AFTER leaving school with no qualifications, unable to read or write, Damon Bachegalup went back into education in a bid to change his life.
But little did the 54-year-old know that by taking those steps into Bolton College, he would eventually be able to help others, not just change their lives, but save them.
Mr Bachegalup set up Teen Brat Camp UK to help young people with addictions, mental health issues and behavioural problems and give them chance to explore their real self away from their home environment.
In recent years, he has helped 13 to 17-year-olds with a range of problems, from addictions to legal highs, alcohol, prescription and illegal drugs and suicide attempts.
One teenager, from Scotland, addicted to legal highs and alcohol, from the age of 13, who had suffered kidney failure, spent three weeks at the camp in North Wales, which Mr Bachegalup says saved his life.
The father-of-three, of Old Road, Astley Bridge, had worked as a doorman in Manchester and a truck driver until 2000 when he went travelling the world after his father, Terrance, of Deane Church Lane, died.
He said: “I came back and didn’t know what I wanted to do.
“My third marriage had failed. I had three children by three different wives. I’d made the same mistakes. I came back and went back into education. I totally changed my life.
“I had left St Cuthbert’s School at 15 and I could hardly read and write.
“I went to college to learn to read and write and punctuate. They sent me for an assessment. It came back that I had a reading age of a nine-year-old but a high IQ.
“I found out I was dyslexic. I had always been classed as lazy or stupid or just couldn’t be bothered doing work.”
Mr Bachegalup, who grew up in Heaton, then completed a degree in counselling at Bolton University before taking part in a mentoring project at Bolton Lads and Girls Club.
He went on to work as a teen life skills worker and counsellor, helping homeless youngsters in Skelmersdale, and a volunteer mediator at the council-run Bolton Mediation.
He also volunteered with MhIST (Mental Health Independent Support Team) for a number of years.
He said: “I would watch the Brat Camp, the American TV series and think I would love to work for an organisation like that.
“I did some research and discovered there was nothing in the UK or Europe.”
Along with wife Erika, they set up the programme in 2008 which can also help teenagers with low self-esteem, poor school performance, defiance of authority, self-harming and anger issues, as well as those dealing with family issues, loss and bereavement.
Teenagers must take along a full clothing, kit and camping equipment and banned items at the camps, in Wales and Australia, include mobile phones, tablets, mp3 players, straighteners and hairdryers.
They attend one-on-one or group sessions for a minimum of seven days, up to three months, in a remote location, taking part in outdoor programmes and therapy during school holidays.
CASE STUDY . . .
SARAH Downes, from Warrington, found herself clashing with her parents on a daily basis before attending the camp in Wales at the age of 14.
The 19-year-old said: “I had a lot of trouble at home with my mum, we were not really getting on.
“It would just be shouting, disagreeing on things.
“We both sat down and discussed it with dad and agreed it was for the best because my brother was getting upset. We got in touch with Damon and Erika and they were really friendly.
“I used to be on my phone and Facebook a lot. If you’ve not got that there, you have got to sit down and make a conversation.
“It made me sit down and think about why we were arguing.
“I’m working in a nursery at the moment and getting on with mum and dad.
“It really made a difference.”