In the last of a series of features about Kaleidoscope - a charity celebrating 50 years supporting people with drug, alcohol and mental health issues in Gwent - ESTEL FARELL-ROIG visits the organisation’s base in Tredegar.


LOOKING forward to visiting one of Kaleidoscope’s bases in Gwent, I receive a warm welcome when I arrive at their Tredegar home.

There is a group of service users getting ready to go on their Friday walk but, before they leave, an Army veteran agrees to talk to me.

The 37-year-old man, who wished to remain anonymous, joined the Army in 1999 and served in Bosnia. He tells me that, while in the Army, he started drinking as it was part of the culture and, upon leaving in 2003, he continued drinking as he felt lost. He would drink any alcohol he could get his hands on.

Originally from Cardiff, he has been accessing the services in The Citadel, in Mount Street, Tredegar, for the past year.

He said: “I threw myself into the groups and it is the best thing I have ever done. It has saved my life in a way.

“You meet all sorts of people here and it is non-judgemental – I think it is pretty special.”

The 37-year-old added going to the service helps him not to have triggers to drink and stops him from getting bored.

“If I didn’t have this, I would be lost – it is so important,” he continued.

After the group leave for their walk, head of operations for Gwent Drug and Alcohol Service (GDAS) Sian Chicken shows me around the building. She explains the charity’s base in Tredegar – which was opened in 2005 by Lord Kinnock – started as a drug service. It was only from 2015 it started offering alcohol services as well under GDAS.

Firstly, she takes me to the room where a needle exchange operates. Different types of needles are given depending on what, where and how users are injecting.

Ms Chicken estimated up to 40 per cent of the needles given out are for steroid use.

Apart from the needles, Kaleidoscope also gives out a special type of foil which is safe to use when smoking heroin as it doesn’t damage your respiratory system. The charity also hands out sterile ‘cookers’, used to turn solidified or powdered heroin into a liquid for injection, Ms Chicken explained.

“It is about harm reduction – injecting is a very risky business,” she said. “If we didn’t give cookers, they would be using spoons or bottles.

“Most of them understand they can’t share needles, but blood can also stay in foil or spoons, putting them at risk.

“It is about keeping them as healthy as we can. Some of the choices people make when using drugs are not the best so it is about supporting them and keeping them safe.”

Ms Chicken added that a needle exchange, in comparison to a pharmacy, provides a more specialist service as advice is on offer – conversations can be had about wounds and rotation, for example.

Through the needle exchange, staff can build a relationship with people which means that, if they decide they want help, they know where it is and how to get it. She said all they need to give is their initials and postcode for monitoring purposes.

Continuing the tour, we go into a small room off the main corridor where they have a notice board with different pieces of information and, at the moment, they have a campaign around victims of sexual violence. Past campaigns have been about hepatitis, for example, Ms Chicken said.

“We hope they will have a read as we want to keep them informed about things,” she continued, before leading me into one of their contact rooms, where meetings with users take place.

Ms Chicken added they try to make the rooms as welcoming and tidy as they can.

They also run doctors’ clinics where clients can get their relapse prevention medication, for example, and give advice on sexual matters or hepatitis, among others. They have a clinic room which is used for vaccinations and tests as well.

She said: “We are not their GP, but we try to take care of them because we recognise a lot of them will not go to their GP.

“We offer a range of things.”

Taking me to the staff rooms, Ms Chicken introduces me to clinical nurse Kellie Watkins – whose role includes providing opiates substitute medication, such as methadone. Her job is to monitor users’ progress, assess them and support them, as well as supporting the doctor in the clinics.

Ms Watkins, who has been in the job for five years, provides training on how to use Prenoxad, an injection used for reversing an opiate overdose.

“It is about prevention, which can save lives,” Ms Watkins said. “A lot of it is about harm reduction – sometimes they are not ready to stop using so it is about making sure they are doing it in the safest way, such as accessing the needle exchange.”

Her favourite part is seeing users get better, Ms Watkins added.

I met recovery worker Mike Parry as well – who tells me about the activities they run at The Citadel. These include a breakfast club and a walking group on Friday, as well as acupuncture and art group on a Wednesday. They also run a knitting group and arts and crafts.

The amount of people who attend each group varies on the day, but some of them have high numbers, Mr Parry added.

“The standard of work they do at the art group is really high,” he said. “The aim is for the guys in recovery to re-engage with the community while alleviating their boredom.”

They have had allotments since 2012 and all the food they produce goes to the users or the cooking group.

“The allotment is good because it is outdoors and goof for community spirit,” Mr Parry continued. “We encourage them to get into training. It depends on what the individual wants, but it can be things such as building or cooking.”

Mr Parry added they put special events on dates such as Hallowe’en or Christmas and that some of the activities are run by volunteers.

To find out more about the services provided by GDAS, visit