Glasgow & West Scotland

Scotland's recovery village where addicts become role models

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Media captionAlex says the main "therapy" on offer at the village is the surroundings

Alex Morrison is a trained stonemason who has battled with drugs and alcohol for most of his life.

He was the first resident to arrive at Scotland's first addiction recovery village, The River Garden at the Auchincruive estate in Ayrshire, and is now making the move from patient to member of staff.

"The guys feel more comfortable about opening up to us," he says.

"We've been through the exact same process."

The village, which opened in March 2018, is the only rehabilitation centre of its kind in the UK, and is based on models which are in place in Italy, Sweden and the USA.

Image caption Alex is passing his stonemasonry skills on to other residents at the village

Patients live and work on the estate while they complete a three-year programme. The work involves repairing old buildings, gardening and growing food and there is also a social enterprise cafe, open to the public at the weekends.

Funding comes from a mixture of grants and donations.

The theory is that halfway through their time there, patients should be able to become members of staff which means they are paid for the work they do, can pay for their accommodation and start to help mentor others.

Forty-seven-year-old Alex is now using his skills as a stonemason to help restore the buildings and teach others how to do the same.

Previously he had been in and out of more traditional rehabilitation services.

"I was a bit of a binge drinker and I was taking different drugs and I was serial relapsing," he said.

"The therapy here is the surroundings; the gardens, the greenhouses, working with others, my conversations with people, my connections with the staff here."

As well as passing on his masonry skills, Alex is also able to offer his peers first-hand advice on recovery.

"We know exactly what they are going through at that specific time in their recovery and what they are going to go through next," he says.

"The guys feel more comfortable about opening up to us, we've been through the exact same process. "

Image caption Mark Bitel brought the idea to Scotland after visiting a similar scheme in Italy

Mark Bitel, a former addict who has been 30 years in recovery, helped set up River Garden Auchincruive.

He brought the idea to Scotland after visiting a similar scheme, the San Patrignano community, in Italy.

It has been running since 1978 and Mark says 80% of the people who follow that programme do not go back to alcohol or drugs.

He says the scheme is based on new arrivals learning from the experience of those who have gone before them.

"Every person comes in with their own unique set of problems and talents," he says.

"It keeps it really fresh for the new people coming in the door to see that a year and a half into the programme you're there as a member of staff."

Image caption Residents work in the gardens and are growing their own food

John McDonald, 35, grew up in the southside of Glasgow. He came straight to the programme from prison and is now nine weeks in.

"It's a change of life for me. I wouldn't have had anything like this before," he says.

"It's something I needed. I needed taken away from the environment I was in because I would have just got back out of prison and started doing the same things."

Another of those currently living at the village, James Stampfer, 31, trained as a chef but says he needed a cocktail of substances just to make it through the day at work. He is six months into the programme.

Image caption River Garden Auchincruive is Scotland's first addiction recovery village

"Before I came in here, during my addiction, it was just all about me. When my life is all about me, I make a mess of it," he says.

"Once I shed that and I started trying to be more for other people, trying to focus on helping other people, doing good things, I felt a lot better."

It is hoped the recovery village will be self-sustaining in seven years' time, meaning the work that is done there will pay for its running costs without the need for grants or donations.

At the end of his three years, Alex is hoping to start his own business, but says he wants to continue to mentor future residents of the village.

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