Addiction and recovery in East London

Graham MarshallThe times they are a changin’

As Spitalfields Crypt Trust (SCT) celebrates 50 years of helping people in recovery, CEO Graham Marshall looks back at the changing landscape of addiction and recovery in East London

When I was young I experimented with drugs and got into trouble. After spending a year in rehab, I started volunteering for SCT in the late ‘70s and have stayed ever since. My first job mainly involved giving sandwiches and clothing to homeless callers at the crypt, and talking to them. It was run from Christ Church Spitalfields, and we provided a supportive environment and an increasingly challenging programme for about 18 men with alcohol problems who came in straight from the streets or the local detox in Whitechapel.

The crypt was once a ‘dry house’ for homeless alcoholic men. In the early days, these were the most hardcore drinkers around. Cider, wine, methylated and surgical spirits were the most common drinks then, and in that order. This was back when Spitalfields was a big fruit and veg market, with countless places or derelict building sites where people could sleep, called ‘derries’ and ‘skippers.’

We moved our residential programme to Shoreditch where we now support 16 men, recovering from their addiction in a much more intense way than we ever could back when I started.

Back in the days of the crypt, we realised that just keeping the men warm and dry was not enough and many of them had very basic living skills. They might know how to get by on the streets, but they did not know how to ‘do life’ – find a job, a home and cook a meal for themselves. There was no aftercare. They got sober, but didn’t have a recovery programme. So we set one up, drawing heavily on the 12-step programme.

We run a personal development and training centre, and three social enterprises where individuals can learn the skills of working with people and gain experience that will give them a chance of finding a job. Much of our work is supported by our own fundraising efforts and charity shops.

I still love my work – I see positive change. It’s about people coming off dependency and recovering their sobriety, and learning to love life, themselves and others.

Graham Marshall is CEO of Spitalfields Crypt Trust.