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Newcastle: providing drug and alcohol rehab from a library

An element of drug and alcohol recovery support has been run from a community library since 2019 in Newcastle.

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An element of drug and alcohol recovery support has been run from a community library since 2019 in Newcastle.  

The location of the service at the historic site helped break down some of the stigma surrounding substance misuse and has since been followed by opening recovery services at a local family centre.

From library to community health hub 

Fenham Library is a grade II-listed building in the west of Newcastle. Built in the 1930s, it has provided services to the local community ever since although in recent years it had been coming under pressure as council budgets were facing significant cuts.

That was until Newcastle City Council, using the opportunity of a Public Health England drug and alcohol recovery grant, started to co-locate some drug and alcohol recovery services there three years ago as part of a drive to move support out into the community nearer where people live.

The move has not only safeguarded the library, but has improved access to health and wellbeing services − not just for those struggling with substance misuse but also the rest of the community. 

Recovery help, run by the Newcastle Treatment and Recovery service (NTaR), and the specialist drug and alcohol carer support service, PROPS, are both provided from the site. Previously, these services had been focused on the main drug and alcohol treatment hub, run by NTaR, in the city centre. 

Once clients have accessed and are involved with NTaR for the acute side of their treatment programme, they are engaged in recovery support, including group and one-to-one sessions at the hub. It also supports access to digital inclusion and literacy.

Public Health Senior Specialist, Rachael Hope, said:

The benefits of being able to see clients near to where they live and in a local, supportive and welcoming environment cannot be understated. It gives staff the ability to break down barriers and make real connections with individuals to help support their recovery.

“Alongside group and one-to-one sessions at the library, there is also employment and education support. But, as part of the redevelopment, we have created a very flexible space open to different groups.  

“Different wellbeing sessions, such as yoga, are also run from there and some are open to everyone. And we have now started to run other services including fellowship recovery groups such as Narcotics Anonymous. There is also a weight management service coming in – it isn’t just about recovery from substances.”

Dealing with controversy 

Moving drug and alcohol rehab to the library was not without challenges though. When it first opened it was met with a lot of opposition locally. 

“I think one of the problems was with the communication. When the plans were first announced, they did not specify the type of drug and alcohol services that would be there, they just said ‘health and wellbeing’. It meant when the opening was announced it caused real controversy,” said Ms Hope.

“It wasn’t done on purpose, I think it was just not seen as something that would be controversial. We had to work hard to address those concerns.

We held meetings and invited people who had been through recovery to break down some of the stereotypes. People can make all sorts of assumptions about those who struggle with substance misuse, but they are just normal people with problems − once that became clear it helped to tackle some of the stigma.

“But it is something we should have addressed at the very start and is definitely a lesson to learn when you take health services out into these community locations.” 

Fenham Library is not the only facility that is now being used for substance misuse recovery however. Staff working for NTaR, which is delivered by Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with Humankind and Changing Lives, and PROPS are also working out of the Byker Sands Family Centre in the east of the city.

Ms Hope said: “We had only just started delivering one-to-one sessions when the pandemic hit so this did not get as established as much as the library one before the pandemic hit. We are looking to do something of a relaunch soon. 

But we hope it will prove just as successful as the library. The emphasis is very much on providing wraparound family support for those struggling with drug and alcohol treatment and ensure people can recover within their own communities.

Contact details 

Rachael Hope 

Public Health Senior Specialist 

Newcastle City Council 

[email protected]