January 17, 2024

Tayside Council on Alcohol: Safe Zone

TCA works alongside people, families and communities to mitigate the impact of substance use, gambling, offending and other risky or harmful behaviours. Underpinning this is a drive to challenge stigma, inequality, discrimination and marginalisation coupled with a belief that recovery is possible for everyone.

Initiated in 2015, the Safe Zone project supported emergency services with the effects of certain behaviours linked to Dundee’s night-time economy.

Assisting those adversely affected by alcohol and other substances, Safe Zone originally operated on Friday and Saturday nights within a city centre location.   At that time, a minibus supported a larger bus, which remained static throughout the shift. The project was linked via radio to various pubs and clubs around the city centre, allowing clients to be transported by minibus to the main bus for additional help.  Regular ‘sweeps’ of the city centre also enabled communication with Tayside Police if ‘hot spots’ were identified. The main aim was to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those enjoying the night-time economy and to offer a safe space for vulnerable individuals during the evening and nighttime.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the city centre’s pubs and nightclubs closed due to lockdown. However, the lockdown also closed many other community resources, leaving some of the city’s most vulnerable individuals without the support they needed.

In response, Safe Zone worked with several statutory and third sector social care providers to react to this need, providing a multi-agency mobile support hub targeting the city's key areas.

Following this initial deployment, a clear ongoing need was identified, and the bus is now based at Court Street in Stobswell from 6-8.30pm on Friday evenings and outside Farmfoods in Lochee on Saturday evenings, with both locations well-attended by clients with a range of support needs.

Teodor Omelasz, TCA Innovation and Development Manager at Tayside Council on Alcohol said, “As more people felt the impact of food and fuel poverty and the knock-on effect of isolation during Covid, the number of people coming to the bus has increased. Most come for a hot drink, food and takeaway food parcel. We have also been able to source sanitary products and some clothing items.

“As well as the practical support on the night, we regularly signpost clients to other services or refer them to Safe Zone’s Recovery Worker, who will contact and arrange to meet the client and help with their individual needs. This has been very successful as everyone’s needs vary and this ‘one-stop’ service has shortened the time the client may otherwise take to access that support.

“Of course, as more people rely on the bus, especially for a small food parcel, the demand for funding has grown.  Most of our food was sourced from FareShare. However, they are also experiencing a reduction in supplies and, therefore, Safe Zone has had to purchase increased stocks to meet the current demand.”

As is often the case, particularly across the third sector, Safe Zone has been funded by a series of fixed term grants. The changes to everyday life brought about by the response to the pandemic, which remained in place longer than anyone initially anticipated, negated the need for a return to the night-time provision. However, the need for an out-of-hours outreach service, connecting with those most marginalised due to challenges around substance use, mental health and poverty, was starkly apparent.

The team recognised the need to do more than offer crisis support. They approached the NHS Tayside Charitable Foundation to expand the service by offering a bridge into key health, social care, housing and welfare services via a community-based peer mentor post. TCA worked with the NHS Charitable Foundation and the Dundee Alcohol and Drug Partnership to form a partnership funding arrangement. This supported a model which retained the volunteer-based mobile outreach provision and enabled scope for follow-up mentoring designed to support engagement with the helping services needed to break the cycle of repeated crises.

Carole Bailey, the Safe Zone Coordinator, recently received a donation of £20 from a previous service user.

She said, “He wanted to make this donation to say thanks for help received from staff on the bus and the support of the Recovery Worker. He told us he had been able to sort out his housing issues, clear his fuel debts and now has full-time employment”.

The individual said, “The support given by the staff on the bus who always had time for me, a hot drink and food made me realise my life was worth getting back together”.

Funded to the tune of £20,000 by the NHS Tayside Charitable Foundation, Safe Zone maintains a consistent presence in two areas of Dundee and supports a growing number of people.

Teodor continued, “We are now reaching many people who would otherwise not be able to access services for various reasons. Some are unaware that help is out there and others struggle to access them due to their chaotic lifestyles.  Without the support of the team on the bus, many of our service users would have very little contact with the outside world. Many feel stigmatised when asking for help from agencies themselves and would not interact with them on their own.

“The funding has also allowed us to be more visible with the project now represented on several recovery committees and community forums. The bus has also been present at various city centre events, including Radio One’s Big Weekend, and recently supported NHS Tayside in Perth and Dundee on World Aids Day for HIV screening.”

One of Safe Zone’s clients is ‘Gary’.

‘Gary’ lost his home when he separated from a partner, was a regular heroin user and had been involved with the police. He comes to the bus for help with signposting to local services such as food larders and men’s mental health groups and also collects a food parcel.

‘Gary’ said, “Due to debt on my electricity meter, I wouldn’t be able to eat every day if it wasn’t for the support from the bus. I’ve also been given a warm jacket I couldn’t afford to buy myself. I see a support worker who helps me when I need it.”

With his lifestyle becoming more stable, ‘Gary’ is now on a methadone programme and has secured a tenancy. He is also actively seeking employment and has re-engaged with family members he had lost touch with when using drugs.

The Future

Looking to the future, Tayside Council on Alcohol hopes that Safe Zone can be rolled out to other areas and provide a greater presence at city centre events. Links have also been made with other agencies such as Hope Point, DDARS, recovery groups, street workers’ groups and local community forums, all of which are keen for the project to be available in their areas. To enable this expansion, the organisation will be required to recruit more volunteers and train team leaders and bus drivers. All staff have been offered mental health first aid training and most have completed training to administer Naloxone. The project coordinator can now dispense Naloxone from the bus, with more training planned for the months ahead.


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