Far away from the usual distractions, Kenward’s residents are given the chance of a new start. DDN reports.
Turning away from the traffic of Maidstone, you take the narrowest and windiest of lanes and the longest and stoniest of drives until a vast Georgian mansion appears before you. This is the sight that confronted Wayne Smythe as he arrived at Kenward – just 30-odd miles but a whole other world away from his home in Plumstead, south London.
Fresh out of detox in November 2017, he was given three options by the drug and alcohol team who sorted out his funding – the first on the list was Kenward. ‘I said, I’m going there. It’s right in the middle of nowhere – you’ve got a long walk to the shops. You’ve got a long time to think what you’re doing,’ he says.
Wayne’s struggle was with alcohol, and he had ‘died from it twice’. A year earlier, in the run-up to Christmas, ‘they gave me five days to live,’ he says. ‘It was my last chance. Basically, I can’t pick up another drink, and if I do I’m six foot under.’
After ’32 years of the drink’ (he’s nearly 42 now), he had to learn to walk again, to speak properly, and to write. ‘I was writing like a four-year-old,’ he says, ‘so I’ve had to rebuild myself.’
Still wobbly – he had been walking with a zimmer frame until three weeks before – he arrived at Kenward, finally realising he needed help. ‘I tried to do it my way and couldn’t,’ he says. ‘When I arrived, I wanted to get back out drinking again, but I forced myself to stay there – and I’m glad I did.’
The first week was all about survival – ‘I was just taking five minutes at a time.’ After a week, he felt like he had stabilised a little bit, ‘I was still falling asleep in every group – I just couldn’t stay awake. I was still listening, but I was drifting off. They were very tolerant and helped me through that.’
He was grateful that Kenward ‘took me at my own pace’. ‘Sometimes I wanted to be on my own, but it was nice to interact with other people on the same sort of level,’ he says. ‘It was very difficult at first, because I didn’t know what to do or what normal life was like.’
One-to-one sessions were mixed with therapy in a group with people at different stages of their recovery. In the early stages, he needed help with every move, ‘because I was incapable of making my own decisions’. But as he settled into his three-month programme, he began to explore his surroundings and his options for activities.
Kenward’s residents have the opportunity to work in a social enterprise three days a week, maintaining the beautiful gardens, tending the animals – including a very friendly group of alpacas – making arts and crafts in the workshop, restoring furniture or working in the onsite Sage and Time Café.
‘I knew skills – I was a builder – and when I started to come round and get my brain into action, I was helping out with the enterprise,’ says Wayne. The talking and the recovery continued alongside his work. ‘They were inspiring me to open up a bit more than I was used to,’ he says. ‘They were encouraging me to do that.’ His knowledge and skills were perfect for contributing to the vast Georgian house’s refurbishment, and gave him much-needed confidence. ‘You start to rebuild your life,’ he says.
Since February Wayne has been living in a ‘dry house’ – a part of Kenward’s move-on accommodation – where he is doing the garden and some paintwork, while preparing for stage three. When the year’s up next February, he will move across the road and be supported for another two years in his transition back to the wider community. In the move-on house, ‘you’re mainly left to your own devices’ but have the support of other residents and can attend regular groups. There’s also professional support on hand ‘if ever you need it’.
Looking back, Wayne cannot believe how far he has come and is filled with gratitude to those who helped him. ‘What I was like last year, to what I am now, is complete change,’ he says. ‘When I look back at pictures of me in hospital… I hope my story helps someone else out.’
‘We’re all part of the enterprise’
‘We’ve been a therapeutic community since May,’ says Penny Williams, Kenward’s chief executive, who only came to the role in May. Before that she was the charity’s director of marketing and communications, so when she began her new job she was excited about developing the social enterprise.
‘Residents become part of the enterprise, developing their confidence, expressing themselves and learning skills,’ she says. For Kenward it means an opportunity to harness talent, to help the organisation to thrive.
Creating Kenward Enterprises Ltd as a separate company has given scope to run a business, using all the assets of a beautiful location. They run the café and are expanding their events programme. They have the perfect backdrop for exclusive events and hope to become a dry wedding venue in the near future.
‘We want to develop more activities – classic car rallies, zip wires, woodland walks – and get more animals such as donkeys,’ she says, stretching her arm towards the grounds beyond the alpaca enclosure. She is excited about the business opportunities, which go hand in hand with plans to develop accommodation at the house.
As well as a female move-on house, she talks about a homeless project using onsite accommodation and partnering with an organisation in Maidstone, where these clients would receive support. Alongside this she is ‘starting to do partnerships with business’ and is excited about the future.
She has had her own journey – coming to Kenward was her ‘starting point’ in recovering from cancer. Now, just as so many of her residents are, she feels full of possibilities. ‘There are so many opportunities here,’ she says, as she takes her leave to investigate the next.