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Ray of Hope

By Sergio Burns

Life, none of us would deny, is often unbearably tough. In those darkest moments we often feel alone, solitary, with no where to turn. But there is help, there are people and organisations we can turn to. So, everyone of us should all be prepared to shout out when that darkness becomes pitch black – there is always a ray of hope.

I was visiting an innovative and exciting project based at Auchencruive, Ayrshire, to meet with Faye Murfet, one of the Trustees at River Garden Auchincruive – Residential Training and Social Enterprise Development Centre, and Allan Muirhead River Garden’s Developments Project Manager.

Both were focused on and passionate about the new centre and the exciting part it will play in the long-term recovery of addicts.

“I have been lucky enough to visit San Patrignano (Italy) and Basta in Sweden,” Faye Murfet told Ayrshire Magazine. “Both models are slightly different from each other and that’s one of the things we have to do here… the project has to develop based around the Scottish culture. In Italy for example they grow a lot of olives, they… make their own wine and they have got the climate where their social enterprises can be grown… within that climate. That’s not something we can do here. San Patrignano… is one large community and everybody lives together, about 1300.”

We are drinking coffee in the Glasshouse and Terrace Cafe at the centre looking out across the beautiful and calming surroundings of the Auchencruive estate. The cafe, described as a ‘pop-up’, will eventually be replaced by a permanent tea and coffee shop situated at the old west classroom.

“Even the ability to serve a glass of wine, because alcohol and drug addiction plays a different role in their society.” Allan chimes. ” We are developing River Garden Auchincruive around the Scottish culture. We have learned a lot from Basta and San Patrignano, and we are using this knowledge to develop a project which fits Scottish culture.”

The River Garden project was only launched in March this year, and eventually the project will have capacity to take 40 residents at a time.

Funding is via a mix of monies drawn from a number of foundations and donations from benefactors, while the business model is reliant on River Garden eventually becoming self sufficient. The idea is that those who benefit from the programme will, in turn, organise and operate the various social enterprises that will generate cash flow. So, essentially, while rebuilding their lives the residents will develop the enterprises and leave a legacy for those who follow them into River Garden.

“It’ll take 2-3 years for us to establish our core social enterprises before we start generating the income we need to move towards the self sustaining model,” Allan admitted. “It is… the business enterprises that will generate money invested back into the programme. We don’t know what they will look like because a lot of them will be driven by the best of the skills that they (the residents) have. The skills that they bring, passions that they have to run different successful enterprises. A cafe and growing vegetables, those are things that work really well here already. But in terms of future enterprise…it is all going to be resident driven, how quickly they can generate funds, how quickly they can support this full programme.”

I am beginning to realise how ambitious this project is, and both Faye and Allan are more than aware of the hard work, determination and commitment needed to make the project work. They also remind me that River Garden will not be a detox centre, and therefore every candidate looking for a place on the project will have to be totally abstinent at entry.

“We can begin that process several months before somebody comes if they wish,” Faye explains. “There would be certain things that they could do and certain things that we could do on the level of contact, and they could work toward trying to get an admission point. Somebody might have gone somewhere for a detox…and then they would come here. That is strategically what the planning was around the business model. If somebody shows that dedication and motivation to come… then we would go out toward them because that time when people first become abstinent and they are back home is really, really dangerous, that is a real risk. It is important we’ve got that connected together and people can come as soon as they are ready.”

River Garden is also set up to support those who are under their care for up to three years.

“Individuals in recovery have told me that becoming abstinent is, in a way, an easier part, and that working to rebuild your life, to change thought processes, takes time.”Faye explains. “Your thought patterns… how you go about your life, that’s the bit that takes time in terms of… people just dealing with their past and what they may have been through. It’s a progression model as well. When people come for the first 12 weeks they are asked to help out and take part and they are just given time to settle and just become part of that community. Then from 12 weeks, if they decide they want to stay, and we jointly think it is the right environment for them, they then take on more responsibility. Around 15 months we will employ them, and they will be employed as a peer worker and…support the new residents that are coming through.”

