Compass Project is helping give lives a new direction
Published on: 29 Nov 2013
AN inspiring scheme to support people recovering from drug addiction is turning lives around.
Kevin Neal - who has abstained from drugs for 19 years - combined his entrepreneurial background with his experience in rehabilitation to set up the Compass Project.
The initiative launched as a self-funded charity shop on Gloucester Road around 18 months ago and for the first year Kevin ran an pilot to test how the project would work.
Since its inception, a warehouse has also opened in Staple Hill, providing in-house restoration workshops and a wide selection of furniture.
The project is sustained by the income generated through donations and people shopping at the stores.
The purpose of the Compass Project is to provide support for people who have come out of rehabilitation, and to help them learn new skills and experience, as well as integrate back into the community.
Kevin explained: "A lot of money is thrown in to institutions like drug rehabilitation units, and when people are discharged, they go on to live in supported housing - or 'dry houses' - where financial support is dropped. It's immense having to move back into the community, especially when you're moved to a city you're not familiar with."
He added: "A lot of people become clean for six to nine months and because they can't adjust to being back in the real world without any substances, they end up turning to drugs again."
Research has found that a lot of anxiety is built up during this period, leading to fearfulness and anger.
"We try to break this feeling of anxiety by nurturing and encouragement. It's about giving staff responsibility and supporting them along their journey. As a self-funded project, I want them to feel in a place where there is no authority. Every single person within the structure of the project is in recovery."
He disclosed: "I've watched people come out of a spiral of addiction, and have come here to learn skills and experience, and work through their anxieties. It's incredible what working means to people."
Kevin explains that people's talents, which they developed in previous careers, are discovered in the project, giving them the opportunity to re-build and enhance their skills and experience. It's about recognising staff with skills who can make the project work, he says.
The project puts on regular parties, away days and other events to encourage social cohesion amongst staff.
He added: "There's been a lot of hard work from individuals to becoming drug free. I've seen people who have gone back to college and into full-time work."
Paul, who has been a part of the project since the beginning, has been abstinent from drink and drugs for three years.
"The project has really worked for me," he said. "It's given me the opportunity to get back into work again after having not worked for a long time."
Before Paul became addicted to crack cocaine, he worked for a large pharmaceutical company in London. After spending time at a rehabilitation centre in Bristol, he was moved to a dry house, where he soon discovered the Compass Project. Paul said: "I'm was lucky to have the previous work experience, whereas others in the dry house didn't really have any.
"It's an amazing project that is well-needed in the community - Bristol needs more projects like this."
Del - a full-time, senior volunteer at the Compass Project - has also been in recovery for three years. He said: "I was at a crossroads and didn't know what direction to take, so I started driving for the project."
His job involves delivering furniture, collecting donations and helping out occasionally in the shop.
Del added: "It's something to get me up and moving - if it wasn't for the project, I'd be sat in my flat, feeling depressed, which could take me back to drinking."
Another volunteer, Billy, was made aware of the Compass Project through Western Counselling - a treatment centre in Weston-super-Mare.
He was residing in a dry house in Bristol for a year, but now has his own flat and independence.
He said: "I found drugs were a way of coping with life, but I have now found the inner-me."
Alongside restoring furniture in Staple Hill, Billy is also studying English at college, where he has learned to read.
"The environment is safe at the project. I'm here to learn how to help others. I believe if you make someone else feel better, you feel better about yourself."
He added: "Kevin is one of the best bosses I've ever had. If I wasn't here, I'd be back on the streets taking drugs. I know I'm a better person now."