Linda Kelly is a woman who loves her job.
As project co-ordinator with locally based group HURT Linda says she has seen first hand how lives can be changed once people get that first foot through the door.
But if someone had told Linda 15 years ago that she’d go back into full time education, secure a place on a doctorate course and become qualified in acupuncture, she’d probably have laughed in their face.
“I was someone who rediscovered education,” said Linda.
“I left school when I was 15 with no education. I had my four children really early and when my youngest child went into P1 I rediscovered education through another ordinary woman in Creggan who explained to me she was going to do an access course.”
The Creggan Parent and Training Trust helped Linda on her way by helping her with her GCSE English. She also trained to be a Samaritan.
“That started me on the road,” she said. “I went to the Tech and started studying and I’m still studying now.”
Linda said when she secured a place on a doctorate course in the London she walked into a bank in town and laid her case out to a sympathetic bank manager who agreed to loan her £9,000 for the course fees.
“I remember walking out, checking my balance seeing the £9,000 in my account,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
HURT was one of the clinical placements that Linda took on for her doctorate.
She trained up in acupuncture with the charity’s founder Sadie O’Reilly, before securing a full time post as a project coordinator when the Big Lottery supported HURT with funding.
“As a project worker I work with clients who are affected or impacted negatively by substance abuse,” she said. “We don’t ever get anyone in here who is having a good time with drugs or alcohol.
“A big part of my work is on the empowering young people programme where we go into schools and talk to young people about the impact of drugs and alcohol on young people, the family and the community.
“It’s important to educate young people but to do it in an age appropriate way. Telling them this is not normal and your life doesn’t have to take this path.”
Referrals to HURT come from across the board.
“We have a lot of self referrals, referrals from social workers and often the judicial system. Judges will recommend that young people do a drug and alcohol programme and very often they are sent down to HURT as part of their probation.
“I learned very quickly that drugs and alcohol don’t know any barriers, that might sound very cliched in a sense, but it is very true.
“We see clients which include most successful people in our town right down to the ordinary man and woman on the street.
“I have worked with grannies who have come in the front door, distraught about their grand wanes and I have sat with a bewildered business man who wondered how he lost his wife and wanes and his car over a legal high.
“The hardest step for anyone is to make that first contact and when you do, the receptionists here are very knowledgeable and friendly.
“When people come in here there’s a listening ear service where they are told what the programme entails and they can make the decision whether this is the right programme.
“It’s a 15 week programme and during the first two weeks they have regular acupuncture sessions. Then we introduce complementary therapies such as reflexology and massage. Throughout all that time staff are very flexible if someone needs to talk, we are all trained in listening ear, There’s a flexibility to how we work.
“With the treatments it all works as a package, some people tell us they don’t want the therapies, just the counselling.
“But we always say, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in your life, if drugs and alcohol are there that’s another complexity on top of that, it actually skews things in all sorts of different directions for people.
“The complementary therapies centre people, they keep you calm , you’ve carried whatever you are bringing to HURT for maybe a lifetime, the therapies help get people to a place where they are ready to start talking and it will make sense for them.”
Linda said that alcohol is the most prevalent drug in our society.
“But it’s the one people don’t think is a drug,” she said. “Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it safe.
“We need to educate people to make accurate choices.
“It’s about changing attitudes towards alcohol and drugs. It’s about saying it is ok to have a glass of water in between drinks, it is ok to say no, it is ok to give yourself 48 hour break.”
But the most important thing for Linda is that at HURT they don’t judge people.
“We are no better or worse that anyone who comes through the door, said Linda.
“Very few people can saw they haven’t been touched by drugs or alcohol, if they haven’t they are the lucky ones.
You can contact the charity HURT at 14 Clarendon Street or by ringing 71369696 or hurtni.org.uk/