Finding hope

DDN feature Hope Springs

Hope Springs Therapeutic Community is a tricky place to find, even if you do have the closely guarded address.

It’s located in the Mid West region of Western Australia, a five-hour drive north from Perth, the nearest major city. Out here, multigenerational wheat and cattle farms butt up against beautifully ragged Australian bushland, whipped by winds so strong that, in some parts, trees actually grow sideways.

To find Hope Springs, keep your eyes peeled for the unmarked red gravel track leading off the highway, head past the grove of native wattle trees on the left and when you pull up, watch out for Lainey and Nudge, the community’s two rescue dogs. That’s part of the appeal of this place. The only people who can find it are the ones that are meant to be here. That want to be here.

Hope Springs lake
Hope Springs is a sprawling property, which includes a picturesque lake where residents earn the privilege to spend time

Set on a sprawling 56-acre property, Hope Springs is a place of calm for those committed to their alcohol and other drug (AOD) recovery. It’s a 22-bed long-term residential rehabilitation facility, operated by not-for-profit organisation Hope Community Services (HOPE) and funded through a mix of state and federal government contracts.

The facility operates under the therapeutic community model of treatment as defined by the Australasian Therapeutic Community Association. That is, it is a facility in which the community itself, through self-help and mutual support is the principle means for promoting personal change. Both residents and staff participate in the management and operation of the community, contributing to a psychologically and physically safe learning environment.

‘A therapeutic community is a small representation – a microcosm – of the outside world,’ explains Mohammed Anwaar, Hope Springs Therapeutic Community manager. ‘It’s a place where people from all walks of life can come to work towards a common goal of AOD recovery.’

Resident housing
Resident housing

Daily life at Hope Springs is a highly structured programme of individual and group therapy sessions, daily work, fitness, recreation and creative pursuits. Moral reconation therapy (MRT) is the primary psychological approach used to guide residents through the stages of the therapeutic community.

Employed during therapy sessions, and backed up by workbooks, assignments and speeches to the community, MRT aims to support residents to develop moral reasoning, better decision-making skills and healthy connections to others. Through the process they are also encouraged to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals.

‘We encourage residents to set one SMART goal a week, and they really vary – not every goal is about staying sober,’ says Anwaar. ‘Some residents set financial goals, some want to work on anger management, others want to enrol in a course. Many want to reconnect to family.’

The Shadehouse where produce is grown to feed the community

Outside of therapy sessions, residents are kept busy. Each resident is assigned to one of the three areas – kitchen, housekeeping or horticulture (Hope Springs has its own shade house where vegetables are grown to feed the community). Residents are also expected to be involved in ad hoc property maintenance.

Art therapy, yoga, creative writing and karate are also on the schedule. There’s even a 16-week permaculture learning programme available. Coined by two Australian environmentalists in the 1970s, permaculture – or ‘permanent agriculture’ – is focused on building sustainable and lasting agricultural systems that work with nature.

Central to the practice of permaculture are the three key ethics of earth care, people care and fair share. Put another way, permaculture encourages people to ask three questions; How do my actions affect the earth? What effect do my actions have on myself and other people? Am I taking more than I need?

Permaculture aligns with the goals of the community – indeed one of the 12 design principles is around the use of slow solutions that lead to permanent fixes. Not only does the learning programme enable residents to develop practical horticultural skills, it encourages a deeper consideration of the ethics behind permaculture and how these can be applied in real life situations.

When they aren’t getting their hands dirty, residents can often be found in the big shed up the back. The big shed is in fact a fully equipped woodworking workshop where residents combine donated timber and fallen native tree branches to create some truly magnificent pieces of furniture. Residents recently spent six months designing and crafting a unique table that combined wood from a 120-year-old wool press with donated hardwood beams.

Facilities manager Harley Royce
Facilities manager Harley Royce works on a project inside the woodworking workshop

Facilities and maintenance coordinator Harley Royce considers the woodworking programme an integral learning opportunity for residents. ‘As well as the practical hands-on skills, woodworking promotes teamwork and encourages residents to develop patience, planning skills, maths skills, problem solving and mindfulness,’ he says.

Most residents will spend around eight months at Hope Springs, working through the TC programme. When they’re ready to leave, they can still access support through the Transitional Housing And Support Program (THASP), again run by HOPE.

Residents can move from Hope Springs into shared accommodation in the nearby regional centre of Geraldton, where they receive practical assistance. Building on the skills they learned at Hope Springs, THASP residents are supported as they learn financial literacy and independence, connect with essential support services (such as healthcare and housing agencies), access education and training, and find meaningful work.

THASP provides an essential final step on what is an almost complete AOD recovery pathway for Mid West residents. It’s the ‘almost’ that HOPE is currently advocating to rectify. At the start of any AOD recovery process comes the withdrawal or detox step. It’s often the hardest step to take, and one where many individuals could use the additional support of a detox service or facility.

For Mid West residents, that support does not exist nearby – the closest facility is more than 250 miles away, and waiting lists are more than two months. A regional consultation conducted by HOPE revealed just how dire the situation was.

‘We had reports of people detoxing in jail cells or going into the desert to detox by themselves,’ says HOPE CEO Merinda March. ‘Travelling to Perth is a huge undertaking, and once down there, people are separated from their family, community and any support networks they could turn to. In reality, the distance really is stopping people from even starting their AOD recovery journey.’

HOPE is finalising a business case for a medical withdrawal facility to be built in nearby Geraldton. It plans to put the case to the state government for consideration ahead of the coming state election.

‘We want to see that entire recovery pathway available here, from detox to rehabilitation at Hope Springs and through to THASP,’ says March. ‘It’s about giving people the best chance at a successful recovery.’

Shannon McKenzie is communications coordinator at Hope Community Services

Hope Springs James


‘I’ve always been a drinker. I’m 38 this year and I’ve had a drink most days of my life. For a long time I would wake up in the mornings with the shakes. I’m here now because I needed something to change. I want to reconnect with my family, with my son. I want to try a life of sobriety.

‘I’ve been here 14 weeks so far and it hasn’t taken me too long to get involved in the different programmes. I’ve learned a lot here, especially from the mindfulness and yoga programmes. Every aspect of the TC, and the different activities and programmes, it all helps in different ways. I’m learning different skills that I’m going to need when I’m back in the world, when I’m exposed to alcohol and other drugs.

‘I do worry that I’ll relapse. I really do. But I am learning about relapse prevention and understanding my own triggers. I am focusing on that right now. I always made the worst decisions when I was drinking. I can’t change my past, but right now I have a chance to change my future.’

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