Northern Ireland

Dromore café giving recovering addicts a voice through music

Recovery cafe
Image caption People attending the Recovery Café are finding therapy in woodwork

The newly-built workshop at the Recovery Café in Dromore is filled with the smell of fresh wood and the sound of tools being put to work.

The Recovery Café is a music café that welcomes recovering addicts and their friends to spend time together.

Having sung together since 2012 in the Voice of Recovery choir, the members are now turning their hands quite literally to woodwork.

They're practising making shelves and plant holders and planing wood for musical instruments.

With the help of almost £160,000 from the Big Lottery Fund, they are learning how to turn the wood they've collected into guitars, bodhrans and flutes, as well as craftwork.

"The guys that are working here, their recovery has been so good and they're at a stage now where they really want to rebuild their lives," said Sheila Smyth, founder of Recovery Café.

"From a place where everything went into ashes, they now want things to come up out of the ashes."

She says it's important that people have the support of other recovering addicts to help them in their recovery.

"The only person who can help a recovering alcoholic or addict is someone who's walked that path themselves," said Sheila.

"A lot of people don't come through addiction successfully - a lot of people die.

"So it's great to see people moving through addiction and giving that message that there is hope, that you can overcome your addiction with the help available and with other people who have walked that path."

Dormant talents

One of those walking that path is Adrian. The thought of sharing his new-found inner strength has given him another lease of life.

"I'm very excited," he said.

"I think crafts and the guitar-making and that, it's very therapeutic as well as bringing to the fore talents that may have been lying dormant.

Image caption Joiner and artist Richard Kelly is sharing his expertise

"Until you've been in addiction and experienced it, it's hard to put into words how lonely it becomes and how low you go."

Not everyone here is in recovery. Some, like Andrea, have experience of living with someone battling an addiction.

"My husband was an alcoholic. Then I just got involved with the choir and the next stage is making instruments."

The group have been learning the necessary skills from Richard Kelly. As a joiner and an artist, he is enjoying sharing his knowledge with them.

"People in recovery, or even in active addiction, would be very used to creating anxiety, fear, paranoia, whatever it might be, all based on creativity, whatever might be going on in their heads," he said.

"So the guitar workshop and the crafts is very much a way of taking them away from their heads, to concentrate and be attentive to making a guitar or a piece of craft. It takes that creativity and puts it into something more constructive."

The group has accumulated a wood pile that includes beech, alder, cherry, redwood, mahogany and deal.

Not all of it can be used for the instruments, but learning the difference is something recovering addict Ann Knox is getting to grips with.

"I always loved working with my hands, because my head sometimes doesn't work but my hands do," she said.

"I worked with wood before, but just cutting it - not like this."


And she has acquired other new skills.

"I didn't know how to use a measuring tape. I always pretended I did, but I hadn't a clue," she laughed.

"Then today, Richard showed me - I didn't know metres and millimetres and all that. More practice and I'll be there."

With the choir still going strong and a new challenge in the offing, Ann said she could see the change in herself and her circumstances.

"Ann two years ago would have been lying in the gutter. Now, I have a roof over my head, I have friends who love me for me and my confidence is just going up and up," she said.

Image caption A nearly finished guitar

Like the others, she wants her experience to help those still trying to find a way through their addictions.

"Alcoholics and people with illnesses, they don't listen until it's too late," she continued.

"I'm going to help them the same way I was helped. Then they'll build their confidence up as I will build mine up, because helping them will help me too."

The group will also be remembering friends they've lost.

"The instruments are being made to be played. We'll be doing compositions on them and using them," said café founder Sheila.

"Some of the people who didn't make it through addiction or recovery, we're going to have their names engraved on the inside of the guitars, so they'll still be part of our orchestra."