By Lis Henderson
Experts say heroin addiction is often funded by prostitution
A group of Christians are setting up a treatment community for drug addicts in rural Suffolk.
Release Ipswich aims to build the Talitha Koum centre at a farm near Witnesham, north of Ipswich.
It'll provide residential therapy and skills-training for up to six women who have drug problems and may have worked as prostitutes.
A public meeting has been held to give villagers a chance to air their views and have their questions answered.
After the December 2006 murders of five young women who worked as prostitutes in Ipswich, statutory and voluntary groups across Suffolk have been looking at how to address the problems associated with the sex trade.
The chaotic lifestyles of many young women hooked on alcohol or drugs and turning to prostitution for finance came to the fore.
Now, a group of Christians, say their new project may offer some hope.
Talitha Koum (a Biblical Aramaic phrase meaning 'little girl, get up') is the name given to many different projects across the world.
The aim of Ipswich Release's scheme is to establish an innovative 'Christian therapeutic community' at a farm to the north of the town.
They say it will give the women space and time to work through their problems using step-by-step programmes as well as giving them life-skills.
Four social enterprise strands include horticulture (growing food and farming with animals), construction (building the two bungalows at the community), skills training (computers, parenting, writing CVs etc.) and arts & music.
The Suffolk Murders victims were all prostitutes with drug problems
All this will be developed alongside a background of Christian teaching and prayer and emotional support.
"It's very peaceful here and that's what the women need," said John Cobbold, the project director.
"They've come from very chaotic lifestyles and we can give them help to decide how they are going to change their lives.
"This is a Christian programme and a Christian community, although it's open to anyone.
"I've visited other similar projects across the UK, and if people stay for the full programme then we'll have a 90% success rate in changing people's lives around."
Not in my back yard
The exact location of the farm is being kept a secret - to try to help protect the women there in the future, but also because there are fears that it could be targeted by drug dealers and pimps.
The land to be used has been set aside by Yvonne and Adrian Cross who are both firmly behind the project - even though they realise there may be opposition from others.
It's estimated that building the community will cost around £100,000. Funding has come from charitable donations including £20,000 from the Evening Star's Somebody's Daughter campaign.
"A lot of people say they 'don't want it in my back yard' but it's not - it's in mine, not theirs," said Adrian.
"As a society we need to think 'are we a caring society who care for people in trouble or are we not?'
"That's a very important thing at the moment."
"We want to use part of our land to help people," said Yvonne.
Floral tributes to murder victim Paula Clennell at Levington
"My dream would be for vulnerable women, who have had no real love in their lives, to have a hope for the future and to be free from addiction."
Release Ipswich's community will be developed alongside a background of Christian teaching and prayer.
"Applicants come on board knowing we're a Christian therapeutic community and the teaching of Christianity is fundamental to that.
"We're not trying to shy away from what we are.
"We're not going to ask people to leave if they say they don't believe in God, but we're going to carry on teaching what we believe.
"People have the freedom of choice to believe or not."
Subject to planning permission, it's hoped the first women could move into the centre in 2010.