down a job, didn’t motivate Andy to stop drinking, and in 2001 he got divorced.

“I wasn’t violent when I was drunk, I just did stupid things,” he explained. “By 2006 my employers at the MoD had noticed that the drinking was a problem, and then I was made redundant.”

After losing his job, and the goodwill of friends he had been staying with, Andy found himself mostly living on the streets and ‘sofa surfing’, when he could find someone who was willing to give him a chance. However, his drinking and behaviour continued to get worse and even his sister, who lived in Rhyl, Denbighshire, at the time, couldn’t put up with him anymore.

“I was stealing to feed my alcohol addiction, and was racking up convictions for theft,” Andy said. “I knew that, if something didn’t change, very soon I’d be dead.”

An appearance in Magistrates’ Court on yet another theft charge gave Andy that opportunity. He appealed to the court in Shrewsbury to put him away, and he was given a one-month custodial sentence.

“That was September 16, 2008 – the day my life changed,” Andy said. “I had to be separated from alcohol. I was able to reflect on life, where I’d been and where I was going.

“Going to prison was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

After accessing support services while ‘inside’, and then spending six months at a rehabilitation centre in Colwyn Bay, Andy was clean. “My desire to drink alcohol had left me,” he explained.

Returning to the workforce, Andy went back to being an avionics technician – the trade he learned in the RAF. But the self-employed life didn’t suit, and he wanted to try something different.

Going back into education didn’t even occur to him.

“I went to see a careers adviser in Llandudno, and she suggested I should think about going to university,” he said.

“I was gobsmacked. It’s something I’d never even considered until then. I left school with no qualifications and didn’t think you could go to university just like that.”

After completing an Access Course at Llandrillo College’s Rhyl campus – specialising in psychology, law and sociology, and the ECDL – “people of my age know nothing about computers” – Andy applied to study at USW in 2013.

This summer he was awarded a 2:1 in English, and a qualification in Teaching English to Speakers of Other languages (TESOL).

After spending the summer teaching English to Italian students at Brunel University, in Uxbridge, Middlesex, he’s going on later this year to do the Professional Certificate in Education (PcET).

And he’s keen to tell his story, so that other people understand that there is nothing holding them back.

“Throughout my life – school, in the RAF, working – mentors always saw something in me and told me so. But I hated myself – people didn’t hate me as much as I hated myself,” he said.

“Thankfully, I was able to discover what skills I had, and make the most of them.

“And that’s the message I want to pass on – I want to inspire people who don’t believe in themselves. It’s not easy – but people can reach the heights they aspire to. It takes hard work – but it can be done.

“As one lecturer told me – if you aim for the moon, you might still grab the stars. And thinking about the education, and how great learning is, it’s gives you more of a hit than drink or drugs ever can.” 

#tesol #PCET #english