The Capacity Community: Transforming Choice

By Christopher Graham

Number 30 Aigburth Drive, a handsome brick mansion in a prime location in Liverpool’s Sefton Park, is home to Transforming Choice, the latest organisation that I’ve visited. Transforming Choice is a Community Interest Company delivering an alcohol rehabilitation programme - but one with a difference. For, just as the very grand surroundings are not where one might expect to find an addiction clinic, so Transforming Choice is itself offering a rather different approach to getting its clients sober - and it seems to be working.

The Approach

Transforming Choice’s holistic approach centres on helping clients to understand the reasons for their addiction. Simply ‘going cold turkey’ without exploring the underlying causes of addiction is unlikely to work in the long term. Instead, I encountered a group of lively but now sober alcoholics who were keen to move on to a new phase of life, eager to find out how they could do something for others. This the result of a 12-week residential course that starts with detox and moves through an education programme involving a lot of psychology.

The programme can take up to 14 clients on each programme. Transforming Choice also offers eight ‘moving on’ places for clients who have completed the programme but are not yet ready to live independently. The seven clients I chatted to in the lunch break are keen to get going, in a number of cases volunteering as ‘peer mentors’ to help individuals on future courses overcome their addiction. They now have reasons for not drinking.

The Mind-set

Joining one of the morning classes, I learned the difference between one’s self-concept and one’s true self - and how we too often kid ourselves about who we really are. ‘Knowing ourselves’, we can work through the hierarchy of needs and, hopefully, get to the point of self-acceptance and then self-realisation. Instead of ‘drowning our sorrows’, we should be getting stuck in to our ‘mission in life’, our passion. And in knowing ourselves, we can understand where cravings come from - and how they can be resisted.

As Vice-President of the Council of Liverpool University, I spend the best part of a week in July and December dressed up like an old fashioned school master, processing in and out of the Philharmonic Hall - and applauding as hundreds of excited youngsters bound onto the stage to collect their degree certificates. The week I visited Transforming Choice, ‘graduates’ of the latest 12-week detox programme were preparing to receive their certificates of achievement. The Aigburth Drive graduates have won through, despite enjoying fewer advantages than most of their University contemporaries, overcoming all sorts of challenges as they fought to escape ‘the demon drink’.

The Mission

Transforming Choice aims to show health service policy makers that drug and alcohol detox should be taken out of the clinical environment.

The organisation is the brainchild of Carol Hamlett and the late John Mayhew. Carol is, as it was put to me, a ‘born entrepreneur’. After a 30 year career in Homelessness Services, she teamed up with John, a retired psychology lecturer from Liverpool John Moores University to create Transforming Choice because they were frustrated by the many gaps in provision that people were falling through. John sadly died a couple of months ago, but the work goes on. Carol says, “We are trying to demonstrate that people have the ability, knowledge and skills to sort themselves out, but they need to be in the right environment to do so.”

I’m proud that Capacity: The Public Services Lab recently stepped in to ensure that Transforming Choice was able to continue its ground-breaking work, despite funding challenges. Transforming Choice is an example of the sort of local initiative that Capacity exists to help grow and develop.

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