• Janet Murphy MBE, Chief Executive of Escape Family Support which has received a £10k donation from The Bernicia Foundation to help care for families members who are themselves caring for addicts.

An Ashington-based charity dedicated solely to supporting the families of people living with addiction is seeing huge success with programmes designed to help address, reduce and overcome the unspoken stigma, shame and judgement often felt by loved ones when trying to help those nearest.

Escape Family Support is the only charity in Northumberland entirely focused on the families and immediate circles of people with substance abuse issues, many of whom are themselves experiencing anxiety, stress, depression and mental health as a direct result of helping someone.

This catch-22 scenario, generally born out of love and trying to do the right thing by others, has seen 390 individuals, including parents, grandparents, friends and young children, use the charity’s services in the past year alone, whether online or in person. This includes 228 new referrals which is up 10% on the previous year.

Furthermore, out of the 390 people supported during 2022/23, 209 have successfully completed bespoke training support and evidence-based learning programmes. This has resulted in many positive outcomes as well as greater health and wellbeing amongst users. 292 people also showed significant improvement with social inclusion issues, while 264 accessed respite provision.

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The charity, based at the Susan Kennedy Centre in Ashington, has now received a £10,000 charitable donation from The Bernicia Foundation to help towards ongoing programmes and general running costs. This will enable more families across the whole of Northumberland, including those living further afield in more rural areas, to access the charity’s specialist support services.

CEO, Janet Murphy MBE, explained, “We’re forever grateful to the support given by The Bernicia Foundation as our work is vital, especially when times are becoming harder for many. Addiction is often a crutch when the going gets tough and is often rooted in a back story that goes unnoticed at surface level, so this money will enable us to offer help to the families that may need it now more than ever.

“There is often an unspoken, negative judgement that is felt by the families of people with addictions and this can have a serious and profound knock-on effect if no support is sought, available to them or allocated. It cannot be underestimated.

“Quite rightly, most treatment and support services are focused on those trying to overcome the addiction which is crucially important and very much needed. However, what is often overlooked are the pressures that this also puts on the families and the spiralling effect it can have, and that is where we come in to offer specialist support, learning opportunities and assistance.

“We work closely with parents and family members whose children may be abusing substances like drugs and alcohol, as well as children whose parents may be addicted, so the age range and requirements are very unique to each individual. However, what is common is that they all have a need to talk, meet others in a safe environment and learn new, proven ways of coping to stop enabling behaviour and concentrate more positively on themselves.

“We’ve also helped 50 young people during the last year too, working with them on various mental health issues, wellbeing and self-esteem techniques. This is great to see, and like the vast majority of our other service users, they all now have the skills in place to better cope with their family circumstances, fully understand addiction and navigate its impact.”

Escape Family Support, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2022, is like many other small charities who are now feeling the effects of significantly reduced funding and the cost of living crisis. However, despite rising costs, demand for its services is also increasing.

Courses on offer focus on reducing isolation and loneliness, teaching coping skills, establishing strategies to set stronger personal boundaries, promoting greater independence, and creating healthy relationship space between those they may be indirectly enabling through kindness.

Janet added, “Unfortunately, we’re experts through our own experiences, but our strength lies in our people and this gives us a determination and drive to help as many as we can. We currently have 13 fully trained staff who work alongside our many volunteers to provide one-to one and group guidance sessions. We are also part of a taskforce within Northumberland to address inequalities on a local level.

“Furthermore, we have our ‘family champions’; 34 people trained in peer mentoring, family dynamics and support skills. We have lots of young people who have come through our programmes too and have created fantastic opportunities for themselves. This includes 11 gaining employment, five moving into further education, two starting university and six volunteering within the community. This is amazing and very rewarding to see as their lives, very much consumed with helping their family members, could have taken a very different direction.”

Jenny Allinson, Bernicia Foundation Director, added, “Again, we are seeing the most inspirational work being carried out by the region’s charities, all of whom make a real difference to people’s lives. Escape Family Support is no exception, and we are delighted to provide a financial donation to this worthwhile cause.

“Our next round of funding is currently open for new applications so I would encourage any charity, community group or volunteer project to apply.”

The Bernicia Foundation is a charitable trust set up by North East housing association, Bernicia Group, to help direct funds where they are most needed – supporting local people living in hard-working communities across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and Teesside.

Two funding streams are available – the inclusion fund for voluntary/community groups, registered charities and social enterprises which awards up to £10,000, and the inspiration fund, awarding up to £1,000 for young people, aged 24 years and under, who are actively working towards personal goals.

Applications for the next round of funding are now being accepted (closing date is Monday 14 August 2023).

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