The rate of deaths directly caused by alcohol is 55% higher in Greater Manchester than the national average.
Local people are now aiming to change those shocking statistics by challenging their families, friends and communities’ attitudes toward alcohol – while also helping the worst effected to improve their lives and consider the impact drinking has on them, their health and those around them.
Communities in Charge of Alcohol was launched in autumn 2017 and is currently building a network of Community Alcohol Champions across the region – who are trained to help people close to them rethink their drinking habits.
The champions have been providing an expert perspective on how alcohol affects them and their neighbourhoods – showing once again that the people who live in a community know what’s best for their area.
Salford resident James Carter has spoken about his own issues with alcohol and how the support he received, in part from Salford Healthy Communities, inspired him to become a Community Alcohol Champion.
Having struggled with alcohol addiction for 15 years, James Carter, 41 from Salford, had a health scare that made him take a long hard look at his behaviour and decide he needed to turn his life around.
Four years on and James is now sharing his experience with others, helping them to make the difficult journey he has already travelled by volunteering at the Achieve Salford Recovery Centre.
James is frank about his story, “I started drinking with friends in the 90s, it was just a bit of fun and it didn’t seem a problem – but it became every day. By the end I was drinking hand wash in hospitals and sleeping on the street.
“I started finding it easier to be on my own. I never thought alcohol was the problem, I thought it was everyone else.
“My behaviour got me banned from Salford for three years, which was one of the worst times of my life – I couldn’t see anyone, not even my family.
“Then, I had an internal bleed, I woke up two days later in Salford Hospital and could feel myself dying”.
This moment proved to be an epiphany for James, “I thought I’m not going to drink anymore. The first year was really hard, I didn’t seek the help I needed.
“I stayed at my Mam’s, I didn’t know where my head was at. I was paranoid and couldn’t face people I had known before I stopped drinking – even though I now know they would’ve been on my side.
“Then I went to Achieve. I wasn’t ready to face groups of people at first, they understood that and I had lots of one-to-one sessions to begin with.
“It was a slow process, I was fighting a battle and just hoped I could make it through.”
And unexpectedly James discovered pottery after his mentor at Achieve suggested he needed to find something to occupy himself, “I spent hours spinning that wheel, it gave me something else to concentrate on”.
Since then James has gone on to become a community health champion in Salford, volunteering to help others facing similar problems, “after I received so much help I thought I want to use the knowledge I’ve got to give something back”.
He now volunteers with the service three days a week, mentoring and taking part in sessions – using his own experience to help guide others.
James said, “I understand, I can see the potential in people. I know what worked for me and I know what it’s like to drink ten bottles of beer in the morning.
“It’s a perspective that training on its own can’t give and I’ve found it’s easier for people to open up to someone who’s been through the same thing”.
During his time with Achieve, James has gained new skills, taking courses about safeguarding and substance misuse. He’s now looking to become an alcohol outreach worker and has recently had his first ever job interview.
Talking about his new life James said, “I’m a late bloomer, I’m learning things I never thought I would.”
James’ efforts have seen him nominated for a Heart of Salford award and made a huge difference to his relationship with his six sons, aged 8-22, James said, “they are proud of me now, I couldn’t have said that before”.
Greater Manchester now boasts 100 Alcohol Champions and their numbers are continuing to grow.
The programme is open to everyone, it’s not necessary to have experienced alcohol dependency or harmful drinking. All a potential volunteer needs is a desire to help improve their community.
Communities in Charge of Alcohol is an innovative partnership between us, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, all ten Greater Manchester councils, the Royal Society for Public Health, the University of Salford and Public Health England North West.
We’re currently asking all Greater Manchester residents for their view on alcohol and how it affects both them and their communities by holding The Big Alcohol Conversation.
If you would like to share your opinion or simply want to find out more visit: www.thebigalcoholconversation.org