A drink and drugs rehabilitation centre in the heart of the countryside near Lancaster celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and Guardian reporter Gayle Rouncivell went along to meet those who have worked so hard to help hundreds of people since it opened.
“Addiction doesn’t discriminate – we see people from all walks of life.”
Since setting up Littledale Hall with his late business partner Kim Wong in 2006, Keith Robertson has witnessed numerous and varied clients come through the doors, many of them desperate for help.
From former police officers and ex-sportspeople to the homeless, the staff at Littledale Hall have seen it all, and they are all looking for the same thing.
“These people have made a decision to do something with their life and we facilitate that,” Keith said.
This summer saw the 300th client complete the innovative programme at Littledale Hall Therapeutic Centre – people from across the UK who have voluntarily attended the programme at the former country house in a bid to beat their addiction.
Many clients have gone on to set up new businesses as well as returning to previous jobs in nursing, professional sports and the law.
Keith, still working with two of his original colleagues, Dr Annie Huntington and Andrew Nardone, is now marking a decade in business by opening the doors to the centre to invite the community in to see its work.
When Littledale opened it offered a brand new programme drafted by Keith and psychotherapist Annie: A 12-month recovery programme where residents lived and ran the house while receiving therapeutic care.
However, due to local authority cutbacks in recent years it now offers shorter six and three-month programmes.
Keith said: “We were reinventing the wheel, there were lots of treatment centres delivering rehab but none had a written programme where people could follow manuals for every group and all of it was knowledge informed. It was something distinctively different.”
After visiting America on a research trip, he and Kim opened the centre, which had previously been used as a Christian retreat.
The pair met while working at Inward House rehab centre in Lancaster.
Littledale Hall has 31 beds, and takes in clients aged from 18. They largely work with six local authorities – Lancashire is the main one with about a third of clients coming from the county, but also with others such as Leeds and Hartlepool.
It’s an intensive schedule once they arrive.
“People need to be prepared before they come here and have access to services once they leave,” Annie said. “Recovery is a journey. This is just a station, not a destination.
“In the past people might have assumed that having done the rehabilitation, that was it, but we know now that’s not true.
“The change in services means we have thought carefully about what we offer and how we offer it. We have something unique.”
The programme at Littledale Hall includes working on social therapy (life skills), psycho-educational groups (focusing on understanding addiction and recovery and relationships), family work (including visits home or family visits to the centre), and educational classes, working with further education colleges.
“A lot of ex-residents are now living successful, happy and healthy lives,” Annie said. “The first 12 months are the most important for them.”
For every person addicted to something it’s thought that at least seven people are directly affected.
That means it’s likely that most people in society are affected, whether it’s a colleague or relative.
Annie said: “There is still a lot of stigma around addiction and we are trying to challenge that.
“We want our clients to go on to become active members of the community.
“There are many local people that have been here, but there’s a lot of shame around addiction.
“We have had ex-army and police, nurses, solicitors, ex-sportspeople, homeless people, we cover the whole spectrum. It challenges some of the views around who might be affected. Addiction is an equal opportunities condition. It affects the whole population.
“But there are certain reasons that make it more likely that people will suffer.
“Every person’s story is unique, but their story can mean they are more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol, and it’s important that people realise that.
“No one wants to be an addict. It’s compulsive and it affects their brains. The idea that it is to do with a personal flaw or genetics is so outdated but still such a powerful view.”
“Sometimes someone’s involvement in addiction is short within their lifetime and they just want to get on with their lives,” Keith added.
“A lot of professionals will return to their roles afterwards so having anonymity is important.
“Although there’s more awareness nowadays it’s still seen as taboo.
“We see people from all walks of life – addiction doesn’t discriminate and it’s important that they have that anonymity to get them back into society.”
Littledale Hall fitted easily into its rural location, and quickly gained the support of the community.
“The local community have been so supportive of us, particularly the churches,” Keith said. “Integration in the community is very important and we can’t thank them enough for how they have welcomed us.”
Keith says his inspiration was and remains his friend and mentor Dr Walter Lyons, who set up Inward House.
“I always had faith in the people around me and I had faith that we were doing the right thing and that we were doing it in Walter’s memory,” he said.
“This is a great place and the residents are a great testament to the work that goes on here.”
For more information, including how to book tickets for the October celebration when available, go to www.littledalehalltc.co.uk.