Temperance and modern Methodism's bid to save lives

A homeless man holds a cigarette and a bottle of beer Methodist Action North West has a number of outreach programmes

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An exhibition at Manchester's People's History Museum marks 180 years of the Temperance movement in north west England, a tradition linked to charitable movements today including in Preston, where Methodist and other church communities help people whose lives are blighted by alcohol.

On a wet Sunday night in Preston a young man is hunched over on the ground. He has overdosed.

The Central Methodist Church towers over him, a relic of a different era, crammed into a street with low-rise shops and 1970s facades.

The man says he has taken paracetamol. But Phil Moore, a volunteer co-ordinator with Methodist Action, thinks it is actually more likely to be an illegal substance.

Like all the volunteers at Central Methodist, Phil is here to help. Whether providing a hot meal, warm clothing or on this night, calling an ambulance.

On a rainy night like this the numbers drop. Volunteers think this is because their regulars have found shelter from the driving rain.

Teetotal

This is part of a network of projects run by the Methodist church across the UK. But the North West has a particularly troubled relationship with alcohol; it is home to eight out of the top 10 local authority areas with the highest rates of harmful drinking levels in people aged 16 or over.

The Temperance movement in the region dates from the time of Hugh Bourne, a 19th century preacher who was a very vocal campaigner for abstinence and one of the founders of Primitive Methodism.

"Bourne sees drink as the fall of the human race, this becomes part of his theology," said Reverend Dr Stephen Hatcher of the Englesea Brook Museum.

A tray of alcoholic drinks on a picnic table The North West has some of the highest alcohol-related hospital admission rates in England

Bourne took his mission into the inner cities, reaching out to the working class and helping them to help themselves.

For their modern successors today, the doors remain open to anyone who needs them.

"We don't have rules pinned to a notice board as such," explains Phil. "We have never banned anyone."

Charley had been drinking heavily for 17 years, when he first visited the centre in June 2012.

"Without Methodist Action I would be in prison or dead now," he says.

Charley took employment that had accommodation included, or stayed in cheap hotels. He spent little time in the same place; an "itch to move" forced him on. He also spent time in prison.

Drunk for a penny

  • The Gin Epidemic of 1720 - 1750 was the result of soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years War returning with gin.
  • At the time anyone could distil by simply posting a notice in public and waiting ten days
  • Vendors roamed the streets pushing carts filled with cheap gin, and soon the daily volume sold exceeded that of the more expensive beer and ale
  • Seedy shops advertised 'Drunk for one penny, dead drunk for two, clean straw for nothing'. The straw was used to lie on while sleeping off a hangover

He does not blame the breakup of his marriage for his spiral into alcohol. He had the opportunity to choose the right path, but never took it.

Charley finally became homeless in August 2011. Skills he learned in the army helped him to survive, along with his tent - a gift from a relative.

"Years ago I would have said [to someone like me], 'get a job'," he says.

"But it's amazing how it can happen to anyone."

Charley stayed out of cities and towns as much as possible while he was homeless. He kept to the countryside, where he could be on his own and avoid "invading someone else's turf".

It was a visit to Fox Street, part of Methodist Action, that provides supported accommodation in Preston city centre, that proved a catalyst for his recovery.

Residents here are given help to find a permanent home and employment. They are also told about other support services.

At Central Methodist Church there are 50 volunteers working on a rota, covering the two nights a week the centre is open. They serve anything from 40 to 70 meals on a Sunday and Monday night. The service started in December 2010 to serve a need in the community.

The majority of volunteers are from the Preston Methodist Circuit because it was through that network that recruitment was initiated, but other denominations are represented - Catholic, Anglican, Baptist and Free Church Evangelical.

Start Quote

I know the booze is beating me”

End Quote Shaun, a regular at Central Methodist's Sunday nights

In all, volunteers from 25 churches from across the denominations support the project. A number of volunteers are from no faith background." says Phil.

It was in Preston in 1832 that Joseph Livesey, founder of the Preston Temperance Society and a Methodist, signed a pledge with seven working men to abstain from alcohol.

The Temperance Movement was concerned by the living and working conditions of the working classes, and what drove them to drink.

Three bottles of vodka

Not everyone who visits the centre at the Methodist Central Church is in recovery. But no one is turned away.

Shaun says he does not need the food provided, and even has a small flat that he keeps clean and tidy.

A bottle of Blood Tonic cordial Blood tonic, a traditional temperance drink, claimed to "nourish the blood"

"I come here for [the] company," he says.

"To see friends I've known for eight or nine years.

"Sometimes we fall out, but we always get back together."

When we speak to him, Shaun has been drinking; he drank a small bottle of Lambrini earlier in the day. This seemingly incongruous sweet sparkling perry is his drink of choice because "it's cheap".

He has drunk much more in the past; after being made redundant he would drink three bottles of vodka a day, and would buy booze as soon as he had the money.

Sorry mate, I can't get this round, it's against the law

  • The modern concern with public drinking in Britain, has a long history. In an attempt to curb excessive drinking in 1915 the British government brought in the 'No Treating Order'
  • The order outlawed buying drinks for other people, in effect buying a round in a public house was illegal. It also reduced drinking hours and increased tax on alcohol
  • The order had a dramatic effect. In 1914 Britons downed 89 million gallons of alcohol. By 1918 Britons were drinking 37 million gallons

The 49-year-old worked as an accountant for 20 years. Waking at 5.45am each day, he left the home he shared with his wife at 7am to travel to work.

One morning in the middle of this routine, he found himself rooted to the sofa, unable to move, he had "cracked".

Shaun walked out the house more than a decade ago and has not seen his wife since.

At the time he was in a lot of debt, and felt his problems had reached an unbearable weight.

"I know the booze is beating me. The past is sticking with me," he told the BBC.

While Shaun is still fighting his demons, for Charley escape from drink is becoming a reality. It is five months since he last had a drink. He is now a mentor to others and hopes eventually to find paid support work.

He sees the work as his lifeline.

"I know how it can be - cold, wet. It's easy to be hit or spat on," he says.

"If I meet someone now, I tell them about Methodist Action. I never want to see anyone in the same predicament as I was."

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