How homeless South Shields man turned life around to spearhead inspirational Newcastle charity project
Sports Traider is hoping to come to Newcastle in the near future, making sports equipment accessible to all
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Having grown up as a "feral" kid in South Shields, picked up 42 convictions, spent the best part of 10 years homeless and got back on track with the Royal Navy, Ricky Gleeson has already lived a fascinating life.
Now the 44-year-old is embarking on a sports charity project that looks sure to be a huge hit in Newcastle.
Ricky is heading up the arrival of Sports Traider in the city, a charity shop specialising in sporting goods that does a world of good for the community.
Being a city that thrives on sporting activities, the shop is set to facilitate access to sport for families struggling to make ends meet and provide an alternative to other high streets sports shops with much less heart.
Ricky sat down with NewcastleWorld to tell his story.
He said: "I was a naturally mischievous kid. When I got to South Shields I was quite feral. It was my fifth school by the time of my second year in senior school, everything was going a bit haywire.
"I looked for and became part of the wrong crowd and then started getting arrested for the wrong things... stealing bikes and silly fights. Then my card was marked.
"I was in South Shields yesterday and remembered the slide that used to be there. That burnt down once and me and all my mates got arrested for it and we weren't even there. We ended up in Crown Court and I spent 20 odd hours in the cells. The police didn't care, as far as they were concerned we were guilty."
By the age of 16, Ricky found himself kicked out of his home by his mother who "had enough".
He said: "Most young people you see that are homeless it's from a breakdown in the family.
"My mum just threw me out and said she'd had enough, didn't want me anymore.
"I was already pretty feral, as I say. I was only staying at my house three times a week. The weekend I'd be out in the centre of town, staying at my friends' houses."
Ricky would go on to steal as it became how he felt he needed to "get by".
He spent 10 years without a proper home and eventually decided to join the Navy.
Ricky credits the Navy with helping him turn his life around, saying he is "eternally grateful" but after 13 years knew he needed a new challenge.
He said: "I started doing these podcasts, The Outside Looking In.
"I did one with the CEO and creator of Sports Traider. After I got a bit more information on it and pitched to Lance [the CEO] along with a friend to say we wanted to take it up to Newcastle.
"It was meant to be as a voluntary thing. As we've progressed I think we're all keen on me taking on a manager role and managing the Newcastle branch of it properly."
Sports Traider is a charity shop with sporting goods donated from people, local clubs and some manufacturers.
Instead of paying £80 for a pair of high street trainers, customers can score a pair for as little as a fiver.
Asked about inevitable comparisons with the infamous Sports Direct around the corner, Ricky said: "I kind of get annoyed at the fact it gets compared to Sports Direct. Mike Ashley runs his business in the same fashion as he ran Newcastle United...
"We're an alternative to the cheaper brand of high street sporting goods. We are a very viable alternative and all the money that comes in Sports Traider will go back into the community."
Sports Traider is currently in the process of finding a location and setting up its Newcastle store.
When it does, Ricky hopes to employ volunteers who come from a past like his to give them a chance of experience.
The branch is also in the process of having "very responsive" talks with local businesses to set up a scheme where those volunteers can benefit with a leg up into the world of employment.
Those wanting to support the Sports Traider project can donate money to the charity and follow them on social media.