Reconnection in Place of Disconnection

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 20/05/2019 [Online], Available:  [Accessed: 2019, May 21]

Gjen the Reconnection Project7

It is 10 years since I first met Dave (pictured left) when he appeared at the door of Dundee Foodbank. As a result of long-term substance misuse he had lost his job, his home, his wife – everything. He looked worn out and arrived having just spent his last pound on a premium rate number to secure, what was then, a crisis loan he never received. Dave, 52, was homeless and battling depression so, a decade on, it was fitting we should be reminiscing together during Mental Health Awareness Week.

The Dave I know is a transformed man. Over the last ten years, he has helped set up various community gardens across Dundee including the Giving Garden opened in Menzieshill by former Lord Provost, Bob Duncan, in 2013. Dave also has a successful painting and decorating firm but his main passion is the Reconnection Project, based at the Friary on Tullideph Road. The project, which secured charitable status in 2015, reconnects the disconnected and also helps people into education and employment.

One such individual was Robert (pictured right), 56, who was running his own business in Wolverhampton but hit a low point culminating in a relationship breakdown which, he said, tipped him over the edge. He left everything behind and walked hundreds of miles for over two and a half years, before being picked up by Police in Arbroath. Robert often slept in wooded areas, caught rabbits to feed himself and would wake up during the winter covered in frost.

Robert added that there were times he would go four and five days without food and said: “My body felt like it began to cannibalise itself.” Now, Robert says he is in a better place than ever before and has returned to his passion for painting. Alongside Reconnection, he leads people through the creative experience in a relaxed environment. One lady in his group started painting at 85 years old and sends pictures to her son in New Zealand.

According to Dave, Dundee is not winning the war on drugs. He shared about one person who came to the project having been on methadone for 30 years and reduced only once from 100 to 95 millilitres. And working with people experiencing substance misuse means Dave has seen some lose their life in the fight against drugs and said his faith is crucial in sustaining him through tough times. His long-term vision is to open a rehabilitation centre in Dundee to help people make the breakthrough.

Dave also emphasises the coalition of partnerships that make Reconnection work. The support from City Church, Crossreach and others has been vital and it is at the Friary that the recovery emphasis was discovered. Terms like society and community are used inter-changeably but Dave believes they are different: “Community is about relationships and, if you have communities within society, then people can flourish.”

While having lunch with the team at the Reconnection Project last week, I also met Derek who, until recently, would have described himself as a hermit. Having had an active childhood Derek, 31, was hit by a car in 2001. The accident shattered his leg and his confidence. As a result of being unable to walk, he stayed indoors for many years which led to depression and severe anxiety, making it harder to leave his house.

Derek’s friend Robbie, who sadly passed away, was responsible for dragging him out the house because he was so nervous. Being a part of the Reconnection Project has enabled Derek to read. Having started on books for a three to seven year old, he is currently reading The Tempest by Shakespeare. He talks about the support he has had and shows me a beautifully-varnished bench he built while learning woodwork.

When I ask about the support he mentioned, Derek said: “Robbie brought me here, Tina helped me read, Ross helped write a PIP form and, when my leg is bad, Dave gives me a lift.” In a colloquialism familiar only to those of us from Dundee, Derek puts it perfectly: “It’s a’ aboot community an’ ha’in’ ither fowk aroon’ ye.”