‘Baytrees helped save my life and it needs to stay’

Sheila Walsh
Sheila Walsh
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It’s a place that helped Sheila Walsh realise her dream and turn her life around.

Before finding Baytrees, the 55-year-old was trapped in an endless cycle of being a victim of domestic abuse and turning to alcohol to escape.

But two weeks in detox facility Baytrees – run by Solent NHS Trust on the grounds of St James’ Hospital, in Locksway Road, Milton – helped her make changes which helped save her life and gave her a purpose.

Today Sheila shares her story to show support is there and why it’s important Baytrees remains.

Sheila works at Baytrees as a healthcare support worker, and helps others with their recovery.

It’s something Sheila, of Leigh Park, is familiar with as she took part in a similar journey to fight her alcohol addiction.

She says: ‘I came here to detox from alcohol – I had a severe problem.

‘I was at death’s door when I arrived here.

‘February 11, 2009, will be a date in my life I will never forget.

‘My organs were failing me and I was shutting down, but that date changed it all and I was given help to save my life.’

Sheila spent two weeks at Baytrees where she was given the help, support and structure to make changes in her life for the better.

She adds: ‘I got self-esteem and confidence that I could make changes and I could make a go of it.

‘I started to open up in the group sessions where we talked about ourselves and our experiences.

‘It was the first time I properly addressed my past and what I had dealt with.

‘I got counselling for the domestic abuse I suffered and also bereavement support as there were a lot of deaths in the family and I had never got help for that.’

A year after Sheila’s detox, she started to volunteer for Baytrees and would help with admissions and sit in support groups to provide peer support.

Then four years ago she became a member of staff and learnt skills such as resuscitation training, basic food hygiene and how to take blood pressure.

‘While I was a patient here two members of staff asked me what I would like to do, and I said I wanted to volunteer here so I could give something back,’ adds Sheila.

‘They said to me my dream can come true and it has because I was given the support and had determination to help myself.

‘I hadn’t worked in almost 10 years and was a 24/7 alcoholic.

‘I didn’t want that life, I wanted to be able to do what others were doing.

‘I wanted to be going to work and now that’s what I do.

‘The support I got from Baytrees was magical.

‘I have got my life back.’

Baytrees is battling for survival after it was delivered a financial blow at the start of the year.

Of the 23 beds Baytrees provides, 11 were block-bought by Hampshire County Council until the authority awarded a £41.2m contract for substance misuse services to a different organisation.

Now staff are reliant on funding from authorities which will rent beds as and when needed, meaning there is no steady income.

People can also self-refer and pay for their own treatment.

Karen Morris, the clinical manager of the service, says: ‘We see people blossom here.

‘One size does not fit all and we help people as individuals.

‘We see people who feel society doesn’t value them and that no-one believes in them.

‘But that’s the attitude we change by providing support and giving people skills they can take away with them.

‘So we have a patient action group which is run by and for our service-users.

‘There will be a chairman and someone who takes minutes – everyone will have a role.

‘We also offer people therapies to help them relax and again feel like they are worth something.’

Each day patients are woken up at 7am and structure is given to each day so a person is kept busy. There are also fixed meal times, but people are given budgets to buy things like washing powder so they can wash their clothes.

They can take part in classes have massages and yoga classes.

To find out more call (023) 9268 3370.

Richard’s story

ONE patient shares his story about why a service like Baytrees is so vital for people and the community.

Known as Richard, the 52-year-old has come from Bournemouth to get help.

He says: ‘I am addicted to alcohol and heroin.

‘I was referred to this centre because it’s the closest one as the one in Bournemouth closed down.

‘It’s brilliant here, the staff are fantastic.

‘They have a caring, professional attitude and they really understand what it’s like to deal with addiction.

‘One of the best things here is you are not left alone to feel sorry for yourself.

‘Your day is given structure and you’re encouraged to try different things.

‘All this helps to break the routine of sleeping in all day and then speaking to contacts to get the next hit.

‘You are given links to support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous.

‘Trying to get clean on your own is really, really hard.

‘Here you get help and you can ask for help.

‘There’s group sessions and you can also have one-to-one support.’

Richard also explains the benefits centres like Baytrees can provide the community.

He adds: ‘Money is really tight everywhere, but investing in places like this saves lives.

‘But it would have an impact on criminality and deterring people from that.’