Transforming Choice Transforming Lives

It is a pleasant Friday afternoon in August and a group of people are sat on a group of garden benches in a picturesque garden. Chatting, laughing, one or two smoking, generally seeming happy and content

Nothing revolutionary in that, you may think, but, for this group of people, there probably is.

There is a marquee in the garden, the impending venue for their ‘graduation’ a couple of weeks later.

Not your normal graduation, but one which will be of just as much importance to those who have made the grade as the academic qualification which is given the same name.

It is the sign of a new dawn, a fresh start, and, for many among this group, quite possibly their last chance.

This is Transforming Choices CIC, on the edge of Sefton Park, in South Liverpool.

A large Victorian Villa which brings people in at their lowest ebb, and accompanies them through their alcohol detox and supports them through the rehabilitation programme working towards coping with life without having use alcohol.

Transforming Choices is one of the many organisations supported by the Steve Morgan Foundation, and here, the centre’s manager Carol Hamlett tells us more about the centre’s background.

“A group of us used to work in a homeless drop-in centre, we became frustrated about people going around in circles and not really getting their needs met,” says Carol.

“On reflection leaving work seemed a mad thing to do but we decided to leave and try and set up something ourselves.

“We had a lot of discussions with the service users to ask what they would want and need from an organisation like this, and everything we put into place came from listening to people’s experiences.

“The Steve Morgan Foundation had helped us in our previous organisation and I mentioned to them that we were planning this new initiative.

“After a sharp intake of breath….they said they would support us!

“What we do here is work with a lot of people who have hit rock bottom.

“People who have been sleeping rough, are alcohol dependent, and many are estranged from their families.

“They are all alcohol dependent, but alcohol is the medicine they use to mask their underlying problems.

“This is a centre for detox and rehabilitation; it isn’t a medical environment or a clinic.

“We actually bring people off alcohol with alcohol, which may be a bit scary for the medical profession, but we have ten years’ experience and the process we use is safe and effective.

“Most people are sober after seven days.

“When people come through door we do tell them that they are on their own and the decisions they make today will determine their situation tomorrow.

“There is no fairy godmother or magic wand, they have to discover – with our help and support – what their issues are and how they can address them.

“If they don’t, then alcohol will be the medication they return to.

“When they come through the door there is usually no self-worth or quality of life – everything is on the floor.

“But as soon as they are sober we make sure they visit their GP and get a full MOT and a review of their medication, as well as visits to optician and dentist.

“Sometimes this can reveal a serious illness which hasn’t previously been detected, and we have had two people diagnosed with cancer, who thank goodness were then able to get the treatment needed and have since made a recovery.”

The progress made by those that need the help of Transforming Choices can be spectacular.

So many people embark on a positive journey which sees them come out at the other end stronger, with a renewed zest for life and heading back into the outside world more readily equipped to cope with whatever is thrown at them.

“In the first week everyone comes in here very drunk, as they start the detox programme,” adds Carol.

“It is almost comedic on that first day.

“But then, over the 12 weeks, you see them develop.

“You see them open up like a flower and blossom, and it is an absolute joy.

“When the team see people going out looking fabulous they are very proud of them

“They build bridges with their children, parents, family members, that they hadn’t been connecting with previously.

“And they receive six months after care as well, because when they leave, that is the big challenge.

“Here they are safe in this environment, but when they go out, a lot of people may relapse, but then they have the ability to get back on their feet.

“That is the magic bit – they don’t need any more intervention because they have learned all the skills, and the coping mechanisms and emotional resilience.”

The work of Carol and her team is essential in providing that care and support that provides those who enter the doors of Transforming Choices the tools to be able to improve their lives.

One such person is Jackie, whom, speaking as she looks forward to the graduation has the courage to tell her story of the difference the programme has made to her life.

“This place has done everything for me,” says Jackie.

“It has given me my life back.

“Before I came in I was destitute, I was down and out, just drinking all the time and not looking after my wellbeing.

“The day I came in here has turned into one of the best days of my life.

“I haven’t had a drink for ten months, and I don’t intend to have one either.

“In here it is all about saying what you feel – anything on your mind, get it out there.

“I have learned a hell of a lot which I can take into the outside, all the triggers that I didn’t know before but now know, I should be able to cope with.

“I can’t wait to get back out there and get back working and have my old life back……without the drink.

“Without this place? I fear I would have been dead.

“There was nothing left of me when I came in, I wasn’t eating and had the mindset that a can of lager would fill me up.

“I was bouncing off the walls, screaming that I wanted to leave, but they are lovely people here and I have told them everything.

“I have dug deep inside and opened up to get everything out.

“I feel so much happier and focused, because before my brain was just a mish-mash thinking about drink all the time.

“Now I feel so much more content, and am looking forward to getting back to a normal life.”

As mentioned earlier, the Steve Morgan Foundation has been one of the key supporters of Transforming Choices since it was launched.

And Carol is in doubt about the value of the funding received.

“We opened our doors in 2013 – and we are still here – and that is thanks to the Steve Morgan Foundation and other funders,” she explains.

“The Steve Morgan Foundation is incredibly special.

“They take their time to look at what you are doing; it is not just about filling forms in.

“They come and spend time with you, and Jane (Harris) has attended nearly all of our graduations.

“Even when we are not getting funding from them they keep in touch.

“I have phoned them a lot when we have been in crisis, when we have hit a point when we may have to close next week and they have come in with a rescue package and saved us.”

The link-up with the Steve Morgan Foundation has extended to helping with the lease to the Victorian building which the charity occupies, which is owned by Liverpool City Council.

Rent was proving very expensive, but one of the Foundation’s Trustees, Vincent Fairclough, negotiated a far better deal with the Council and one which has given the charity some added security.

“The Steve Morgan Foundation is authentic, with genuine people that do care, who spend time with you and nurture you and are always there as a shoulder to cry on,” adds Carol.

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