Fight to save addict treatment centre

An urgent rescue operation is under way to save a “unique” Norfolk drug and alcohol treatment centre, which has helped hundreds of addicts travel the rocky road to recovery.

An urgent rescue operation is under way to save a “unique” Norfolk drug and alcohol treatment centre, which has helped hundreds of addicts travel the rocky road to recovery.

The parent charity behind the Diana Princess of Wales Treatment Centre based in the old Mundesley Hospital has just called in administrators because of funding problems partly fuelled by tightening council purse strings.

While a sister unit in Somerset is being shut with the loss of nearly 50 jobs, it is hoped to find another operator to run the north Norfolk centre, which employs a similar number.

Staff from business rescue experts Grant Thornton have been drafted in to salvage the situation, and administrator Ian Carr last night said they were “confident” of making it a going concern for another operator, although he could not guarantee it.

The problems were rooted in a combination of escalating costs and growing pressure on the budgets of councils which paid for treatment.

The £2m centre was tagged Europe's largest drugs and alcohol clinic when it opened in September 1997.

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Its arrival had sparked major controversy and protest meetings beforehand from nearby villages concerned about security and safety, but there have been no major problems since it opened.

Indeed a series of VIP visitors have heard from addicts how the centre turned their lives around, from being homeless, sick, thieves and beggars to “clean” people with qualifications and prospects.

Mundesley mainly drew clients from Norfolk and Suffolk, said Mr Carr, but the number of clients was set to rise from 42 to 56 with the transfer of a dozen recovering addicts from the axed Barley Wood unit near Bristol.

While the charity behind the centres, Adapt, which also has a head office in London's Drury Lane, would be wound up, he was hopeful of saving the Norfolk centre. “It is an attractive site, offering unique 13-week rehabilitation services, which we believe other local authorities will buy into and it can be operated profitably.”

There had already been a number of inquiries and expressions of interest from other potential operators, said Mr Carr.

Thirteen staff had already left Barley Wood, with another 35 to go by the first week in August, and talks were under way to transfer 150 staff working with addicts in prisons.

The charity was no longer able to continue operating in its current form, said Mr Carr, who added that morale at the Mundesley centre was good in the circumstances.

Rescuing the Norfolk operation, and winding up the charity could take up to five months. He realised it was “very difficult for all concerned,”, but they would try to make it “as quick and painless as possible”.

Administrators would also be talking to the charity board, which had called them in, and investigating the reasons for the failure, he added.

The centre is based in a former tuberculosis hospital nestling in coastal countryside between Mundesley and Gimingham.

Adapt had hoped Diana, Princess of Wales, would open the Norfolk unit in 1997, having launched Barley Wood 10 years earlier. But after her tragic death just days before the first clients arrived, it was announced that it would be named in her memory, following approval by the Queen and the Spencer family.

It was hoped the royal connection would help Adapt raise a further £1m in an international appeal.

The centre was boosted by Oasis pop star Noel Gallagher, whose signed guitar was auctioned for funds in 2000, thanks to a link with his then father-in-law who was on the staff.

But in 2004, when a third of the 71 beds were empty, then chief executive Brian Arbery - who left the charity before administrators were called in - warned the centre's future was uncertain if local councils did not make more use of its residential detoxification and care services.

“No place can continue if it is not used,” he said at the time. “We are not at that point yet, but it seems ridiculous when a lot of people are looking for help that the authorities responsible are not using it.”

Adapt was founded in 1990 to help addicts, with a board chaired by Liberal Democrat peer and QC Lord Taverne.

Recent accounts lodged with the Charity Commission show an income of £6.8m in 2006, set against spending of £7.3m, and 2007 residential centre costs at £3.9m against £3.2m income.

Financial statements from last March talk of a “funding crisis” and said: “We are to some extent at a crossroads, and the future is a little unclear.”

For details about Adapt's administration, call Grant Thornton on 01223 225600.