A multi-million pound task force being set up to find and help Blackpool’s neediest people will begin the fightback against the town’s alarming tide of social ills, it was claimed today.
The team of 24 specially trained workers, based at a new HQ in the town centre, will hit the streets and identify those in the resort worst affected by drug and alcohol problems, mental illness and homelessness.
The hope is the scheme will improve the lives of hundreds of the most vulnerable people in the town.
Today bosses behind the project, called Fulfilling Lives, admitted £10m of funding, which has been granted to the council by the Big Lottery Fund, will merely scratch the surface of Blackpool’s problems.
But they insist the work – the first time a single team of people has been used to target all these major problems – will provide a “solid foundation” to help bring some of the disturbing figures around deprivation in the town under control.
“We are talking about the people who really need help, the ones who have slipped through the net,” explains Justin Nield, an engagement co-ordinator helping Blackpool Council implement the scheme.
“This is about turning lives around and the people of Blackpool will see the result of that. It is one step towards helping make this town a better place.”
Latest statistics suggest the town is desperately in need of that help.
Blackpool has the UK’s second highest prevalence of heroinand crack cocaine users, twice the national average number of people admitted to hospital with mental health problems and some of the highest levels of alcohol-related harm in the country.
That puts a massive financial strain on the council and emergency services.
The specialist team – which will be made up of workers seconded from various homeless, mental health, offending, and substance misuse organisations in the Fylde – will be able to work with an individual for up to two years.
The service will operate seven days a week, 365 days a year and over the next seven years, the aim is to get 800 local people the help they need to start turning their lives around.
Blackpool is one of 12 places in the UK which has received this cash from the Big Lottery.
“Many things need to be done in Blackpool but I think this is one element that will enhance our reputation on a national scale,” said Nicola Dennison, senior public health practitioner at Blackpool Council.
“It is part of the bigger picture of trying to make Blackpool successful - and it is also about helping those individuals who absolutely really need help.”
Operating from a town centre hub building – “we are looking for a suitable venue at the moment,” said Mrs Dennison – the team will actively look for those people suffering from multi-complex needs. That means not just alcohol problems but drug, homelessness, mental health and crime problems too.
“We are after the people who tick every box, who have multiple problems,” said Jim Devereux, implementation manager for Addaction, one of the UK’s leading drug and alcohol treatment charities, who are the council’s lead partner on the project and responsible for distributing the money.
“We believe there are 1,000 people in Blackpool with these multiple-complex needs and that is a huge figure.
“The first mission is to find them. These are people who won’t engage with services and will have been forgotten about really, so we have to get on the streets hunt them down, and get them the help they need. That is good for the individual and it is good for Blackpool.”
The people behind the scheme, which starts in April, believe it will work because they say it’s the first time there has been a single team helping those with multiple needs.
“You have to remember we are talking about people whose lives are chaotic,” added Mr Nield.
“There is no way they are going to go to 10 different appointment and tell the same story 10 different times. This is about having one single team helping them – and we go and find them, not the other way around, which is a big thing too.
“£10m won’t solve the problem but it will lay a real solid foundation.
“We have some fantastic services in Blackpool, some fantastic workers, but traditionally we haven’t worked well enough together.
“This will start to change that and everyone should feel the benefit – especially, and most importantly, the individuals who most need help.”
CASE STUDY 1
At his worst, Paul Greenwood was drinking up to seven litres of cider a day.
He started at a young age, and Paul, 57, says he has always been a drinker, and simply didn’t know how to stop.
“I’ve always been quite a heavy drinker, I went through my life drinking really,” he admits.
But it got worse when he hit 50.
His relationship had broken down and his drinking got heavier.
He said: “It got quite chaotic.
“It went through that stage and I started to isolate myself. I would just sit in a room and drink on my own.
“That was my life for about two years.”
Eventually, Paul, of North Shore, says he realised it was time to get help.
“A lot of people ask me what the turning point was, and I don’t know what it was. I just knew it was time to change my lifestyle.”
Paul went to see his doctor, who put him in contact with Addiction Dependency Solutions (ADS) in 2010.
He completed an eight-week programme of pre-detox meetings before he was admitted to the Pier Point rehabilitation centre in St Annes for 10 days.
He said: “When I came out I knew that people had spent their time on me, helping me to get better. “That spurred me on to stay off the drink.”
Paul went to follow up meetings at Pier Point for around five months after his stay.
He was 26 months clean, but admits he had a slip.
“It was Christmas before last,” he said.
“I realised what was happening to me and got myself back into the support of Pier Point.
“Now I’m not drinking at all and I’m able to get on with my life.”
Now Paul is volunteering for the Fulfilling Lives project.
He said: “It makes me feel good knowing I’m helping people who are in a place I have been, and that I can help get them the support they need.”
CASE STUDY 2
Carol (Not her real name) was injecting herself with heroin so much, she gave herself abscesses on her arms.
