Founded in 1968 by my father Rev Eric Blakebrough, Kaleidoscope’s name comes from the idea of making beautiful patterns from a diversity of people. Kaleidoscope grew from the acorn of a nightclub in the late 1960s that was used as a vehicle for community outreach – the club responded to the needs of those who came through its doors, including around drug use and, in particular, heroin. From the outset Kaleidoscope’s focus was very much about harm reduction and it pioneered needle and syringe exchange and substitute medication.
Kaleidoscope’s innovative approaches led Newport City Council, the police and the health board to ask Kaleidoscope to set up a service in the city, supporting residents throughout Gwent. The offer was made with no buildings or staff, and with the key stipulation that Kaleidoscope would treat 100 people in the first three months.
When Newport made their proposal, it was clear that Kaleidoscope could not simply be a London organisation providing services in Wales – there was a need to become Welsh. So in 2003, following a five-year apprenticeship with my sister Adele, who ran the organisation after our father’s retirement in 1993 – I relocated the head office to Wales.
The first tasks, documented by the BBC, were recruiting a team to establish services in Newport and securing a building. Kaleidoscope set up the services in St Pauls Church, Newport – the congregation and church were incredibly supportive of our work. Some of those initially recruited are still with Kaleidoscope today, including Veronica Snowball, Paul Perry and Sian Chicken.
The need for our help was clear and many who came through our doors had waited for years to get into treatment. What was particularly special was how grateful people were – it was amazing how service users were towards staff, with real patience shown to us.
The support of other local agencies helping people with drug and alcohol issues was great including from Drugaid (now Barod) and GAP (Gwent Alcohol Project). The collaborative approach had been missing in England, and it was inspiring to see how agencies worked together. This partnership approach led to us establishing Drug and Alcohol Charities Wales (DACW), now renamed Developing a Caring Wales. Critically, services were no longer in competition with one another.
Kaleidoscope soon ran out of space and after a few years of working with King’s Church in Newport we took over their building, an old primary school called Powells Place. This building is still the largest dispenser of substitute drugs in Wales. Need then drew us to expand into the Salvation Army Citadel in Tredegar. Initially there was real community hostility, but once they understood what we were doing – notably helping people in their own families and communities – we found we’d moved to an amazingly supportive environment.
There were difficult days. We initially had a problematic relationship with the statutory NHS service but through partnership working the relationship has gone from strength to strength. Then, and after five years of success, a tender process was put in place and despite exceeding all our targets we lost our Gwent contract. Newport City Council didn’t accept the decision and decided to leave the Gwent consortia, contracting all its services to Kaleidoscope. We only survived because of some real champions and the initial shock turned out to be a blessing as we became contracted to not only treat people medically, but to support care planning.
We continued to recruit amazing staff and won a wide range of contracts across Wales. The Powys and North Wales services are run in partnership with CAIS (now Adferiad) and, together with Barod, they’re our two most important partners in Wales. Powys is the most complete service as it is both treatment and social support – an innovative and dynamic community service, as well as a criminal justice service. In North Wales we are linked with the North Wales police and crime commissioners, which has been vital in making sure those in the criminal justice system are properly supported.
In Kaleidoscope’s early days we existed despite the police. We avoided criminal justice contracts but were approached in 2005 to set up a DTTO and prescribe to people in the criminal justice system. This was a very difficult decision to make, as we were rooted in community services where people chose to use us. Nevertheless, we were persuaded to work in this strange environment, and by doing so we have come across many inspiring people who have been the biggest champions of change.
We’ve worked together in Wales with third sector agencies with a focus on making real change for some very vulnerable people – most notably, in South Wales through Dyfodol and in Gwent, where we work with G4S and Barod.
Kaleidoscope’s belief is that supporting people with drug and alcohol issues must be about positive futures, not just treatment. The establishment of our peer ‘out of work’ service allowed us to do this. Today this is funded by the Welsh Government, but for most of its 15-year existence it was funded by the EU. The service helps people to gain confidence, training and experience, creating pathways to employment.
As Kaleidoscope plans the next chapter co-production is a cornerstone of our plans. The Kaleidoscope board has committed £100,000 per year from investments to develop a team with lived experience to ensure we not only listen to people who take drugs, but that they are shaping our services. We want to amplify the voices of people who use drugs, and this investment is the next step in our co-production journey. This fresh focus will also see the creation of a shadow board comprising peers.
We always seek to work on an evidenced-based approach, and this drives our innovations. Thus, we’ve always gathered evidence to inform policy. The Senedd Cross-Party Group on Substance Use and Addiction, chaired by Peredur Owen-Griffiths MS, drives an ongoing debate on policy which we facilitate, while the Welsh Council (WCAD) – led by Professor Wulf Livingston and supported by Kaleidoscope – is another way of ensuring research continues to guide the future in Wales.
Find out more at: kaleidoscope68.org
Partnership working – the DDN Conference 2023: Cranstoun’s Worcestershire service’s peer-led naloxone team, PACKS – ‘peer-assisted community knowledge and support’.
Nitazines – harm reduction information: Release, alongside EuroNPUD and other drug treatment service colleagues in the UK, have produced harm reduction advice on nitazenes.
The Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw: The challenges of mainstreaming tobacco harm reduction.
Looking to work in harm reduction? See DDN jobs for the latest vacancies for harm reduction working