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Norfolk detox offers addicts a route to freedom 

After developing outreach to rough sleepers from St Stephen’s, Clare Melia is now pioneering the only Christian detox centre in Norfolk open to both men and women. 

In a lovely 4-bed house just outside Norwich, inconspicuously blending into the community, men and women are breaking their addiction to drugs and alcohol. It is the dream child of Clare Melia from St Stephen’s Church in Norwich, who spent years qualifying, learning and planning before opening the home in April 2021.


Clare grew up in rural Norfolk and before reaching A levels stepped off the educational conveyer belt to get a job in a factory, sorting parsnips and celery. After moving to Norwich, however, she discovered that she had a gift for numbers and with the encouragement of benevolent employers was able to study bookkeeping and then accountancy, qualifying after eight years of part-time study.


She had not grown up with any faith so was alarmed when her father – then aged 58 –became a Christian through an Alpha Course at the Fountain of Life Church in Ashill. Wanting to understand how they had managed to brainwash him, she signed up herself. After ten weeks came a day on the Holy Spirit, whom she had never heard of. But when the invitation came for her to hold out her hands, she thought, “I’ll give it a go.” She had “a physical encounter which led to a complete change of mindset,” and was baptised at Ashill. 


Meanwhile she had got a job with Yarmouth Children’s Services, working with youngsters who were disturbed and angry with life. For the first time, she asked God what He wanted her to do with her life and she heard one word: ‘Housing.’ It made no sense at the time. She typed ‘housing Norwich’ into google and the first thing which came up was an advertisement for an administration job with the St Martin’s Housing Trust. 


Clare did not get the job. Six months later, however, St Martin’s rang her out of the blue and said they realised they needed a finance person, not an administrator. It was an amazing opportunity to meet clients and learn about the housing system and funding for homelessness. 


Clare had been worshipping at St Stephen’s in Norwich, and an administration job came up there which fitted in with dropping off her son Dylan at school. Administration gradually morphed into supporting people in the St Stephen’s café, which at the time was offering free meals to anyone in need – not just the homeless, but also single mothers, immigrants needing documentation, elderly people needing care and anybody down on their luck. With Clare’s input, the church eventually introduced a voucher system, built relationships with probation and housing services, and became a reference point for providers and beneficiaries alike. In 2018 Clare was officially appointed part-time community worker for the church. 


Working with rough sleepers, Clare realised that there was one thing which did not add up: 92% of them had an addition, and there was no residential facility in Norwich open to men where they could tackle it head-on. Lots of people were being housed with addictions, and several charities were open to people who had been clean for six months. But for men determined to get off the streets and at the same time off drugs, there was a gaping hole in provision. 


Clare started driving these men to detox units in London, Birmingham and even Newcastle, but found that they would go into withdrawal symptoms in the car. So she founded a Community Interest Company and with the help of volunteers started doing detox without her own property, sometimes using a B&B. After three years the opportunity came for her to rent a house from the Christian charity Green Pastures, and the REST detox centre was born. Although residents do not need to have faith, the home is overtly Christian, with daily worship, Bible reading and shared meals. 


New arrivals are offered a choice of three routes: coming off drugs with no medication but lots of prayer, a three-week exit with drugs to ease withdrawal symptoms, or prescription of methadone or Subutex with a gradually reduced dose. For alcohol detoxes a doctor is on hand to prescribe should withdrawal symptoms become a concern. 


REST has already chalked up some successes in the tug-of-war against addictions. Two individuals have come off crack and heroin. On one occasion residents, feeling the pull of their old drug companions in the city, were on the bus to Norwich when they made to call to the home, asking for someone to bring them back. One man has learned how to cook omelettes, grow tomatoes and flowers, do his washing and look after a puppy.  


One day a woman who had not eaten for days came into St Stephens asking for help. She had been on drugs for 25 years since the age of 14. Clare took her on, got her clean in three weeks, and REST became a mixed house. 


When the government’s Covid funding for rough sleepers came to an end, 19 east Europeans who were not eligible for council funding found themselves back on the streets of Norwich. REST took one of them in and covered his costs until he was able to get a job at Bernard Matthews and a private rental.


To be viable, the house needs to aim at full occupancy, a hard target to hit when people with a background in addictions are so unpredictable. For someone with a big heart like Clare, making the books balance is a big challenge when there is so much unmet need which the fledging charity could respond to. So she is always grateful for donations.


REST is also looking for new volunteers. Currently the team includes a doctor, mental health and general nurses and an art therapist, and new volunteers with skills and enthusiasm would be most welcome. If you are interested in either donating or volunteering, you can find out more on the REST website on www.restnorwich.org.


The charity is also looking for investors who could make a five-year commitment to help the charity buy its own property. To discuss this, you can contact Clare on [email protected].


Pictured above is Clare Melia. Below you can watch a video about St Stephen’s cafe and Clare’s work.


Eldred Willey, 29/03/2022

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