A beacon of positivity and harm reduction for the whole community
Elsa Browne, SMMGP Project Manager
B-Safe (Brent Social Access For Everyone) held a party on Saturday afternoon to celebrate their user led weekend service’s second birthday. B-SAFE is a safe peer-led social space for people with substance issues to relax with others and share experiences on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. All are welcome, and they offer “a chilled atmosphere, hot drinks and snacks, widescreen TV, board games” and info and advice and referrals to other services if that’s what people want.
Because we have been doing some work with them around primary care drug and alcohol treatment in Brent, I went along to their party to represent SMMGP. On a freezing cold Saturday afternoon I set off for Neasden, where B-Safe is based. On arrival I rather tentatively stuck my head out of the unfamiliar Tube station exit. Clutching my Google map, I struck out purposefully for the address I had been given, striding past the massive Job Centre, past thedreary Magistrate’s Court. I pushed open the door to the B-Safe room in the local drug service to the sound of conversation and laughter, where a warm welcome awaited me. There were so many people there that the crowd spilled out into the corridor.
The proceedings commenced with a speech by Andy Brown (Commissioner) who spoke of the leap of faith it took to permit a user-led service to operate on weekends. He likened finding a way out of addiction to running a marathon – saying that “if you’ve been in bed for 6 months, you’re not going to be expected to get up and run without a team of people around you to get you ready to make sure you’re well enough and fit enough to tackle the journey. Then you’re going to need seconds en route that make sure you are watered and looked after to keep going”.
Having initially opened on Saturday afternoons, when in the early days about half a dozen people turned up and “there was a lot of nerves” B-Safe is now also open for a Sunday drop in session. Andy said that the service was a source of great pride to Brent, and should not underestimate its contribution to the area’s successful outcomes figures which in turn impacted positively on funding. A letter of appreciation from Councillor Lincoln Beswick was read out, and other official speakers endorsed the service.
The local Metropolitan Police representative stood beaming in his uniform as the room erupted in laughter when there was a vote of thanks from the floor for the “free wraps” (chicken and salad!) To applause from the floor, Ossie Yemoh, B-Safe co-ordinator and all round enthusiast, thanked “the Met” – a position he said he never thought he’d find himself in. He spoke of having learnt a new approach in his dealings with the police, working together using “feathers, not a baseball bats”.
Ossie struggled to compose himself after expressing his gratitude at having his teenage son and young nephew at the event, more people spoke from the floor about what the service meant to them. A young woman thanked the service for turning their family’s situation around by being there for her mum. The receptionist was mentioned more than once for her open and accepting attitude, which changed the culture of the service and made all feel welcome. Many people said they did not know what they would do without B-Safe to come to on a weekend.
As volunteers and others received Certificates in Recognition and T-shirts were handed out, some toddlers could wait no longer and broke out the toys in the “Children’s Corner” whilst at the table adults settled into a backgammon game.
As I wiped the last of the birthday cake from the corner of my mouth, I said my goodbyes and walked past the clutch of people standing outside, and I remembered being in a meeting recently where someone said they could hardly bring themselves to mention “the R word” because they were so tired of hearing it. It occurred to me that no one had said the R word today – they didn’t really need to.