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Midlands to remember forgotten lives

July 07 2011
Events will celebrate the lives of people whose deaths are often ignored


It’s a comforting fallacy that the plans we make for life will one day become a reality. The uncomfortable truth, however, is that some of us may achieve great success; most will settle into a life of fluctuating contentment; and others will experience a fate neither desired nor deserved. In recognition of the latter, on 21 July, a National Remembrance Day will see treatment organisations across the Midlands unite to remember and celebrate lives that have been tragically lost due to substance misuse.

One of the many organisations planning to observe National Remembrance Day is the Wolverhampton Service User Involvement Team, and Sunny Dhadley, a drug service user involvement officer with the team, is passionate about the importance of the day. He said: “It’s a way of celebrating life, rather than concentrating on the negativity that culminated in the downfall of people we dearly miss. Addiction isn’t something that people necessarily choose to be part of - people don’t wake up one day and decide to become an addict.”

Sadly, the fact that the internationally recognised National Remembrance Day exists at all suggests that those being remembered have been neglected in death as they probably were in life. “It does somewhat,” agrees Sunny. “Society must take some accountability for lost lives. Other health ailments come with an element of support, so why do so many addicts suffer in silence or not get the help they so desperately need? These people need support, guidance and social acceptance. Maybe this would produce better outcomes for individuals who are living chaotic and sometimes dangerous lifestyles.”

In Birmingham, commemorative events will include SIFA Fireside’s at their Lower Essex Street site between 10.30am and 12 noon. “Our event will include music, readings and stories presented by our service users in remembrance and celebration of the lives of those who have died either directly or indirectly as a result of alcohol and/or drug misuse,” confirms alcohol project worker Julie Ashford-Martin. “St Martin in the Bullring, along with Midland Heart, will join us on the day, and St Martin’s are lending us their pastor, who will provide a service of remembrance during the event.

“This event is very important, as it provides us with a means of honouring those who have been affected by addiction. It is an opportunity for people to come together to remember, and for some it is a chance to say goodbye.”

Elsewhere in the city, the Birmingham Drug & Alcohol Action Team (BDAAT) will be observing a one-minute silence at midday. Jenni Northcote, BDAAT’s strategic lead, said: “This day provides an opportunity for commissioners, those working in the drugs field, service users and local communities not only to reflect with sadness on lives lost to drug and alcohol misuse, but to also celebrate and support the increasing numbers of individuals who make the decision to address their drug or alcohol misuse.”

Further highlighting the extent of recognition being afforded to the day, the Inclusion Community Drug Team and Addaction, two of Birmingham’s leading drug treatment services, have teamed up to redesign their main reception areas in tribute to those who have lost their lives. Once complete, harm reduction advice will be on display to remind service users of the importance of seeking help and adopting safer using practices.

And by way of symbolising the meaning of the day, a branch tree will be placed in both locations so that anyone who has lost someone can write a message and hang it from a branch in their memory. “We hope this will help to reinforce the message that by engaging in treatment services, substance misusers are on the right path to tackling drug use,” says Addaction service manager Sharon Wain.

The SAFE treatment service, as part of its own tribute, plan to scatter black poppy seeds and will educate service users in how to use the recovery position should a user encounter someone who has overdosed. Emma Barrie, Methadone clinic manager at SAFE, said: “Teaching this straightforward procedure could save many people’s lives, and hopefully the service users we train will, in turn, teach their peers.”

Another treatment service, Turning Point Zephyr, will unveil a plaque in remembrance of the 30 people on average who die in Birmingham each year due to drug- and alcohol-related conditions.

With so many organisations involved, National Remembrance Day promises to be a fitting and moving tribute to those who have been lost. “Don’t suffer in silence,” states Sunny Dhadley succinctly. “One kind word can redefine a person's life and help us cling on to fond memories of those who are no longer with us.”

More information on the Wolverhampton Service User Involvement Team can be found at:; SIFA Fireside:; BDAAT:; Inclusion Community Drug Team:; Addaction:; SAFE:; and Turning Point Zephyr: