Catherine Musgrove spoke to a new community interest company hoping to raise the bar in rehabilitation care, and dispel myths about the sector.
"It all started in August 2020 - in the middle of a pandemic. Everyone thought I was crazy", said Dale Milne, 34, a father of two from Wesham.
Dale and his partner Karla Martin have spent the last 19 months spearheading Bright Start Recovery Homes, and in that time have set up 16 homes, with 52 residents who they are helping on the road to recovery from addiction and prison.
It's a far cry from where Dale was seven years ago, when he was practically a homeless drug addict who would often wash and eat at local soup kitchens.
With no hope and full of despair, he reached out to rehabilitation services as his last option.
It was a revelation. Within months he had kicked his addiction and was volunteering for the Manchester-based charity which has helped him.
After six months, he had taken up a paid placement with them, and then began wondering what he could do on his own. In August 2020, with the help of senior nurse Karla, he took the plunge, and in a twist of fate, has employed the rehabilitation nurse who put him on the road to recovery.
"I was in rehab, so I wanted to help people through the same journey as me", said Dale.
"Because I've been there, I have that passion in me.
"For me it's simple, you look after the tenants and they look after you."
“Show them you're not going to be any trouble"
Bright Start had seven houses in January 2021 and now has 16 throughout Preston and Chorley, with another in Burnley and plans to expand throughout the North West.
But it doesn't come without controversy. In December 2021, a petition was set up by residents of Brookfield in Preston, calling on the city council to block the opening of two of Dale's houses in the area.
Campaigners cited de-valuation of our properties and fears for our families safety".
Dale believes people do want to see the work of recovery homes, but it's "human nature" not to want them nearby.
"It's natural", he said, claiming fears are caused because of the reputation and experience of other service providers.
The Bright Start team are adamant they want to raise the standards.
Karla said: "I have that kind of personality where I want to offer the best. They deserve the best."
House renovations can cost up to £40,000 a time, and countless hours are devoted to making sure the best outcomes are achieved.
Talking about his clients, Dale said: "I've said to them, 'I can tell the neighbours aren't happy, so you need to show them you can do it. Show them you're not going to be any trouble.'
"I ask the neighbours to give us time. See where we are in two weeks, a month.
"So far we've not had any anti social behaviour complaints from any of our houses.
"I've had a neighbour ring me to tell me he still doesn't like it, but to also inform me on the welfare of one of our tenants. So he's gone from not being interested at all, to being actively against us, to communicating with us, helping us.
"It's all a process of settling in, for everyone".
Bright Start's typical tennant would be a long-term opiate addict (e.g codeine, heroin and morphine) who has exhausted all avenues and had previous tennanting problems.
Dale said: "The drugs would always come first, ahead of paying rent, paying bills, cleanliness.
"What happens is that people come out of prison, have no support and they go back to the places they know - their old abodes - and they go back to crime, and then back to prison. It's a cycle.
"So we work very closely with the prison service, taking referrals from them, and we are breaking the cycles."
To do this, they first start off with a "very strict" referral service, with nobody taken in who has convictions for arson or sexual offcences.
There is regular drug screening, cameras in communal areas, an on-call system, and staff work closely with the police, probation service, mental health providers, and other providers of recovery homes.
Dale said: "We do simple things like registering with a GP, relearning how to live with people, manners."
He added: "It's important that everybody has a safe place to call home, especially when they've had a lifetime of social deprivation.
"If a person wants to change, then society has to help them do it.
"We look at the whole person: their dietary needs, hygiene, social needs and mental health.
"We've had a lot of people with undiagnosed conditions such as ADHD, who we've managed to get help and a diagnosis, and it's made a big difference to them.
"But a GP won't see you for something like that until you're clean, because they don't know whether the substance is affecting your condition. So you need to have that safe place to stay, to get the help you need."
Where does it start?
Dale and his team believe a lot of the substance misuse they see is down to underlying trauma.
"It doesn't start with a needle in an arm", said Louise Ford, a Bright Start mental health nurse who specialises in drug and alcohol detox.
"A lot of people are masking their trauma with drugs and alcohol.
"You have to remember that these are people's sons and daughters.
"It's very easy for people to slip down a path of addiction and crime. It can start with even drinking too much after work to relieve stress."
Dale added: "Everybody in 2022 knows somebody struggling with addiction, whether they like it or not."
Such is the demand for services, Bright Start is averaging five referrals a day.
"There's a big gap in the market for what we're doing", said Karla.
"So many people want a sustained rehabilitation, but they've used their chances up."
With funding from the tenants housing benefits, those selected by Bright Start are put on a programme of recovery, which aims to see them settled in their own home after two years.
While the business isn't yet two yeats old, already after one year, the team have noticed that tenants are beginning to outgrow the service and want to move on.
If feel they can't provide the right help for someone, the team will redirect them to another provider who can, with the aim of having them back when they're ready. Having nurses on board with NHS corporate background experience helps in these cases.
Thirty-eight-year-old William from Chorley was one of Bright Start’s first tennants, and has now moved out into his own flat.
Addicted to Class A drugs since the age of 15, he says he “owes his life” to Dale Milne, after Dale persuaded him to leave a bedsit and take up an opportunity with Bright Start.
William said: “I was in a bad way when Dale bumped into me. He told me he wanted to get some weight on me, get me stable on my medications and get my life back together.”
William agreed, and said the way Bright Start run their homes has impacted on his recovery.
"It’s militant”, he said.
"I’ve been in places like that before, but with Bright Start, it’s different.
"I was really heavily detoxing when I went in and they’ve seen me on the camera acting badly. Dale was straight round telling me ‘Will, I can't keep catching you like this’.
"I really look up to him. He’s been round the block a few times and out the other side.
"He’s an ex-user, so you can’t fool him. He’s been there and done it himself.
"But he’s fair and he’s told me that if I ever stumble and fall, not to hesitate to ring him.”
William, who has a nine-year-old daughter, has been in prison several times throughout his adult life.
He said that coming off heroin was like waking up from a coma.
During the process of getting off drugs, Bright Start has also helped him clear his debts, apply to take new qualifications, and has provided him with a reference for his own flat.
He said: “Bright Start has helped me get clean and have a much clearer understanding of the world.
"Recovery homes are a great thing, Dale and his team have taken me from the verge of death. But you've got to want it.”