She weighed so little because of her addiction to the drug as well as to crack cocaine and alcohol but despite knowing she was in trouble, she says her addiction was stronger and she was always seeking her next fix.
“I ended up losing everything. I was homeless, weighing eight stone and living like a rabid dog,” she said.
“I didn’t know how to function in reality and my whole life revolved around drugs and drink.”
Carol, 53, says she was constantly in and out of rehab, and while it stopped her drinking and using drugs for a short time, but her addictions always caught up with her.
She said: “I never knew how to stay off them.
“Everybody I came into contact with – social services, the hospital and the detox centres – it was like no-one understood about the disease of addiction.
“If they didn’t understand, how was I meant to? I just thought I was useless, and worthless.
“My behaviour was so erratic. I hated myself that much that I tried jumping out of a window. I never wanted to die, but I didn’t want to live the way I was and I didn’t know how else to live.
“I was a danger to myself.”
Unable to communicate properly because of her addictions and frustration with herself, Carol, of Blackpool, was kicked out of her home, and found herself sofa surfing and sleeping on the streets.
Three and a half years ago, doctors told Carol she was close to dying.
“I had Hep C, which I didn’t know about, I was drastically underweight and my organs were packing up.”
Carol checked herself into the Pier Point rehabilitation centre in St Annes, where she spent six months getting clean.
“In the last three years my life has changed completely. I have my own home and my family has come back to me.
“My mum no longer has the heartache and anguish over whether I’m OK, my children and grandchildren are proud of me, and I’m proud of myself.”
CASE STUDY 3
At just 17 years old, Julie Berry’s controlling relationship was the start of a steep decline into alcohol abuse.
After just three months together her partner, who was 10 years older than her, became violent towards her – a physical abuse which later spread to his friends.
When she was just 18 years old, she said he put a gun to her head and demanded she marry him or he would kill their newborn daughter.
Newly married, they moved from their home in Rochdale to Manchester, where the abuse continued.
“He would hit me everyday over basically everything, even how I made his tea,” she said. “It was him who made me smoke cannabis.”
It was another six months before she finally got the courage to leave him,
When she moved back to Rochdale, she turned to drink to forget what she had been through.
She said: “He had made me feel like I wasn’t pretty and I wasn’t important, so I got into relationships with anyone who paid me a compliment.”
But Julie, now of North Shore, found love again, and was with her partner for seven years before they got married. It was after they were married that he started controlling her. “He was telling me what I could and couldn’t do, where I could and couldn’t go and even what I could and couldn’t wear.”
After the end of the marriage, and following another turbulent relationship, Julie, escaped her home and fled to Blackpool to start a new life.
She spent some time living on people’s sofas and between homes and hostels with her daughter in tow.
Social services paid Julie a visit out of concern in December 2012, and directed her to Blackpool Women’s Centre who have helped change her life around. Julie is also volunteering for the Fulfilling Lives project.
“I am so proud of myself now. I’ve got my confidence back and my children back, and I’m even getting married to a wonderful, wonderful man” she said. “I am in a better place, and finally have something to look forward to.”
CASE STUDY 4
Tracey (not her real name) was brought up in a home where her mum and older brother assaulted her.
Aged just seven, she turned to drink as a way to escape a family that didn’t love her.
“I was constantly told children should be seen and not heard,” she said.
“I lived in the corner of my bedroom, and was constantly told my mum did not want me.
“It’s something that even today upsets me.”
Tracey, 45, stole away to spend time with her friends, who would sneak her alcohol from their parents’ supplies.
At nine-years-old she had drank so much she ended up in hospital.
Four years later, after she had turned to self harming as well as drinking, she cut too deep and found herself in hospital once more.
She said: “I was cutting my arms, legs, stomach – anywhere my mother wasn’t able to see.
“One day, after too much to drink, I went too far. If my brother-in-law hadn’t found me and stopped the bleeding, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”
A few years later, Tracey, now of South Shore, found herself in an abusive relationship.
“I didn’t know any different,” she said.
“I thought being hit and being used as a punching machine was normal.
“I had children, but having never been looked after myself I didn’t know how to look after them and I had a nervous breakdown.”
Tracey was sectioned for her self harming and an attempt to hang herself.
Fed up of her life, she moved to Blackpool to escape her troubles.
But before long she found herself in the same routine – another abusive relationship which led to more self harming.
She said: “I felt like my life was never going to change.
“I ended up taking an overdose with 10 or 15 pints of lager and I was taken to hospital.
“I didn’t want to live anymore.”
A couple of years ago, having had too much to drink, Tracey was stopped by police as she was sat on the beach.
They arrested her for her own safety, and put her in touch with a drug and alcohol worker.
Within days she had made contact with Blackpool Women’s Centre on Edward Street which helped her get access to the support she needed.
“I’ve changed my life around and have pulled my confidence and self esteem up.”
Tracey is now a volunteer for the Fulfilling Lives project.
“Helping people who have been in the same position as me is worth living for,” she said.
“I am proud that I am still here for those people, as well as for my children and my grandchildren.”