By Heather Saul
Original Source: inews.co.uk
Mornings are a simple affair for Chantelle. After waking up, she heads downstairs to the communal kitchen of the complex she lives in and puts the kettle on. If the weather is nice she’ll sit at the garden table with a coffee and read through her prayers. After a chaotic childhood marked by abuse and addiction, Chantelle, 22, finally has some peace. She lives in Amy’s Place, the co-housing community in east London built in Amy Winehouse’s memory. It’s the only recovery house in the UK dedicated to helping women under 30 who have experienced addiction.
Amy’s Place bridges the gap between rehabilitation and completely independent living. It was set up by the Amy Winehouse Foundation, a charity established by the Winehouse family in 2011. Amy’s Place opened in August 2016 – five years after the acclaimed singer’s sudden death from accidental alcohol poisoning, aged 27. Chantelle arrived at Amy’s Place a year ago after a stint in an intensive rehab programme. She has finished a 12-step programme and prays regularly. “If I’m having a bad day, that means I haven’t connected to my book,” she says, tapping it. “My higher power is God.”
Rehab taught her to how to be productive, structure her day and respect those around her. “It was things like getting out of bed at a certain time, motivating yourself – things I rebelled against before. “Back in active addiction I was really disrespectful and angry. I spoke to people like shit. I needed that.” Chantelle’s favourite drugs were cannabis and cocaine, although she also sometimes used ketamine and speed. She had her first drink aged 14 while she was in care. After her sixteenth birthday, she moved back in with an alcoholic parent. “I thought that had changed, but nothing had.”
Chantelle came from a rehab facility in Preston to live in Amy’s Place and had dreamed of living in a big city. When she arrived to be assessed for a place, Amy Winehouse’s stepmother Jane Winehouse was outside the front giving interviews to the media. It made her realise this was a unique place, and it made her excited. “This house gave me a good sense – the sense that I belong here.” From that moment, she desperately hoped she would be offered a flat. “I grew up around addicts. Seeing the life they led […] it’s given me more fight inside to go no – I’m not going back to that shit. At times I’d get using thoughts and look at a bottle of wine and think I’ve got to pick it up. But no, not a chance.”
Alice, another resident, discovered drugs are a big part of culture when you’re a young person finding your feet in the rave scene. Alice, 26, has also experienced trauma at various points in her life and she was curious about how they would make her feel. “On an intellectual level, I found it really interesting to experiment with my brain and my body and see what each drug would do.” Initially, she set boundaries, smoking weed and drinking but no class A drugs. Then she began using MDMA regularly. “I ruined my ability to enjoy that drug,” she says. “Then I started taking speed all the time.” Eventually, she found ketamine. “I really enjoyed being part of rave culture and the party scene that we have in this country, but unfortunately I just didn’t know when to stop.”
Alice remembers a psychiatrist pointing out how she would snort drugs on the floor of a warehouse, but wouldn’t let a doctor who has trained her whole life to prescribe her medication. Then one day, she knew she had had enough. “I just woke up and went – yeah, it’s over I guess. It’s done.” Alice has also lived in Amy’s Place for nearly a year and stays in contact with friends who use drugs recreationally. Dancing and soaking up the atmosphere is enough for her now – these scenarios no longer pose a challenge. “I’m 26 years old, I love festivals and parties – nothing has changed,” she says. “The scenarios that are a problem for me are when something bad happens. Still, my immediate thought is: I wish I could just take this horrible feeling away.”
There are 12 self-contained flats at Amy’s Place. On the ground floor sits a communal kitchen and a living room; a framed portrait of Amy hangs on the wall and plants decorate window sills. Kitchen tables are pushed to the side every Friday for yoga and meditation and then pulled back together for group meetings. A timetable lists communal meetings and massage and reiki sessions. Someone comes in each week for relapse prevention sessions and women can access support with a holistic focus on health and personal development. This includes counselling, lessons on how to budget and cooking classes. Residents can live in flats for up to two years and come and go as they please. They do have to engage in activities outside of the house such as education or volunteering.
How Amy’s Place works:
Women living through addiction have often experienced physical or mental abuse, trauma or coercive relationships. Amy’s Place is a women only recovery house to support the complex needs its residents present. Alice has had some “terrible” relationships with men. “I don’t know how I found these guys but they were really awful. I’ve been in some quite physically abusive situations. I experienced sexual abuse from dealers and stuff like that which has been really difficult to deal with,” she says. Eytan Alexander, founder of UK Addiction Treatment Centres, said the organisation has seen a 25 per cent rise in the number of women being admitted for treatment for addiction so far this year compared to 2016, while spending on drug and alcohol support services across England has been cut dramatically. “It’s not about women needing a different treatment service to men,” she says. “It’s about women being confident and comfortable enough to admit they have a problem and then being able to be looked after in a way that works for them, taking into account things like childcare and careers. We must provide better education on the dangers of drug addiction as well as help those who are dependent to recover but ultimately, cutting budgets by £100million annually is a huge threat to that.” A different future
Chantelle and Alice are among the first women to live in a house born out of Amy Winehouse’s legacy. A year in, thoughts look to the future they once never dared believe they would have. ‘I wanna give to society what society has been giving to me’ – Chantelle
Alice has deferred her studies until next year after a tough few months. “Before I started recovery I worked as a circus performer and I really miss that,” she says, “so I’ve been spending this time that I’m not at school to put a lot more of my energy into that and improving the skills that I have.” Chantelle was studying for a beauty qualification, but it soon became apparent this was not the vocation for her. “I thought – I can’t pluck eyebrows,” she laughs. “I can’t even do nails!” Now she has her sights set firmly on the political sphere and wants to become a voice for other vulnerable women. “I went to a meeting the other day, and I shared in. A lady who is a foster parent said, ‘Chantelle – you should be going into politics. That’s where your voice needs to be. You can help society.’ It made me think – I wanna give to society what society has been giving to me.”
Continue Reading: inews/amywinehouselegacy