Extra help at hand as more turn to drink

Escape staff members (left to right) David Tinlin, Jenny Bell, Ken Sproat and Lynne Fuller seen outside the old NUM hall at Ashington.
Escape staff members (left to right) David Tinlin, Jenny Bell, Ken Sproat and Lynne Fuller seen outside the old NUM hall at Ashington.

PEOPLE in south east Northumberland are being driven to drink by the economic climate, according to charity workers, but they are stepping up their efforts to help.

Extra help will soon be on offer to those facing problems after taking solace in alcohol or drugs as Blyth-based charity Escape Family Support is planning to open a new centre in Ashington.

The organisation was founded in 1995 by campaigner Janet Murphy, of Blyth, after the death of her daughter Jennie from methadone and valium poisoning.

Escape employs 30 people and helps families all over Northumberland coping with substance misuse.

It is now planning to develop a centre in the former National Union of Mineworkers hall in South View after buying it at auction last November. Escape is spending £250,000 on doing up the hall and hopes to open there in April next year.

Charity workers Maggie Fitch and Jackie Edwards outlined the project to Ashington town councillors at their meeting at the town’s leisure centre last week.

Ms Fitch said alcohol was a worsening problem and bound to escalate in the current economic climate.

In a recent survey, 67 per cent of women in south east Northumberland admitted they had been drunk in the past four weeks, as did 57 per cent of men.

There had been a sharp rise in drink-related admissions to the casualty unit at Wansbeck General Hospital in Ashington, and more patients are being treated for chronic liver problems, the meeting heard.

“Obviously, with the demise of Rio Tinto Alcan at Lynemouth and the current economic situation, those figures are set to get worse in this area,” she said.

“Over 30 per cent of children are technically in poverty in Ashington.”

Escape’s work has gone beyond helping people cope with a drug user in the family to encompass child protection and prevention of domestic violence.

The group also works with armed forces veterans.

It has rehomed 26 people, all of them successful tenants now, and some have found work.

Ms Edwards said: “We find ourselves working with a lot of grandparents because their children have had children removed through a substance misuse problem.”

There are 1,300 opiate users in treatment in Northumberland, though many others are not being treated.

Ms Fitch said: “Alcohol and substance abuse issues are on our doorstep. We cannot escape from them, whether we want to or not.”

The intention of the new centre is to be a good neighbour, as at Blyth.

“There will be no drop-in services for any service users, such as ex-offenders, drug or alcohol users,” she said.

Escape will probably use only about 30 per cent of the building for its own work, and the rest will be set aside for social enterprise and community use.

Town council chairman John McCormack said: “We wish you all the very best for carrying out what is an essential service in this area.”