Weston - a 'recovery town', not a 'junky town'

PUBLISHED: 09:00 29 September 2012

Darren Raines, Jane Addycott, Di Smith, Ana Maria Carvalho, Craig Rand and Nick Blackshaw from SURF

Darren Raines, Jane Addycott, Di Smith, Ana Maria Carvalho, Craig Rand and Nick Blackshaw from SURF

James Franklin

SEPTEMBER is recovery month, an occasion to celebrate the efforts of people who have battled against addictions to drugs and alcohol and mental health disorders.

It is also the perfect time to mark a vital, locally-run group which is trying to help reduce the stigma faced by recovering addicts in Weston and bring the organisations helping them closer together.

Weston has long had excellent and nationally-known facilities, treatment centres and organisations to help people overcome their addictions, but with the foundation of the North Somerset Recovery Network (NSRN) those bodies are now better placed than ever to help in the fight against what sufferers refer to as a disease.

With Weston described as a ‘junky town’ by comedian Russell Brand, himself a recovering drug and alcohol addict, there has never been a better time to challenge the misconceptions which have sprung up around the good work done by so many in the town.

On Saturday dozens of volunteers, recovering addicts and community members gathered in the centre of Weston to promote recovery with the inaugural Live, Love, Walk event.

The event, which featured a walk from the Italian Gardens down to the Tropicana and back, saw scores of specially-printed purple shirts handed out and brought recovery onto the streets of Weston and into the consciousness of the town’s people.

Among the organisations linked by NSRN are SURF, Broadway Lodge, the Addiction Recovery Agency (ARA), Pathways Support & Community Association, Andrew House, Western Counselling Services, Addaction and the Carlton Centre.

As Wendy Ruddick, who helps co-ordinate NSRN as well as working as the recovery centre manager at Broadway Lodge, explains: “There is lots of recovery in North Somerset which goes unseen, and the positive benefits of treatment and recovery are not highlighted or celebrated enough.

“We want to be able to show that recovery is possible and that people in North Somerset do recover and live healthy and productive lives.”

"“It’s not a junky town, it’s a recovery town and that’s a very different message.”"

Author Mark Johnson

The living proof of that is offered by those who have been helped.

When Darren Raines’ alcohol problems escalated, it had a profound effect on his life as he left his job as a self-employed builder earlier and earlier each day so he could start drinking.

The problem escalated until the 40-year-old was thrown out of his family home in Locking by his wife, a moment which he now considers a vital wake-up call.

He got help from ARA, Shelter and Pathways as he successfully beat his addiction.

Taking time out from his organising duties as a marshal at Saturday’s event, he said: “I got help from lots of different organisations, and NSRN has really helped them to work in harmony.”

Other recovering addicts helping out are Ana Maria Carvalho, who works for SURF, and Di Smith, who volunteers at the Recovery Centre.

Ms Carvalho has battled against addiction since the age of 14 and initially travelled to Weston due to the reputation of its centres.

But she relapsed and her battle to overcome her addictions continued once she arrived in North Somerset.

She is adamant that services have improved in Weston, saying: “The services in Weston are now working in partnership. Things are definitely better in Weston than they were a few years ago.”

Ms Smith was about to study for a university degree and was part of her childrens’ school parents and teachers association in Portishead when she developed an alcohol problem that later led to class A drug use.

Through the services in Weston she is now free of her addiction and works as a volunteer at the Recovery Centre,

She said: “I was very, very frightened when I went through it, but I always knew there was someone there to talk to and that was important when I was dealing with my addiction.

“Now I can put something from my experiences to use in helping people here.”

Now 52 and in recovery, she is putting back into the community and using her own experiences to help others going through the throes of addiction.Craig Rand was a promising young footballer who started out at Sheffield Wednesday as a trainee and became the first Weston captain to ever lift silverware as the team won the Somerset Premier Cup.

But behind his career he hid a drinking addiction that forced him to quit the game he loved and even led him to consider taking his own life.

Having received vital help from ARA, he believes one of NSRN’s most important tasks must be to make people think differently about recovery and recovering addicts in Weston.

He said: “We’ve got to smash that negative misconception of addicts as being bad.

“People need to see the good work that’s done here treating what is a disease, and see that people who are beating their addictions can really put something back into society.”

Author Mark Johnson had a best-selling book with Wasted, a warts-and-all memoir of his time on the streets as a result of his own drink and drug problems, which he now uses to help others with the same problems.

Speaking before he gave a speech at Saturday’s event, he referred to Russell Brand’s comments, which were made before a show at The Playhouse theatre in Weston.

He said: “It’s not a junky town, it’s a recovery town and that’s a very different message.

“The common perception can often be very negative – that people in these situations are taking from the community, but the reality is that there are hundreds of people in recovery who are contributing to society in a lot of different ways.”

The Portuguese lady has battled against addiction since the age of 14 and initially travelled to Weston due to the reputation of its centres.

But she relapsed and her battle to overcome her addictions continued once she arrived in North Somerset.

Now 52 and in recovery, she is putting back into the community and using her own experiences to help others going through the throes of addiction.

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