OUR STORY 2008 - 2023

Garry Pearsone accepted. 

Garry PearsoN

Favourite moment: Returning from Nicaragua in snowstorms. Ian Bolton picking me up and then telling everyone I stunk so bad he didn’t just move carriages he moved trains!

The greatest lesson learned from Freedom Road: When shit happens pick yourself up and get on with it. 

Freedoms gained: To be myself and still be accepted. 

Garry’s story

Between the ages of 16 and 29 Garry moved 27 times, but he has walked through the door to Freedom Road almost every week for the last 13 years. Every Thursday, regular as clockwork, from the age of 16, Garry would be at the charity no matter what else was going on in his life.

He moved to Hull after a stormy six months in which his life was turned upside down. Trouble began for Garry when he was in his final year at school in Scarborough, having lived with his dad for 15 years, things became difficult and he suddenly found himself living with his mum in Hornsea. Displaced, Garry was faced with a situation where no school would take him because of his past behaviour. However, Social Services intervened and he was eventually given a place at a school in the seaside town. He was told he wouldn’t be sitting any GCSEs because he had been studying under a different exam board at his previous school, instead, he was allowed to take qualifications in literacy and numeracy.

Garry is accepting of this situation which to others might seem unfair, but he can see it held him back. He explains: “I left school without any qualifications at all, just didn’t sit a GCSE. Because I was a bit of a lad in Scarborough, initially the school in Hornsea wouldn’t take me, but Social Services said they had to. They let me do an adult literacy and numeracy qualification. So that’s my two qualifications. That’s all I left school with and that was difficult.”

The best thing that came out of the school in Hornsea was a one-off meeting with a youth work apprentice who thought it was a good idea to introduce him to Ian Bolton and Freedom Road. It was a decision that would change the course of Garry’s life.

Although Garry has a strong relationship with his mum to this day, together they decided it was necessary for him to start living independently just after he finished school. He moved to Hull and lived in a hostel where drug-taking, alcohol use and shoplifting were rife. Freedom Road drama sessions became a bolt hole for Garry. He says: “I was spiralling a bit. I had lived with my dad for 15 years. I was sort of uprooted, and six months later I’d moved to Hull. I was definitely in a state of depression. I could be here, there, everywhere, sofa surfing or in the hostel for a little bit, but there was always a theatre session on, doing drama whatever else, seeing Ian. Freedom Road was the one constant in my life. The thing I looked forward to.”

He would go to Freedom Road groups, enjoy them but then return to hostel life. He says: “At some points, I was leading two lives. I would be going to sessions and doing fine and the rest of the week I might be drinking or doing other things.” But he is quick to add: “I think I had a challenging start to my adulthood. “Coming to Hull at 16 was the best thing I did. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn't for coming to Hull.”
In his first six months at Freedom Road the charity was fundraising for its trip to Australia. Garry had arrived too late to get a place on the trip, but he happily joined the fundraising effort and began to make friends. Opportunities for adventure are never far away at Freedom Road and Garry was first in line to be part of the next experience. He joined others from Freedom Road on a night walk challenge with Humberside Police. It was here that Garry’s leadership skills were observed and he was given the chance to take part in an outward bound challenge in the Lake District which lasted several weeks. Garry found a love of adventure and for helping others. He says: “It was brilliant. I loved it.”

He came home to hostel life, unemployment and would take every opportunity he could to hang around at Freedom Road. He explains: “I just used to hang around in the office annoying people! One day someone said: ‘What are you going to do?’ I can’t remember who it was, but someone mentioned this thing called Raleigh International.”

Raleigh International is another charity, which is youth-led, which helps deliver jobs and skills for young people. It was 2012 and Raleigh had a scheme that gave teenagers the chance to work on community and conservation projects in other countries, including Nicaragua, in Central America.

Freedom Road helped Garry to apply and he won a place, and then Freedom Road once more set to work helping him to fundraise to cover any costs he incurred for the trip, which was mostly funded by Raleigh. He says: “Freedom Road helped me with all of it, they did the application, supported me through the selection process and fundraised for me even down to raising money for my injections.” He says he wasn’t fazed by crossing continents as he was used to being self-reliant. It was an epic adventure for Garry. He started by trekking across Nicaragua, before helping to build a community centre. The final leg of the trip involved living by a volcano and building paths.

Throughout this time he didn’t have access to a mobile phone, instead he was able to collect printouts of emails every few days. He says: “I’d always have one from Ian Bolton saying: ‘Keep going’, it would give me a boost.” If Garry made it into an internet cafe he would give Ian a call, just to keep in touch. He says: “I did miss Freedom Road, but I loved every minute of the trip. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and Freedom Road made it possible for me to do it.”

When he returned he was once more at a loose end and with the support of Freedom Road he found a route into working as a personal assistant for an autistic boy. The boy was a Hull City fan and Garry was able to travel with him to games around the country. Garry was back to hostel life, and he still had the travel bug, so one day he Googled “jobs abroad”. This took him to work on a holiday camp in France. He says life in France was harder than life In Nicaragua. He was combining working, drinking and having fun, and learning more about who he was. In the end, he came back to Hull and Freedom Road.

Garry says that the feeling that had troubled him as a teenager, that he was leading a double life (living hostel life and also engaging with Freedom Road) slowly went away in his twenties. His life remained changeable throughout this time. He continued to move a lot, he completed a youth engagement apprenticeship with Humberside Police and public services qualifications and experienced a broken engagement amongst other things. Most importantly Garry fell in love with Danielle, another Freedom Road regular. They now have Noah, who is known as the first Freedom Road baby. He is five, and Garry is dedicated to being a good dad to him and a decent partner to Danielle. 

He works in a secondary school as a teacher’s assistant (TA) and says throughout the pandemic he has really tried to get the teenagers he teaches to engage with home learning. He explains: “I think all my experience helps me relate to the young people I’m working with. I tell them I left school without any qualifications, that I’m 30 and only just getting to where I should’ve been at 18-19.” He has just completed a Level 3 apprenticeship as a TA. He says: “I never ever thought I’d get a Level 3 qualification.” He is ambitious and is thinking of his next step. He would either like to work in a special school or as a pastoral leader in a secondary school.

He is conscious of family too. Danielle has very strong family ties and Garry wants to develop similar bonds for Noah. He has a good relationship with his mum, who is dedicated to her grandson. He also has his Freedom Road family.

Until the pandemic, Garry volunteered at the weekly Thursday sessions. He has taken on the mantle of listening to people, he laughingly calls himself “Go-To-Garry”, but he still has the “indispensable” Ian/Iains to rely on. One of the biggest things about Freedom Road for Garry was being given the keys to the door so he could open up and lock up. He says: “Being trusted makes you feel a bit more worthwhile and like someone believes in you a bit more. Both Ians have been big role models to me. Ian Bolton has always talked about consistency, he has always talked about being in the same place at the same time.”

Now Garry is there for the new generation of Freedom Roaders, but because of the pandemic he hasn’t been able to open up the doors and be the listening ear he likes to be. He is hopeful that sessions will begin again soon and he will be back crossing the threshold to the place that has been there for him since he was 16. He says: “It’s been nearly a year, but I’ve still got the keys in my bag. I can’t wait.”

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