Page last updated at 05:56 GMT, Tuesday, 28 July 2009 06:56 UK

Art and gardening to help addicts

Alan Andrews, managing director of Choose Life Cymru
Alan Andrews set up the centre after overcoming his own drug addiction

Outdoor pursuits, gardening, beauty days and even takeaway curry nights are being offered to drug and alcohol users to help deal with their addictions.

Intervention centre Choose Life Cymru has received more than £350,000 lottery funding to offer the activities to its 300 clients for the next three years.

Alan Andrews, who set up the centre in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, said it distracts people from their addictions.

He said the diversionary activity programme also builds self esteem.

The 300 people who use the centre each year are offered free classes and can take part in activities such as go-kart racing, music workshops, art and computer lessons, social evenings, such as having an Indian takeaway together, and family days out.

"At that moment they're not doing drugs or committing crime. It diverts them from their primary concern," said Mr Andrews.

"It's little changes to their lifestyle that can make a big difference. Their self esteem and confidence is built up and that in turn can make a huge difference to their addiction.

"These are people who have often been told they're no good."

I've taken part in some activities, like go kart racing, building a raft and we do art every Friday... if it wasn't for Choose Life I'd still be on heroin
Rachel Curwood, recovering addict

The centre also offers support and activities for the families of addicts.

"For example we have beauty days, which are often for the partners of addicts," he said.

"A lot of the time all the household money has gone on drugs so the women can come here, have a hair cut, their eyebrows shaped and have a chat. It can really help them as these people can often feel very, very low," he said.

He added that the centre had been holding activities when it could, but the Big Lottery Fund grant of around £355,104 will help the centre run the activities regularly for three years.

Mr Andrews set up the drop-in service in 2000 after overcoming his own drug addiction.

'Huge problem'

He and his staff of nine - plus volunteers - offer "long term support" and drug education to people in Carmarthenshire who use the service, which is open five days a week.

They also put them in touch with other services and residential rehabilitation programmes.

But Mr Andrews said he believes while medication can help wean people off their addiction, it needs to be supported by other services, such as the diversionary activity programme.

One such reformed addict is Rachel Curwood, 20, from Llanelli.

She said she had been using heroin for about "six to nine months" when she went to the drop-in centre.

"It's really helped me and I've not used [heroin] for three months. I'm on methadone now and I come here [the centre] every day," she said.

"I've taken part in some activities, like go-kart racing, building a raft and we do art every Friday. It's very important and it gives me something to do. If it wasn't for Choose Life I'd still be on heroin."

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