Donald Wheatley, 26, was named winner of the HSBC Breakthrough Award at The Prince's Trust & Samsung Celebrate Success Awards held last month at The Sage Gateshead. The award recognises the progress of young people who have developed new skills to enable them to make positive steps in facing their challenges and stabilising their lives.
Donald's use of drugs led to a string of convictions and, to his deep regret, the breakdown of relationships with family and friends. He became homeless and tried to 'go cold turkey' several times, only to collapse and start taking drugs again.
His last spell in prison saw Donald make a concerted effort to turn his life around once and for all. He asked to be moved onto a recovery wing, was released early to go to rehab and has remained clean ever since.
Ready to make further progress, he signed up for a Prince's Trust Get Started with Football with Newcastle United Foundation. The programme helps disadvantaged young people build confidence and motivation, spending an intensive week with the Foundation, working on football activities designed to develop self-confidence, teamwork and leadership skills.
Donald's determination to do his absolute best and support others in the group marked him out as a role model and leader and he received a special award for his hard work and outstanding attitude. Since then he has taken part in the Homeless World Cup and is training for an FA coaching qualification.
Through the programme, Donald also discovered an aptitude for working with young people and believes he can support others facing addiction: "I've started to see what I can do with life. I don't want others to go down the same path I was on, and if I can use my experience to help them get off drugs and make something of their lives, I'm determined to do it."
He has wasted no time. Donald is making regular prison visits to young drug users, and helping CID raise awareness of addiction issues. He also gives inspirational talks to young people on behalf of The Prince's Trust, and has been put forward for peer mentor training to assist young offenders.
The Prince's Trust Football Initiative, funded by The Premier League and the PFA, has helped more than 22,500 disadvantaged young people through football since 1997. The initiative, delivered by 65 professional football clubs, boosts young people's confidence, motivation and team working skills, helping them gain new qualifications.
Donald said: "I can't believe I've won this award. At one point I couldn't see a future for myself or a way out of my addictions. Getting involved with The Prince's Trust and Get into Football changed my life. Now I want to help others achieve their goals."
This year is the tenth anniversary of the awards, which have recognised the achievements of young people across the North East over the last decade.