With a heavy heart I read Colin Rochester’s article in the Third Sector “How the sector was invented”. As the editorial in the Third Sector on the 18th February argues “a sense of austerity has left charities feeling they have been led up the garden path by successive governments. This has been compounded by disillusionment about the availability and conditions of public sector contracts.” Charities increasingly fall into statutory voluntary sector which is significantly funded by government or delivers public services or both, and the voluntary sector which survives mainly on donation and follows an independent agenda.
For 50 years Blenheim, has been a pro-active social change organisation rooted in the day-to-day challenges facing those with alcohol and/or drugs problems, their families and local communities.
We have had in recent years professionalised and bureaucratised to compete in the new world of competitive tendering whilst seeking to retain our roots as we have expanded. In 2013 when reviewing our strategy I realised that we had gone too far down the route of provider organisation.
Whilst we continue to focus on providing services that strive to be innovative, excellent and cost-effective, Blenheim is determined to have a voice and to keep our charitable endeavour and campaigning voice at the heart of what we do. We believe that this sadly sets us apart from many of the other voluntary sector organisations working in the drug and alcohol sector.
Care, compassion and tolerance for those in need sums up the ethos of Blenheim. At its heart is a raging passion to provide non-judgemental assistance to those who find themselves in difficulty with drugs and alcohol. The organisation has a committed and passionate approach to finding ways of helping those in often desperate and heart breaking need.
Fundamental to Blenheim is the belief that everyone can change they just need to be given the opportunity and resources.
Blenheim has pioneered work with drug users and alcohol users and much of what now is mainstream and sometimes still controversial both across the UK and internationally comes directly from the innovative and ground breaking work of the dedicated people who have worked for Blenheim over the years.
Today we work over 9000 people a year making a positive impact that not only improves health of the individual but has a lasting positive impact on the wellbeing of their family and friends, and the communities in which they live.
People who use our services are not just people with drug and alcohol problems, they are partners, fathers, sisters, grandmothers, children, brothers, friends, work colleagues and carers. We help people come to terms with often deeply troubled lives to grow and leave the constraints of dependency behind to journey into a brighter future.
Every journey starts with the first step and our role is to help people map their personal journey to a dependency free life. It’s not enough to treat dependency in isolation, people often need to address a wide range of issues in their lives, from relationships to employment, from housing to nutrition.
As we enter our 50th year of social action we are determined to be a loud advocate of the needs of those with the most complex needs in society. Campaigning and influencing key decision makers is a key part of Blenheim’s work.
In 2014 we will focus on the appalling failure to provide Hepatitis C treatment in line with NICE guidelines and issues of equality and stigma experienced by people with drug and alcohol problems.
For 50 years we have been the light in the darkness for so many people young and old, rich and poor. In the coming years we intend to continue our work with dedication and an undying commitment to the people we help to rebuild their lives.
- We choose to be a charity, a campaigning organisation not just a service provider
- We choose to strive to be better than we were yesterday
- We choose to be Blenheim and we stand proud
- We choose to develop into an organisation deeply rooted in the communities in which it works
Challenges remain in developing a structure which puts the communities in which we work at the heart of the organisations charitable endeavours and ensures we listen to the voices of people who come to us for support.
Blenheim will continue to tender and be a great service provider, but more importantly we will be a charity and a fierce advocate for people with drug and alcohol problems now and in the years to come.
Blenheim have published a book; London Calling: Voices from 50 years of Social Action.
When I look back now, I realise how naive I was. Throughout 37 years of marriage to an alcoholic, I really believed that I could change him and make him well. I would hide the alcohol, cut up the credit cards, cry, shout, plead and threaten. He did try to get help and was in and out of rehab several times, but his heart wasn’t really in it and he kept ‘falling’.
My breakthrough was a friend’s advice: “you can’t help him, you can only help yourself.” She told me about Blenheim’s CASA Families, Partners and Friends service. They impressed me from the start, showing real understanding of and empathy with my situation. I decided against one-to-one counselling as I was afraid that I would be encouraged to leave my husband (I now know that you have to make your own decisions) and I didn’t want to. Instead I joined a support group. It felt very safe and I learned quickly that I needed to create some distance from my husband. In my doing just that, he started to really look at himself. My CASA group sessions, and the fact that my husband was too ill to get out of the house to get his alcohol, finally broke a pattern of nearly 40 years of dependency.
He is still sober, three years on. He has rebuilt a relationship with his adult children and we go out together, to the cinema and to visit friends. I am now a Blenheim volunteer and I cannot thank them enough for showing me that you cannot change anyone apart from yourself, and for helping me to make those changes.
I read with concern this week that the court of appeal will rule on whether mothers should face criminal charges for drinking excessively during pregnancy. A council in North-West England has instructed lawyers to test whether a crime was committed against a 6 year old girl who was brain damaged by alcohol in the womb. GLP solicitors in Manchester are bringing the legal action while representing 80 other children diagnosed with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Women who damage their unborn babies by drinking alcohol during pregnancy could be guilty of a criminal act if an unprecedented legal test case is successful.
The council is going to the Court of Appeal to establish that a six-year-old girl who suffered brain damage from her mother’s drinking during pregnancy is the victim of a crime.
It argues the mother criminally “poisoned” her unborn child because it has evidence she was warned of the risks if she continued to drink. The child is now in foster care.
If successful, the case could have far-reaching implications. Lawyers acting for the council are representing 80 children nationally who suffered physical and mental damage from their mothers drinking alcohol while pregnant.
The children suffer from foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a range of symptoms caused by alcohol damage in the womb. These include physical illness, learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
My personal reaction to this is one of absolute horror that we are yet again going down this route, I then looked at an American debate on foetal rights and got even more horrified.
The following statement outlines Blenheim’s view;
“Drug and alcohol misuse can have health implications for the unborn child and Blenheim would advise all women during pregnancy to follow medical advice when considering their alcohol and drug consumption. However we are seriously concerned about this attempt to criminalise women suffering from the recognised health conditions of alcohol and drug use disorder. Blenheim supports women to decrease the risk to their unborn child as well as to themselves. Many women with serious drug and alcohol problems with proper support go on to be great mothers; we know this because we support hundreds every year. Sometimes this takes time and sadly some are never able to manage and local authorities have a difficult decision to take over the child’s long term future. We are concerned that such a criminalisation of alcohol consumption during pregnancy will further stigmatise and act as a barrier to women seeking support. We are mindful also that this is part of a wider moral debate about the rights of women in relation to the rights of the unborn child. On this debate Blenheim has throughout its history advocates for the rights of women. Once a child is born the needs of the child are paramount.”