What about when residents eventually leave River Garden?

“We would support them to live off site,” Faye agrees. “It is about that progression and continuous step by step more responsibility progression. Just regaining your life basically and reintegration, and that’s a really important part.”

Both pause and take time to reflect, we stare across the greenery toward the river and listen for a moment to the distant birdsong. Allan empties his cup of Colombian coffee.

“Yes it is a rebuilding reprogramming,” He starts up again. “Yeah, rewiring, getting into different habits. It is breaking habits you can’t break in 12 weeks. You do it over a longer period of time.”

Later they walk me around some of the 48.5 acre estate. We walk past some scaffolding where they are renovating a house on the estate to be eventually used as a holiday let.

As I drive away I catch myself thinking about a piece I had read by Russell Brand a few years ago. Speaking about having seen himself on tape taking drugs and, at the time of the article, 10 years abstinent, he admitted he wasn’t proud of himself for now having a life, a house, a job, but envious of the old Brand – because he had drugs.

“That is obviously irrational,” He openly admitted. “But the mentality and behaviour of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and, unless they have structured help, they have no hope.” (Russell Brand, Russell Brand on heroin, abstinence and addiction. The Spectator, March 9, 2013)

That is the kind of structured help and long term support, River Garden Auchincruive Residential Training and Social Enterprise Development Centre aims to provide.

Still thinking, I wondered how many of us had experimented with alcohol, and even drugs in our younger years. The fact that I, personally, don’t know of any teenagers I knew who decided on being teetotal because they feared alcoholism? Neither, in my experience, do teenagers pass on experimenting with drugs for fear of becoming addicted.

Nobody is immune, think of all the people we know of in top jobs who have experimented with drugs and become addicted, pop stars, film stars, soap stars, celebrities, CEO’s, doctors, business leaders. People from all walks of life and from all different backgrounds become addicted, it (addiction) has no respect for financial situation, class, or, even, status.

And, In The End

At some point in our life, and maybe throughout our life, we are all seekers of that distant land of constant happiness, eternal bliss and ecstasy. We seek a place free of pain and hardship where we can relax and, at last, really be ourselves. A land of golden glow suns and marshmallow moons hanging chilled in a lemonade sky. A rebirth of the soul in a Nirvanic hinterland.

People tend to use various drug or alcohol ‘vehicles’ as their existential transport, often combining both to escape some background pain – physical and/or mental. They use in the short or long term to get away from the stresses of work, or poverty, unemployment, illness, debt, failed relationships, feelings of being unwanted, being unwanted…

In the end, we all live in a ‘Sliding Doors’ world. One decision, one course of action can prove extremely lucky or ill-fated, taking us forward to success or burying us deep in a cycle of unforgiving despair.

Press your own existential pause button at this exact moment – life, we soon discover, is simply down to a huge number of decisions. Decisions that have been made on our behalf by political systems at home or around the world, mixed with a huge number of decisions that we have individually made, mashed up in some great, and potentially terrifying, matrix of decisions and actions made and taken by all the other people of the world.

How did we get here, at this particular point in our life? Partly by design, maybe by ability, a few chance meetings with others, but always with a huge slice of good or, indeed, bad luck. Always impacted by the decision and actions of others, including politicians.

So, who can plan with any exactitude how their own personal life will unfold? No one, there are just too many variables outside our control.

For those who fall, there is River Garden Residential Centre, an exciting and innovative project aimed at delivering the support that is needed and the time required. In this respect, Ayrshire is ploughing very new and exciting furrow.

“The only way to help addicts is to treat them not as bad people but as sick people.” (Russell Brand, Russell Brand on heroin, abstinence and addiction. The Spectator, March 9, 2013)

Maybe we need a rethink on an, apparently, failing drugs policy. Maybe we need an open and honest dialogue between addicts, the authorities and interested parties. Maybe we need the rebirth of strategy and the introduction of a process that leans toward the medical rather than the criminal, prevention and rehabilitation rather than punishment.

After all none of us live in an existential vacuum and we all impact, in some way, on each others lives.