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How sport is helping addicts build a better life

SunnyDLed by the inspirational Sunny Dhadley, SUIT (Service User Involvement Team) have been using sport to support Wolverhampton’s most vulnerable and marginalised people for over a decade. 

Having recovered from crack and heroin addiction, Dhadley initially made contact with SUIT to offer his services as a volunteer in 2007. Just five months later, he had taken over the whole operation himself. 

In the ensuing 10 years he has turned SUIT into a highly effective, pioneering and completely peer-led organisation. All of the staff and volunteers are recovering addicts themselves, so their support and advice is borne from practical experience. 

Their clients have wide-ranging vulnerabilities, primarily drug and alcohol addiction. SUIT help them access support, not just for their dependencies, but also with issues such as illiteracy, innumeracy, bereavement, mental health, homelessness, unemployment, immigration, digital exclusion and criminal justice. 

What Dhadley describes as an “empowering open-door approach” enables anyone to drop in, or be referred, and they are helped to plan a path towards a better, more meaningful and healthier life. Many are encouraged to volunteer and help other service users too, with wider volunteering also encouraged. Sport plays a big part in the initial engagement process and the rehabilitation journey that follows. 

“Sport is a way of increasing people’s social networks, confidence, resilience and physical and mental health. It’s a brilliant opportunity to engage people,” says Dhadley.

SUIT have their own boxing classes and have also offered indoor football, Zumba classes, cycling clubs, Brazilian jujitsu and kickboxing. SUIT are always willing to listen to and, if appropriate, set up new sporting activities should service users so wish. Activities are based on the specific needs and requirements of each individual and have an 85% attendance rate. 

They support a ‘fit-for-a-fiver’ scheme in partnership with the local authority and NHS, offering service users use of all municipal sport facilities for three months. SUIT fund the hiring of facilities and appropriate coaches, at no charge to the service user. 

SUIT are rightly proud of their volunteering programme, having received a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services in 2014. The certificate in the SUIT office, signed by Her Majesty the Queen, commends the organisation for “training recovering addicts and empowering those that are suffering from addiction to move forward with their lives, contributing positively to themselves and society as a whole.” 


SUITSUIT receive 2.4% of the city’s funding for drug and alcohol issues (around £130,000 per year). In 2016/17 that money helped the 2.5 paid staff and 10-12 volunteers support 1,072 individuals, delivering 5,283 peer-led interventions that addressed 72 areas of need (e.g. drugs, alcohol, homelessness, desistance from crime).  In doing so, they collaborated with 486 external companies, groups, resources and individuals. 

The unit cost of each intervention was less than £25, which Dhadley calls “unbelievable value for money”. Their annual budget is less than incarcerating one adult in a category B prison for 12 months, which is why SUIT advocate drug and alcohol addiction, and its associated crime, being treated as a health issue, not by the criminal justice system. 

With deep experience of service users’ needs and frustrations, SUIT aim to influence system change regionally, nationally and internationally. They conduct outreach and in-reach work in prisons, while SUIT’s trading arm, the Recovery Foundation CIC, offer training and consultancy in developing levels of knowledge and programmes dealing with addictions and social justice. 


As well as the dedication of his team, Dhadley’s personal drive and ambition are crucial to the project’s success. His own journey is living proof to all service users of what can be achieved.

DSC_1559“I was somebody who was used to being treated a certain way by services,” he said. “I was in treatment from a young age. I was a bit of a rascal and started getting into the criminal justice system. At one point in my life I thought that the only place I’d end up was either six feet under or in a prison cell. 

“I then came into faith. I was saved from the life I was living. I had an epiphany. Since SUIT came into my life, I have gone back into education, completed a Diploma in Management, awarded Chartered Manager of the Year in 2015 and am now a fellow of the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) and Social Leadership fellow of St George’s House, Windsor. 

“Now I’ve been given my life back, I want everyone to get that chance too – in any way this holds meaning to them.” 

The Alliance of Sport would like to thank SUIT for being part of our Ministry of Justice Review of Sport in Criminal Justice.