Extra help and support is being offered in Leighton Buzzard to residents affected by drugs and alcohol who may be involved, or on the fringes of committing crime.
Beds Police has teamed up with Westminster Drug Project (WDP) to provide the service following a successful trial in Biggleswade.
Two of WDP’s key outreach workers – Chrissie Jackson and Gail Coffin – are now expanding their work across Central Bedfordshire and into Leighton Buzzard where they will be out and about from Wednesday, May 28.
WDP delivers a variety of services in the community and the criminal justice system across London, Home Counties and the South east of England. WDP is passionate about helping people affected by problematic drug and alcohol use and seek to innovate and inspire positive change.
Chrissie and Gail have amassed more than 30 years of experience between them working with vulnerable children and adults before moving into outreach work with those who rely on drink or drugs and are on the brink of criminality.
Chrissie started outreach work in Biggleswade with the Local Policing Team in July 2013 before being joined by Gail in October. During that time the duo have assisted around 50 people from all walks of life who have fallen on hard times and needed assistance in getting their lives back on track. Those who have been affected are often put in touch with the outreach workers by Bedfordshire Police, Central Bedfordshire Council or other local organisations.
“We work very closely and intensively with people in a short space of time to access and escort them to the relevant services,” said Chrissie. “It is often the case that people want to get help but are not aware of what services are available or don’t know how to go about accessing them.
“We had a man in Biggleswade who was in his late 40s and had worked his entire life. Last year he was made redundant but couldn’t find a new job. When the redundancy money ran out and times got tough, his wife asked him to leave, he was then living rough, drinking heavily and mixing with the wrong type of people.
“Timing is massively important in what we do and we were able to chat with him, find out what had happened and offer him help. We carried out an assessment, put him in touch with the Jobcentre to sort out what benefits he was eligible for, referred him into a hostel where he now resides, and very soon he was enrolled on an IT course and was well on his way to sobriety.”
Gail added: “We have seen a growing number of middle-aged women needing our support with alcohol in the past year. One of the most satisfying cases that we have worked on was a 50 year old woman who was close to death as a result of her drinking.
“We had received a referral from Bedfordshire Police following a Domestic Violence incident between her and her ex-partner and when we arrived this woman was extremely unwell due to her alcohol use. We worked with her intensively escorting her to appointments ensuring she obtained the best outcome.
“An assessment was carried out and as a result we were able to get her into CAN – A treatment Provider for people with Drug and alcohol issues in Bedfordshire – and her life has been transformed. She hasn’t had a drink since February and she is a different person who has put all of her energy into craft and arts and is hoping to start selling some of the things that she is making.
“We know that word-of-mouth plays a huge part in the work that we do and this was reflected when we were contacted by this woman’s ex-partner asking for help. He had seen the impact that WDP had on her life and knew that he needed the same help.”
Chrissie and Gail have spent a number of days with Local Policing Sergeant Andy Rivers in Leighton Buzzard as they get to know the area, establish where and when street drinkers congregate and also look for a suitable premises to base themselves.
Sgt Rivers said: “After hearing all of the fantastic reports about what Chrissie and Gail had achieved over in Biggleswade I was keen for them to come to Leighton Buzzard and make a real impact here as well.
“Early intervention is always important in preventing crime and WDP offers people a neutral and impartial service which can help them without them needing to commit an offence.
“We are really lucky to have two such dedicated members of WDP joining us in Leighton Buzzard. We’ve spent some time helping them settle in and we are now just trying to find somewhere for them to work from while they are here.”
Chrissie and Gail have already made contact with a number of church organisations within Leighton Buzzard as well as linking up with the Street Pastors who patrol the town on weekends. Their success rate in Biggleswade and their move to Leighton Buzzard also means that further outreach workers are being sought to work in the area.
“It is fair to say that you have to be extremely flexible to do this job,” said Chrissie. “We aim to deliver a service that meets the needs of the service user and the community and at times it can be extremely rewarding.”
While the outreach workers have been trained in conflict resolution, neither has ever encountered a situation where they were genuinely fearful.
“That said, it is also good to know that the police are always aware of when we are in town and are on hand should we ever need them,” added Gail.