How a £5m project is succeeding in tackling Blackpool's drugs problems

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Dealing drugs was a way of making ends meet for Steven Brown who grew up in the old Queens Park high rise flats in Layton.

He did not drive a fancy Range Rover or own a luxury villa in Spain.

But his lifestyle had led him onto a path of self-destruction, and along with his brother he was in and out of prison until the age of 39 when he finally got clean.

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Today he is part of a team helping to slow down the revolving door of drug addiction, criminality and prison which blights so many lives in Blackpool.

Steven Brown and team leader Jonny HallSteven Brown and team leader Jonny Hall
Steven Brown and team leader Jonny Hall

The £5m Blackpool ADDER (Addiction, Diversion, Disruption, Enforcement and Recovery) project was launched in January 2021 in the resort as part of a Home Office drive to end the misery of drug abuse and its impact on communities.

Since then it has led to more than 200 arrests in the town for drug possession and trafficking offences, helped break up drugs gangs and stopped the exploitation of vulnerable people.

More than 600 people have also been helped into treatment for substance misuse, giving them chance to recover and move towards more stable lives with their own homes and jobs.

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Steven is one of 23 outreach workers from the Lived Experience team, who are using their own backgrounds to help others rebuild their futures.

Detective Chief Superintendent Sue Clarke and Inspector Dave Callan of Lancashire PoliceDetective Chief Superintendent Sue Clarke and Inspector Dave Callan of Lancashire Police
Detective Chief Superintendent Sue Clarke and Inspector Dave Callan of Lancashire Police

He said: “I grew up in Queenstown flats and from 17 years old I was in and out of prison. I had never seen anyone get into rehab – you either went to prison or died.”

Sadly Steven’s own brother was one of those who died, but after Steven got clean in prison, he found a route out of the lifestyle which had been dragging him down.

It involved education, finding work, finding a decent place to live – and most importantly a set of reliable friends.

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It’s that need for someone to trust, who has lived the way they are living now and who can offer hope that the role of people like Steven is bringing to the ADDER project.

He said: “I was in and out of prison most of my life, committing crimes and taking drugs.

“In the end I had had enough. I managed to get clean over five years ago and turned my life around which led me to getting a job with Project ADDER.

“So I’m out there as part of the Lived Experience team helping other people, and can identify with them and tell them I’ve been where they’ve been, and can try and help them in what they want which is their recovery.”

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Jonny Hall, team leader with the Adult ADDER project, says their work is literally saving lives.

He said: “If the police are called to a non-fatal overdose, we can then go in and offer intervention to those people.

“Or if a different type of drug comes onto the scene, we can deliver messages about the safety of the drugs they are using.

“There is a sense of everyone trying to keep everyone safe in the drug using community.”

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That’s not to say criminals will not be targeted by the police whose aim is to disrupt drugs gangs who exploit poverty, mental illness and even loneliness to get a hold in a community.

The project sees police work with housing officers, drug treatment services, the DWP and health services in a wrap-around approach.

It has helped reduce the number of county lines (literally phone lines to out-of-town dealers) in Blackpool by half, while a special financial investigator targets those at the top of the pyramid making money out of destroying other lives.

Public health data presented to members of Blackpool Council in 2021 showed substance misuse in the resort was two-and-a-half times higher than the national average.

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Inspector Dave Callan, who leads the Blackpool police enforcement team, said: “The team works in a trauma informed manner, so with the people they are dealing with, they consider why they are in that situation.

“They are not necessarily only dealing with them as offenders. They are also looking at what they can do to assist them to have a better life.”

But police are aware of the anti-social behaviour drug dealing brings to a neighbourhood and Inspector Callan added: “We want to reduce the impact on the general public and we will target visible drug dealing.”

Young people are often exploited by dealers higher up the chain in order to get a foothold to supply drugs to a neighbourhood.

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Detective Chief Superintendent Sue Clarke, Head of Lancashire Violence Reduction Network said: “Dealers are making money out of other people’s misery.

“We are focusing on people coming from outside, taking advantage of vulnerable peple and causing nightmare issues in communities.

“If you are worried about younger members of your family, who suddenly have better trainers or a decent phone, you should ask where has that money come from?”

Home Office funding for Project Adder has now been extended until March 2025.

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Policing and Crime Minister Kit Malthouse said: “The Illegal drugs trade is vicious. These gangs destroy without thought or care. They bring crime and violence into our neighbourhoods and cost society billions.

“We cannot stand idly by while vulnerable people are enslaved to narcotics as their loved ones watch in despair.

“Through Project Adder we are helping people in Blackpool caught in the helotry of addition build a new brighter future, ridding the town of drug malefactors and making communities and the whole town safer for the future.”