In August of this year, Newcastle City Council began to develop the Fenham Library into a rehabilitation centre for people with drug and alcohol addictions. The work was due to be finished around the end of October, nevertheless, many residents are still expressing their disapproval of the scheme.
The Fenham Library was built in 1938 and is located just up the road from St Mary’s College, a hall of residence for first-years Newcastle University. National Funding of £338,000 was secured by Public Health England in to develop rehabilitation hubs. Newcastle City Council are using this funding to create “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”
The development includes private consultation pods, a gym and a new café as well as a counselling service. It has been stressed that it will not include services such as prescription distribution or a needle exchange.
Since the scheme was announced, many residents have reacted with fear and concern, arguing that the facility should not be located where there are “so many children and families around”.
Additionally, people have expressed worries that the addition will be bad for business, and that people will be in the neighbourhood will be “drinking outside” and “using drugs”.
Councellor Kim McGuiness have responded stressing the importance of the centre and arguing that the fears are based on the “misconceptions” many people have of people who struggle with addiction.
Despite this, a petition to stop the development has obtained nearly two-thousand signatures and Newcastle Central Labour MP Chi Onwurah has been asked to put an end to the developments. While Newcastle City Council have ensured her that the centre will not be “a magnet for drug users”, she also agrees with residents that they should have been consulted after receiving all the information.
Newcastle University student Ashleigh Mclean, President of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy society, believes that the council are taking a step in the right direction. “It is great news that the council are putting resources forward for people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It is very important that people going through this journey are supported, and the (centre) in Fenham Library can really help to do this.
“Addicts come from all walks of life and addiction can happen to anyone. The fear that some Fenham residences are expressing is understandable (as) the media portrayed any addict as a villain, but they are normal people who have a right to good health as much as the next person.”
It could certainly be argued that the party culture at university, in Newcastle especially, makes these services all the more necessary. NUSU’s Welfare and Equality Officer Jack Green is of this opinion, believing that the existence of rehabilitation centres in Newcastle are important for students. In response to the outcry by Fenham residents, he said:
“We need to stop believing that people in recovery are dangerous. The danger would be isolating a vulnerable group of people from essential healthcare.
“Many students don’t own cars, so having local provisions is a lot more practical for students who may need to use the service.”