‘Coming here helps me remember how important it is to stay sober’

When you’re at rock bottom, you need a helping hand to start climbing out of the hole you’re in.

And people struggling to escape the dependency on drink or drugs that has scarred their lives can get the help they need to shape up and start a new life at a Hemel Hempstead rehabilitation service.

Left to right: Lorraine, Gavin, Patrick, Sam, Billy, Trudy and Viren. Recovery workers and service users of the Hertfordshire Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service.

Left to right: Lorraine, Gavin, Patrick, Sam, Billy, Trudy and Viren. Recovery workers and service users of the Hertfordshire Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service.

The drug and alcohol recovery centre based in Wolsey Road is a one-stop shop for anyone looking to overcome their addiction.

And it’s not just about kicking the habit – they can also learn important life skills and receive advice on their safety and wellbeing.

The service is run through health and social care charity CRI, which leads crime reduction initiatives across the UK.

More than 30 people use Hemel Hempstead’s CRI service on any given day.

The aim is to guide and support them with the help they need to rehabilitate themselves into society.

There are a range of vocational courses on offer, and recovery workers can also act as peer mentors – some have been through the addiction recovery process themselves, so they know what they are talking about and are proof that the process can succeed, however difficult it might seem at the outset.

One former drug user who now works at the recovery centre, who did not wish to be named, said: “Previously I would go through £400 to £1,000 worth of drugs a week, running up horrendous debts with credit cards and all types of loan.

“In 2009 I got arrested as part of a drugs bust, with more than 50 others. I was 21 at the time.

“Myself and 13 others were convicted, so I served my time and then started volunteering here in November the same year.

“My life is completely different now, and it is not a mundane job.

“Every day I develop as a person and it is very rewarding, especially when you see clients like myself who you have been with every step of the way.

“My behaviour in the past affected my family quite a bit but now the trust and pride have come back.

“They were supporting me, but now I can support them.”

There is a doctor at the centre two days a week and two full time nurses, all trained in substance misuse, as well as counselling rooms and a family consultation service.

Based in an old doctors’ surgery, the centre provides various services to help recovering alcohol and drug users change their lifestyles, learn from mistakes and get the help they need to lead a normal life.

Methadone is prescribed from the centre, and random drug tests take place to gauge how the service users are coping with their targets.

Controversially, the medical staff also run a needle exchange programme, which allows intravenous drug users to collect clean injecting equipment and return used needles.

But this is coupled with a discussion on harm minimisation and treatment options, and takes the pragmatic view that if an addict is going to use needles to inject drugs, it’s better to protect them from the potential of further harm from blood-borne viruses while the team try to address the root of the problem.

The centre also boasts an alternative therapy room and a computer suite, which can help the users obtain basic qualifications in IT.

Life skills such as applying for jobs are also taught there, and they can learn how to cook and gain food hygiene certificates in the fully functional kitchen.

Business activity leader Sam Speller runs a six-week workshop on how to cook on a tight budget.

He said: “We do try and add in a little bit about health, but it is mostly just about the basic skills.

“Using a knife for cooking is one of the first points we have to go across with some of the guys.

“A lot of them feel isolated a lot of the time, and coming here might be the only time of the week they will have a square meal with other people.

“I find the nicest part of the training is when we sit and eat together, as there is always a nice atmosphere around the table.”

Alistair Green, who lives in Hemel Hempstead Old Town, is a current service user who devotes his time to being an IT trainer at the centre.

He said: “Coming here has helped me a great deal.

“It gives me a chance to teach and also helps me remember why it is important to stay sober. I am now developing goals and ambitions.

“Left to your own devices, it would be much more tricky to stay sober, but having regular contact with people in the same boat makes it all the more real and keeps it in your mind.

“I would not have stuck to my qualification programme without the companionship and support I get here.”

It is clear how much the recovery work can do to not only improve the health and lives of alcohol and drug users, but also to reduce offending rates. Around 67 per cent of offenders who enter drug treatment with CRI are no longer offending after 12 weeks.

Service manager Glenda Lee said: “Here, the client gets a whole care package.

“We work as part of a much wider team, because working together, we can achieve anything. And everything we do is for the service users.”

A new recovery programme called Changing Lanes started at the centre on March 28.

It is made up of an eight-week course with some participants able to achieve full forklift training to help them enter the world of work. There is also a music production course which will be starting on April 15.

The CRI drug and alcohol service in Hertfordshire is soon to be rebranded as Spectrum, but will continue to be run by CRI.

To find out more about the service, visit www.cri.org.uk or call 01442 256520.