Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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The Basement

November 07 2011
We report on a groundbreaking alcohol detox that is helping drinkers in Liverpool

 An innovative homeless charity has witnessed exceptional results from its pioneering alcohol detox programme. Originally established in Liverpool in 2000, The Basement reopened in March this year following a major refurbishment.

Offering useful services including wound-dressing clinics, showers and laundry facilities, counselling sessions, interview training and even a holistic massage room, the organisation has established itself as a lifeline for the city’s homeless population. Service users can drop in between 5.30pm and 9pm every day to seek therapy, companionship or medical treatment.

According to project manager Carol Hamlett, The Basement’s ground-breaking alcohol detox residential programme has proved particularly successful. “We hire a cottage in Wales and take homeless and street drinkers away for a fortnight,” she explains. “We work with severe addicts, many of whom are drinking up to 1,000 units per week.”

The small groups, which are run by the organisation’s staff operate under a non-medical model. “The people who come on these residential trips have decided to get help. The important thing is that they don’t see us as medical experts. It’s a crucial aspect of the programme because they don’t think it’s our responsibility to stop them drinking. They are here to get the support they need to do it themselves,” Hamlett says.

Using a gradual weaning approach, rather than the ‘zero tolerance cold turkey method’, drinkers are gently encouraged to address their relationship with the bottle before giving up. Operating with a staff to user ratio of 1:2, drinkers are able to make full use of the educational and therapy sessions available to them.

“Many addicts have a deep emotional attachment to the bottle. We have to help people address their problems without it and this is a gradual process,” she adds.

Whilst most conventional detox programmes do not permit any substance abuse, Hamlett’s team allow the use of drugs and alcohol. “When you’re drinking 1,000 units a week, your body would go into shock if you just took it away. You’d end up having complications from the withdrawal such as seizures.”

Approximately three-quarters of The Basement staff are ex-drinkers, all of whom feel they can offer helpful, non-patronising support to addicts. “We have one guy who delivers an exceptional workshop on what alcohol does to the body,” says Hamlett. “We also discuss ambitions and future. My view is that everyone should have the chance to glimpse their potential. I want to create an environment to make that possible.” As part of the ongoing services at the Liverpool-based facilities, users are regularly given encouragement to break addiction habits, though never pushed to go on a residential detox before they feel ready. Of the 80 people that have embarked on the programme since its launch in 2008, only a handful have reverted to the bottle.

Recovering addicts in Liverpool can also visit the first alcohol-free bar, The Brink, which opened at the end of September. The stylish venue boasts an excellent, reasonably priced menu of adult soft drinks, starters and main meals. As a social enterprise, the bar will pump all its profits back into recovery support. Addicts and those under the influence are not permitted in the venue, though people in recovery programmes will have access to the organisation’s extra services, including counselling and support. Run predominantly by ex-addicts, The Brink is an inclusive establishment which will operate as a social venue for a varied clientele, hosting music, comedians and live entertainment.

For those who aren’t ready to address drug and alcohol problems, The Basement runs excellent wound-care and therapy sessions. Trained nurses from local GP Practice Brownlow health visit the Liverpool-based clinic three times a week, administering compression dressings to homeless patients’ wounds. From December, the organisation aims to run five extra general sessions, as well as screenings for tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis C.

Hamlett is also keen to encourage community spirit amongst Liverpool’s homeless population. “People need to learn how to function; it’s easy to get lost in a cycle of deprivation. We need to address issues such as loneliness and mental illness,” she explains. “We have a TV and chill-out area at The Basement but I’d like to see community kitchens run all across Liverpool. It would give people an environment where they feel able and can interact with others.”

In addition to this, the organisation offers job interview training to recovered addicts. In partnership with national company Enterprise, The Basement runs confidence-building workshops and recruitment drives to encourage people back into work.