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House of former addicts seeing out lockdown and rebuilding their lives together

Liverpool Echo logo Liverpool Echo 23/05/2020 Jonathan Humphries
a man standing in front of a group of people posing for the camera: Residents at Damien John Kelly House, a recovery centre for former drug and alcohol addicts in Wavertree © Vitality Homes Residents at Damien John Kelly House, a recovery centre for former drug and alcohol addicts in Wavertree

For recovering drug and alcohol addicts, the right support could be a matter of life and death even in the midst of a pandemic.

In Wavertree High Street's Damien John Kelly (DJK) House, an innovative support and accommodation centre for men battling to rebuild their lives, the recovery process could not stop as most of the rest of society hunkered down.

So its residents decided to stay put and continue living together during the coronavirus lockdown, helping each other through the tough times and continuing with therapy, often using video calling services such as Zoom.

The centre is part of Vitality Homes, an abstinence based recovery project founded by Liverpool business titan Kate Stewart, which helps former addicts rebuild their lives after making the decision to get clean and sober.

One such resident, 54-year-old Wayne, says the project has given him a future after decades of alcoholism.

Andrew Barr et al. sitting around a living room: Residents at Damien John Kelly House, a recovery centre for former drug and alcohol addicts in Wavertree © Vitality Homes Residents at Damien John Kelly House, a recovery centre for former drug and alcohol addicts in Wavertree

Wayne nearly didn't make it to Vitality Homes, after attempting suicide and later suffering a near fatal asthma attack.

He said: "My health was not good at all around then. I basically died in the ambulance. They gave me an adrenaline shot and I woke up in a resus bed.

"I realised it was the same bed my brother had died in, in the Royal Liverpool Hospital.

"He was an alcoholic and it was like a message from him, sort yourself out, you don't want to end up like this."

Wayne, now 14 months sober, was the earliest resident to enter DJK House when it opened in July last year.

He told the ECHO: "I had been drinking alcohol for 30 odd years and experienced all the bad effects that go with that.

"Whenever my eyes were open I was drinking, I would drink anything and everything.

Jacquie Johnston-Lynch posing for a picture: Jacquie Johnston-Lynch, Vitality Homes head of service © Vitality Homes Jacquie Johnston-Lynch, Vitality Homes head of service

"Before I came here I got myself sober and went through recovery a few times, but there was always something missing and I would end up back on my own, in a flat somewhere, and went back down the same road.

"People have different theories on why I started drinking, I could blame my childhood, but I believe I was always going to end up and alcoholic."

Jacquie Johnston-Lynch, Vitality Homes head of service, says Wayne's experiences are not uncommon.

She said: "Almost every single guest who talks about their experience, and what took me to addiction, says 'I felt like I didn't belong anywhere, as soon as I had a drink or took those drugs it was like I came alive."

Wayne agrees, and says the difference he has experienced at Damien John Kelly House is the emphasis on building a new life rather than simply ending addiction.

He said: "The difference now, I am working towards a future and it feels like every day is a miracle.

"I have faced my demons and it feels like a whole new world for me."

a room with a couch and a chair: Damien John Kelly House, a recovery centre for former drug and alcohol addicts in Wavertree © Vitality Homes Damien John Kelly House, a recovery centre for former drug and alcohol addicts in Wavertree

Jacquie says the centre was well-prepared for the lockdown, with plans for isolation in individual rooms if anyone became ill with the virus, and some guests say it is not a major obstacle for a recovering addict.

Jacquie said: "What the guests say is that when you are in recovery you have to surrender to the fact you have got an addiction, and you have to surrender to the consequences of your behaviour, which is what they have been doing.

"With the lockdown, it's like you have to surrender to the fact that you can't go out . They were saying 'we were made for this lockdown'."

To combat lockdown, DJK House created positions for all residents, assigning tasks so that each person felt they had a purpose.

a person with the mouth open: Self-made Liverpool millionaire Kate Stewart © Channel 4 Self-made Liverpool millionaire Kate Stewart

Service users have been completing other tasks on the support programme online including Zoom groups, 1-2-1 sessions, access to online Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous sessions and video calls with inspirational speakers from as far afield as Los Angeles.

The pandemic has also seen local people and businesses supporting DJK House through donations, including Luban’s Dave Critchley, Everton In The Community, High Street Mini Market, City of Liverpool FC, Tesco, Fareshare, Agile Delivery, Bruce Gorrie, Progressive Lifestyle Solutions, Peter Carney of Soccer in the City plus many more.

Recovery community jead at DJK House, PJ Smith, added: “The residents have put so much effort into making the lockdown fruitful.

"I shared some of the powerful and impactful things they were doing on Twitter and we had an overwhelming response of support and encouragement.

"What we didn’t expect was the amount of donations we got too. People have sent food deliveries, and shops and restaurants have given us their left over supplies.

"We’ve also had donations of trainers, clothes and toiletries from very kind people, and one person even gave us a fridge. Such generosity has been very inspiring and touching."

Kate Stewart, founder of Vitality Homes, commented: “DJK House was the subject to some opposition when it first came to the area, but nearly a year later it has become a beacon of community support and I’m very proud of what the residents achieve on a daily basis.

"I can’t thank the local community and businesses who have supported us enough.”

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