What inspired you to set up Brink?
My whole family history has been steeped in alcohol and domestic violence and abuse. It was normal for me as a child to be woken in the night to be told to watch my mother taking a beating from my drunken father and for me to be told that I should never step out of line or I would get the same. After their divorce my mother then picked up the bottle in shame and loneliness and myself and my brother were then left to often fend for ourselves for days when she went on drinking binges. She then married another alcoholic and their drinking went on for years till it caused kidney and liver failure in her husband and he passed away.
I tried to escape their drinking by running away from home at 16 with a much older man, I got pregnant and thought I had found the “happy ever after”….. only to discover that he was an alcoholic and a compulsive gambler. 10 years later completely poverty stricken, 2 children, 5 miscarriages and a little boy who died, I was an utterly broken woman.
My brother didn’t have a drinking problem, he was a hard working young man with an apartment and a girlfriend, a great job and lots of plans for his future. He had become a father figure to my two sons and was adored by them. One night on the way home from a meal out with friends a drink driver mounted the pavement and killed my brother instantly.
My eldest son then just collapsed into a deep depression and by 16 years old he too was an alcoholic.
My grief was immense but I knew that I had to find a way out of seeing alcoholics as the source of all my pain because it was just crucifying me. Some years later I came across a personal development organisation called Clearmind International and I saw that one of their themes was Turning Pain into Purpose. I was able to see why my own son had become an alcoholic and in seeing his pain I was able to fully forgive the man who had killed my brother. I forgave my mother, my father and step father, because they too were in their own pain. They had their own history.
Clearmind supported me create a concrete example of forgiveness and purpose in the community and the idea I had to do this became a reality a year later. I set up The Brink, which is the UK’s first ever dry bar. It became a massive success and gained the attention of the world’s press when HRH the Duchess of Cambridge chose the Brink for her first ever official solo visit outside of the capital.
My own son is now 7 years clean and sober and went on to work at The Brink as a client engagement worker. The Brink is a social enterprise that to all intents and purposes looks like a commercial bar but behind the scenes there are addiction services on site. The premise being that people are more likely to ask for help in a non-stigmatised venue. Research has now borne this out and The Brink has won a series of awards both for business and for recovery services.
It is a place that is an example of turning pain into purpose because now people can go out and party but not drive home drunk. Perhaps my brother would never have been killed if there had been a Brink around at the time.
Be clear about your purpose and make sure there is a strong personal story weaved throughout the motivation for the charity. Show examples of how pain can be turned into purpose.
What challenges did you have to overcome to get the charity mobilised?
I was already head of service in the umbrella charity and getting the directors to agree to move ahead with the idea of a social enterprise that was a bar with no booze in Liverpool just seemed impossible. Trying to get them to see that my vision could work was really tough. Trying to persuade other health professionals and leaders also proved nigh on impossible too. It was liaising with the School of Social Entrepreneurs who backed the idea immediately as an example of health innovation, that seemed to garner more interest, more credibility and more support. Once I was able to pitch the idea to PWC, John Brown and Charlotte Young they really understood the business case and I was able to progress from there.
Do you think addiction is a bigger problem than society acknowledges?
Yes. I think the mainstream public only sees the tip of the iceberg really. Once people know what it is I do, I get inundated with requests for help. Taxi drivers, hairdressers, neighbours etc have all asked me to help them or their family member. I recently won a top award and even at the awards ceremony I had 2 people who work in the civil service and the media approach me needing support. It was this very thing that led me to leave the Brink in good hands with the team there as a legacy and look to start another charity where the need had not yet been met, where there were lots of people needing support but just not able to get it. Veterans of the armed forces are much more likely to have an alcohol problem than mainstream society, they are also far more likely to not ask for help and therefore even more likely to become homeless, incarcerated and disconnected from family and friends. This is a big problem that hasn’t yet been acknowledged. In light of this I co-founded (with my friend Paula Gunn) a new charity called Tom Harrison House, an addiction treatment centre specifically for military veterans.
As a charity, do you receive any support whatsoever from the government, if not, how do you raise funds?
A tiny amount of our income comes from the local public health department, but we do not charge veterans for their addiction/alcoholism treatment with us, so we approach local businesses and other grant making trusts to support us, it is a non-stop roundabout of seeking funding, probably the most stressful aspect of the work really.
What words of wisdom would you share with our members who are thinking of setting up a charity?
We are in a period of austerity so if you are going to start a charity it has to be something that is original, it cannot replicate something that is already in existence, even if it is something you feel passionate about. If funders see replication then they will recoil from the possibility of financing it. Be clear about your purpose and make sure there is a strong personal story weaved throughout the motivation for the charity. Show examples of how pain can be turned into purpose. Be authentic and compassionate but at the same time be prepared to Kiss ar*e and Kick ar*e to get your charity out there, effective and engaging.
Tell us a little about Tom Harrison House for veterans with addiction issues?
THH is a brand new treatment centre for ex-armed forces who fallen on very difficult times and become addicted and in some cases homeless. It is the first of its kind in the whole of the UK. We support the clients in to detox and then handhold them into treatment and accommodation with us where they then stay for at least 12 weeks, but if they need more time they are able to stay for up to 22 weeks before we transfer them to move on accommodation. Whilst here in the first stage programme, the clients engage in group therapy, psycho-education, physical training, yoga, mindfulness, hydrotherapy, art therapy, equine therapy, reflexology and nutrition. The clients who have come through so far have all had family work too so they can make amends to their families and reconnect prior to graduating. The graduation ceremonies are so powerful, very honest and emotional events. This year at Xmas was the first time any of them had spent a festive period clean and sober. I was so proud of how they all conducted themselves. They are hugely inspiring people.
We are in a period of austerity so if you are going to start a charity it has to be something that is original, it cannot replicate something that is already in existence, even if it is something you feel passionate about.
What are your plans for 2015?
My personal plans this year are to work more on my nutrition and fitness. Last year I lost 86lbs!!! I still have another 14 to go though and I’m finding it difficult to reach that elusive goal of 100lbs. Also, I really want to develop some work with my teachers from Clearmind International to provide workshops for leaders in organisations. Being a CEO, director, senior manager can bring a type of responsibility that sometimes can feel lonely to hold. Clearmind International really seeks to create safe expressive settings for leaders allowing us to move from the lonely place into bringing our whole selves to the role, the authentic self, not just the masks we have to wear in order to get the job or task in hand done. I’m hoping that some of you may be interested and join me in this quest.
How can others support you and help the charity?
GIMME YOUR MONEY!!!! Seriously though….. by promoting the work of THH, linking us in to any of your significant connections and contacts and also by considering sponsorship of a rehab bed with us. If your organisation is looking to develop it’s corporate social responsibly what better way of doing that by providing addicted or alcoholic armed forces veterans with a rehab bed. These individuals are overlooked by mainstream society and left to die, we are trying to save their lives as many of them have saved the lives of others whilst still serving our country. I would love you to come and visit too, come and see what we do here in Liverpool.
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