It took just one week at Oaklands Outdoor Pursuits Centre to demonstrate something to this 19 year old that all the other adults in his life had been unable to: the difference between being in a gang and working in a team.
The youngest of four children, Liam, was in trouble at school from the age of nine – the year that his father left the family home, although Liam does not attribute his troublemaking to his father’s departure from their lives.
‘I just had an attitude problem’, he says. ‘I used to get people laughing, and that was a great feeling. I was the ringleader of my gang – a real bad influence on the others. Although I was not excluded at primary school, I did have to go homefor lunch for a while which did not make my mum very happy – she worked as a senior dinner lady and me being home caused her a big problem.’
Liam’s two older sisters and his brother were not in trouble; they just had the usual teenage issues. But as soon as Liam got to secondary school his already poor behaviour nosedived.
‘Three weeks after starting I got suspended for three days for head-butting a lad. I started smoking. I thought I was ‘the big I am’. By Year 8 things had got even worse. I was smoking cannabis and was caught in school with it. My relationship with my mum was on the rocks and we were having big rows. I was in with a bad crowd and by half way through Year 9 I was permanently excluded. That rattled my cage a bit, but when I was sent to The Link [Wirral’s pupil referral unit] my attitude got even worse. I started swearing at the teachers and I wasn’t learning anything. I just got worse and worse. I felt in control and no-one could say anything to me. I was 14.
‘By 15 I was in trouble with the police. I was addicted to cannabis by now and burgling cars to get money for it. I was in court twice and my mum was despairing. She had lost hope. She knew I was addicted and took me to Response [Wirral Youth Service’s Advice and Counselling Agency]. They got me into six months of drugs rehab and then into Positive Futures [a social inclusion program linked to the Home Office but managed by the Wirral Sport Development Unit and co-funded by Wirral Drug & Alcohol Action Team]. ‘They put me onto Colin [an activity mentor], and I have been working on myself with him ever since.
‘Colin has been a real influence on me. I was on the bones of my arse when I met him. My mum was about to kick me out and I had no-one to turn to. I was being pressurised by older lads in the gang I was in to do things I didn’t want to and I didn’t know how to turn things round. Colin gave me loads of one-to-one help, he got me into a footie team with a different group of lads who wanted to get on with their lives.
‘I went to Oaklands [Outdoor Activity Centre] and did a D of E gold residential for a week. It was absolutely brilliant. The staff were fantastic – they were so supportive and funny and co-operative. I did abseiling, rock climbing, sea level traversing. We all helped each other. The others on the course were like me and I loved it. Loads of them are doing really well now. Some are in the Army, the Marines.
‘I’m off drugs, and on a course to be a mechanic. I still do the footie and I train all the time at the gym. I have never been fitter! Things are great with mum too. She’s proud of me now.
‘Looking back now, I just think “why?” I don’t know why I had such a bad attitude.’