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Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Wednesday, 28 July 2010 12:04 UK
Town centre alcoholics and a 'wet area' for Ipswich
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

Benches on St Matthews Street, Ipswich
Only a couple of benches remain on St Matthew's Street, Ipswich

Street drinkers and help organisations in Ipswich say they are not convinced by the idea of a 'wet area'.

Some towns have designated buildings to keep alcoholics from congregating on benches outside shops and businesses.

A charitable body called the Umbrella Trust has considered and rejected the idea for Ipswich in favour of a 'dry' drop-in help centre.

"Some people can't handle their drink and start fighting," said one man drinking on a town centre bench.

There's been a ban on drinking alcohol in public places in Ipswich since 2007 and many benches have been removed in the town centre to prevent drinkers gathering there.

I spoke to several people on the remaining benches by the St Matthew's Street/Civic Drive roundabout on condition of anonymity.

"I do drink in the house but I'd rather drink with other people. You like to socialise and get a bit of fresh air," said one man.

"I'm an alcoholic and I need to have a drink when I get up to stop shaking. I need a good 2-3 litres of cider in the morning just to get over my shakes."

One woman said drinking at home can also be a problem.

"I've had to get away from Felixstowe for domestic violence. I've let two people in my flat and had two mobile phones nicked," she said.

Another young man said they're constantly trying to keep one step ahead of bye-laws. Some of the street-drinkers decant their drinks into plastic sports bottles to try and pass them off as non-alcoholic.

"We don't have the money to get our drinks continually poured away by the police," he said.

"Ipswich needs to do a lot more to help people get off alcohol. You can't do it without the aid of a detox programme."

And the idea of a 'wet area' didn't meet with firm approval.

"It would be a good idea to have an area where you can drink, but sometimes it's a bad idea," said one of the men.

"There are people who do cause problems because they've got an attitude and they're silly when they've had a drink."

Street alcoholics tend to drink cheap super-strength lager or cider

Strategies for street-alcoholics

Tibbs Pinter is a community cohesion co-ordinator with Ipswich Borough Council and he's working with the group trying to set-up a new drop-in centre.

"It used to be the case that you'd get groups of up to 30 outside places such as the New Wolsey Theatre.

"It could be very intimidating for others, but we don't get those numbers congregating any more.

"The Designated Public Places Order empowered the police to break up groups that were drinking, a nuisance or threatening.

"I would estimate there are about 65 street drinkers left, which is a significant reduction.

"When I took this job on six years ago, people said 'why bother? It's always been like this' but we have made a difference."

Chaotic lifestyles

The Umbrella Trust is a charity which is looking to establish a drop-in centre at 1, Black Horse Lane in Ipswich.

It would replace its smaller centre on Old Foundry Road.

The Umbrella Trust takes a different view of 'wet centres' such as Leicester's Anchor Centre which allows drinking.

"What we're trying to provide is a day centre for people who are 'caught up in chaos'," said Roger Fern, chairman of the Umbrella Trust.

"We're very tolerant of people coming in [to the existing building on Old Foundry Road] who clearly have had a lot to drink.

"What we are intolerant of are people who bring in drink, drugs or drug paraphernalia, because we simply cannot have people sitting drinking alongside those who often want to get off drink.

"The nearest analogy I can think of would be having a branch of Weight Watchers in a chippy.

Ipswich Borough Council social club
The former council social club on Black Horse Lane, Ipswich

"So what it needs is some very specialist provision over and above what we're doing and it requires some big cheeses from social services, the police, health and registered social landlords to come together to make this work.

"We're trying to address the underlying issues and they are extraordinarily complex in many cases.

"For many they've got into such habitual or addictive behaviour that it's almost impossible, without enormous help, to get out of it. And it can take years.

"We're having to work very closely with residents and retailers to persuade them that actually, we're trying to resolve the problem, not add to them."

Running costs

The cost of getting Black Horse Lane refurbished is £150,000 and they're hoping to have it ready by December 2010.

The building is leased by Ipswich Borough Council and the rent is being paid by the local authority.

The running and staffing costs will be around £6,500 per month and that's dependent on raising funds from private donors and charitable trusts including church groups.

It would offer subsidised meals and help in accessing detox programmes, healthcare, housing support and debt advice.

Experts say the drinker has to want to get off alcohol for it to happen.

One of our St Matthew's Street drinkers said he has the motivation.

"I lost my little girl when she was three months old and she's four now and I haven't had one Christmas with her.

"I can't take her to playgroup because I smell of booze - not without having a dozen packets of chewing gum anyway."

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