Helping families on the road to recovery

Young players from Bispham Junior Football Federation and their parents
Young players from Bispham Junior Football Federation and their parents
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The smiles say it all. On the faces of families rummaging through a pile of toys, books and clothes to kit out their kids.

On the faces of youngsters mucking in with others they have never met before to play football - the greatest leveller of games - or playing kings of the castle on the bouncy castle.

Drop by any Saturday afternoon at the Cherwell Centre, on Chepstow Road, Grange Park, and you will see the late community campaigner Maureen Horn’s legacy alive and - literally - kicking here.

Real community spirit. Families pulling together to get by or through the sort of problems presented by addiction of any kind.

Welcome to Families in Recovery - just one of the groups using the Cherwell centre as a base. Maureen was the driving force behind the centre.

Specialist counsellors are on hand, such as Shughie Morrison, pictured below, co-ordinator of the Horizon Substance Misuse Service, based on Cookson Street, Blackpool. But as Shughie takes pains to point out, the families look out for and after themselves. In time he hopes the group will continue to grow and go from strength to strength in its own right - while he sets up others across Blackpool.

Shughie desperately misses Maureen, who died in July. The sense of loss is felt across the estate. The family’s commitment to the centre Maureen set up - born of her own passion and principles - endures too. Both husband David and daughter Debbie drop by with some encouraging words of support to Families in Recovery .

Shughie explains: “It’s Maureen’s baby really, the centre, and it’s great news that the good work is going to continue.

“I wanted to start the group up after hearing that there was nowhere for families recovering from addiction to get support during weekends.

“Also it was difficult for the adults to go and get support when they had the kids off school.

“I suppose the vision was - and Maureen certainly got it - was that I wanted people on the estate see other people recovering from addiction.

“I knew this would inspire them to know recovery is possible in Blackpool.

“I call it visible recovery, so rather than arrive at the chemist, pick up methadone and go back home, I wanted the families to hold their heads up and show people that they were getting better, and to stop the stigma of smackheads.”

The group is open to families in recovery from all forms of addiction - I chatted to Jean, 47 , previously hooked on painkillers. “Once I came here I started feeling better. The other families make you so welcome. It’s like an extended family. I’m looking forward to Christmas now.”

Others have battled booze, depression and allied issues.

There’s also a clue in the title of the group - families. Some of the members are touched by the impact of addiction upon others - and how that filters through a family.

One woman explained: “My partner is getting his head together now but that’s the reason we’re here. We needed to talk to other people and realise we weren’t alone.”

Shughie says the group is open to families in recovery and anyone else on the estate who wants to come and support others in their communities and learn more about addiction .

“Face it, these are the people who really know.”

Ultimately, given the lack of community facilities in the area, he would like to see other self help FIR groups at South Shore, Bispham, Mereside and elsewhere.

“I know the need is there,” he adds.

“But I also know we are turning the tide. We need to get the word out about the good work going on to lift Blackpool out of its cloud of despair.”

There’s a good turn out each weekend. “We had 40 people show up - adults and chlldren. We provide a lunch and on Christmas Day we are opening to provide a festive lunch and gifts for the children. All donated by local people and businesses within Blackpool.

“Seventy people will be coming here for their Christmas Day. We’ve already got selection boxes for all the kids.

“And you know what? For some of these children it will be their first proper Christmas.”

Thanks to the passion and principles of Shughie and other supporters it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Cherwell Centre already.

Bispham Junior Football Federation, a coalition of footie- mad youngsters, has clubbed together and collected a whole loads of goodies to hand over to the centre.

Thanks to one mum, Carley Harrison, of Anchorsholme, local business manager for Santander Business Banking, a staff collection and football federation under 7s and 10s fundraiser kickstarted the appeal at Thornton YMCA.

“We raised more than £200 for the squad but also wanted to do something for a small local charity - the sort that didn’t get much help otherwise,” adds Carley.

So the squad joined forces to take toy and clothes and other donations to Families in Recovery which meets weekly at the Cherwell centre.

The lads turned up in person to hand over cherished toys and other good-as-new possessions including computer games , books and clothes.

“I won’t know what’s been given away until I talk to mum,” admits Carley’s son, Zack, 10.

All were immediately distributed. Shughie is determined the families get new things for Christmas, toys for their kids, selection boxes and other festive treats, at the Christmas Day dinner at the centre.

So far, thanks to some adept social networking on Shughie’s part - Families in Recovery has its own Facebook page - the word is getting out and locals are responding to a charitable cause very much on their doorstep, and close to the hearts, or consciences, of many. But while the donations are appreciated what the families really love is seeing their own kids - often facing heartbreak or anguish at home - having an impromptu kickabout with lads they have never met before.

Bispham to Grange Park. No distance, really. But some of the children playing together outside the centre founded by Maureen are streets apart in terms of what they have seen out there in the bigger world. As appeal organiser Carley puts it: “I want my children to grow up aware of how lucky they are - and keen to help others. We are blessed in many respects. So many people really struggle for the things we take for granted.”

Daughter Sharna, 15, pictured left, is helping out as official photographer for the day.

Carley was tipped off about the group by a friend , cardiac nurse Bernie Mcalea, whose nine year old son Jack also plays for the junior football federation with Carley’s sons.

“I think they’re doing a great job here and it’s such an important area,” says Bernie. “Some charities get a lot of help and publicity - this one doesn’t.”

Jack agrees. So what did he give the appeal? “Stuff I didn’t want, really. But mum sorted most of it out.”

Carley also looked for toys and clothes and computer games her sons no longer use.

“They get a lot of stuff at Christmas, it’s only right to pass things on.”

Volunteer Kath is delighted with the support shown by Bispham Junior Football Federation.

“It shows there are good people out there, people who care, even if they have never met us before,” she says.

Kath has been attending the centre since the group started in April. “I’m in recovery myself, mostly from alcohol,” she admits. “It’s hard without support. But coming here keeps me clean. You’re not alone, basically, we’re all in together.” Another member, Jean, admits: “I couldn’t have done it without this support. It’s like being part of an extended family.”

Maureen’s daughter Debbie adds: “My mum would be thrilled to see all this. It’s what she fought for, a proper community centre, and the good work is going on. Family was everything to Maureen - she always fought for other people, never herself, and she kept quiet about her own illness. She had cancer but in the end it was an embolism that killed her. It was sudden and shocking. We are still taking each day at a time - and really miss her. But this makes it easier. Just seeing the smiles.”