Papa rehab to close after SIC turns off cash supply


The only drug and alcohol rehab project in Shetland is being forced to close at the end of the month through lack of funding.

The Papa Stour Project, run by Sabina Holt-Brook and her husband Andy Holt, has been operating for six years and in that time has had around 30 clients from Shetland and the UK mainland.

The project, a not-for-profit company, is based in the Holt-Brooks’ house at North House, Papa Stour and has been receiving funding from the council’s housing department through its “Supporting People” allocation. But in March, a decision was taken by the housing department to stop the funding as the project was “not considered to be meeting service needs”.

Recovering addicts and alcohol­ics will now be sent south for treatment.

The Holt-Brooks had applied for and expected to get ongoing funding at least at the Supporting People level, £53,000, for the coming year – this amount had been ringfenced for the previous three years. They had also been getting an annual award of around £14,000 from Shetland Alcohol and Drug Action Team (SADAT). But this year they were hoping for more – they applied for an extra £30,000 for “develop­ment” to employ a manager and a support worker. This money would have also enabled them to extend the client accommodation.

But earlier this year the couple heard that SADAT and the council had joined forces and the Supporting People money was no longer ring­fenced. Following a meeting with members of SADAT, which in­cludes director of public health Sarah Taylor and SIC executive director of education and social care Hazel Sutherland, the Holt-Brooks heard that their bid had been turned down. Only the £14,300 from SADAT was still on offer.

Mr Holt said it cost £6,000 per month to run the project, which is very labour-intensive, and the insurance costs were “incredible”. The project takes up to three clients at a time, referred by either the drugs services, social work or criminal justice. They stay “as long as necessary”, with the longer stays apparently producing the best results.

The Holt-Brooks have now learned that just £50,000 has been allocated for addiction rehab for the whole of Shetland for the coming year.

A letter from SADAT to the Holt-Brooks told them their project, which is regularly inspected by the Care Commission, and recently receiving a grading of “very good”, did not offer “value for money”.

This could be, the Holt-Brooks feel, because they take clients from south as well as Shetland (although local clients are given priority and it is only when there is space that clients are taken from the mainland).

The couple are dismayed by the diminished funding offer for the Papa Stour Project, which is inevitably leading to closure.

They are convinced the project, which has a Christian ethos, works well and has produced some notable successes. The project is not just about getting an addict free from addiction, they said, it is about re-learning how to live.

Mr Holt said: “Addiction is a lifestyle. There is a brotherhood of addiction. You can get someone off heroin but then what? There has to be something to fill that space.”

The Holt-Brooks said that “park­ing people on methadone”, a heroin substitute, apparently favoured by the government to produce figures for people “in treatment”, was not the answer, although it could form part of a properly controlled care plan with a view to reduction and abstinence.

The Papa Stour Project offers a place of safety with no access to drink or drugs. But in addition clients gain a sense of responsibility by learning to look after animals on the Holt-Brook’s croft – unusual in the world of rehab where anecdotally the emphasis is on “soul searching”.

Clients learn life skills too, such as cooking and housework, the importance of having regular meals – and benefit from a healthy diet of home-cooked and home-grown food. Access to specialist services such as debt counselling is available, and, importantly, clients have a structured daily routine. They are encouraged to express themselves through art and craft and are given help to reintegrate into the community.

Mrs Holt-Brook said: “Our model [of care] works because we are small and we see people as individuals. I want this place to go on even when we retire. It is needed and is a holistic approach through the physical work, the personal development and the spiritual aspect.”

The Papa Stour model, like that of most rehab centres, is based on the “12 Steps Programme” devised by the founders of Alcoholic Anonymous. This involves clients being honest about their addiction, admitting they are powerless in the face of it and turning their lives over to the care of God – this concept can be in whatever form the client wishes. The Holt-Brooks believe it is the emptiness through lack of a spiritual dimension in people’s lives that leads to addiction.

However, the Christian aspect at Papa Stour is “definitely not” stressed in treatment, and the project welcomes clients “of all faith and none”. The day does start with morning prayers and a Bible reading “so people know where we’re coming from”, but there is no pressure to join the Christian church.

The Holt-Brooks suspect that their failure to attract funding may be because the project falls between two stools – those of primary care (detox), for which funding is available, and the secondary stage of after-care. Drug addicts coping with withdrawal have been detoxed in Papa Stour without problem and recovering alcoholics have gone to there after being treated by Shetland’s specialist nurse. But the main focus of the Papa Stour project is on after-care, for which funding has now been withdrawn.

Mr Holt said: “When we’re gone there won’t be anywhere up here for the drugs team or criminal justice to phone. It takes months to be seen [by a rehab unit] on the mainland and people can’t wait that long.”

His wife said: “We feel we do meet a need within the Shetland community by offering facilities in a crisis situation when a client might be waiting for specialist referral elsewhere. We also offer support to families of clients”.

There may be some hope of the project re-opening, however – SADAT said that with money from the council it was still “committed to buying a service from you”. And the door to funding has been open kept open by the council’s offer of a “continuing conversation” on the subject.

SADAT chairwoman Hazel Sutherland was unavailable for comment.

Community Alcohol and Drugs Services Shetland manager Gill Hession said of the project: “It is a valuable resource for service-users looking for a place of safety while reviewing their options around residential rehab.

“It is a healthy drug-free therapeutic working environment which makes it different from other rehab centres, which concentrate on a 9am-5pm group therapy structure.”


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