24 Mar 2023

Interview with Linda Philips & Michelle Milne of FAST (Finglas Addiction Support Team)

We recently interviewed Linda Philips & Michelle Milne of the Finglas Addiction Support Team (FAST). We chatted about the organisation, the services that FAST provides, and also how addiction has evolved over the last couple of years. FAST was originally set up by a group of volunteers from the Finglas community who realised that there were limited services for drug users and family members in the area. The service specifically targets drug and alcohol users at various stages of drug use and recovery – stabilised, drug-free, and family members affected by drug and alcohol misuse.


It’s great to be joined today by both Linda and Michelle here from FAST. So thanks for joining me today.


Thanks very much. Great to be here.


Thanks for having us.


To kick things off tell us a bit about FAST first and what you do?


So first, we’re a community addiction support team and we’re based in Finglas and Dublin 11. We provide help and support and advocacy and treatment for people who would be experiencing any problematic drug or alcohol use, and FAST would have been established in it would be about 2004. It would have been all the local people that would have experienced first-hand the devastation of drug use within their area.

So we would have a lot of still peer support members access and FAST who would have been out marching in the streets in 2004, for facilities like this in the locality. They fought hard, you know, in the area. So we started by getting a prefab in Saint Helena’s and then we were actually after moving into 2002, to a beautiful purpose-built building. We’ve got a fabulous garden & holistic rooms, it’s a beautiful space, anybody that would like to have a look at it, can see it on our FAST Facebook. It’s called FAST Finglas, or our website. It’s a purpose-built building specifically for working with people with substance and alcohol.


It seems you’re after coming a long way, like you said, you would have started off going from protest to the prefabs to now you have the purpose-built centre.


Definitely and what makes it lovely as we’re in the heart of the community and any events that we have. It’s the people who would have been out marching on the streets, we still have them connected 20 years on. There’s a real old generation, and we would have great grandchildren that would be linked into the service from primary members that would have walked the streets and individuals as well.


You’ll often hear what kind of some of these services the challenge they often get is linking with the community. It sounds like you don’t have that problem.


Yeah, no, definitely not. We’ve got a fantastic community and Finglas, I know to just be highlighted an awful lot with the negativity and the impact from drug use and drug related intimidation and crime. But we’ve got an amazing community, out in Finglas, we provide services out in Finglas, Cabra, and Blanchardstown. But I’ll tell you a little bit more about that in a few minutes for that. Yeah, it’s fantastic. It is an amazing area to work in as well.


Tell us a bit about your own backgrounds and how you to where you are today.


Yeah, well, I would have started here 20 years ago, I would have started on CE and then I would have ended up getting an administration job in Coolmine. I’ve been working in the community for over 20 years, I would have worked in the local pharmacy and then I came to FAST. I would be here probably over 15 years, I had left in the middle of it, then I ended up coming back as a team leader into FAST so it’s hugely changed over the years.

We’ve now a staff team of over 24, recently we’ve taken over what was formerly known as the loft in Cabra, it’s now the Canberra FAST Service. We’re going to provide the same services that we provide in Finglas in Cabra. So it’s a fantastic opportunity for us and the people of Cabra as well.

I began here doing hypnotherapy, kind of a lot of parental mental kind of programs. I would be a Clinical Hypnotherapist. I’m a CRA practitioner, CBT practitioner, but I’m currently at MCI and I’m doing I’m doing a non-government organisation leadership and management training course there at the minute.

So just trying to upscale all the time following, which is very important, Danny, for me to say, through my work here, I actually went back and did an honours degree in counselling & psychotherapy with ICHAS which was fantastic. It was kind of what brought me to where I am today. And, yeah, you know, the tutors that I had there. I remember Dennis Ryans’s conversation when we started before we actually started college he asked what you all want to achieve, and there are loads of people and they were like, we want to get distinctions through the whole four years. I was like, I’ve four kids, I work full time, and have a grandchild, I just want to pass!!

I had fantastic tutors and fantastic support that helped me get through it and I think that that’s hugely important. You know, it’s, you need that you need a support team around you in situations like that.


Yeah, like Linda, and my background is in counselling and psychotherapy and while I was trained, and I suppose in that area, you could go to, like any form of counselling, I was always drawn, had an interest in addiction, and I suppose what made people where they operate from why they turn to addiction, you know, so that was my area of interest.

I also worked in counseling in Ruhama as well. But I came to FAST just over two years ago, I’m part of the outreach team at FAST. Mainly, I suppose it’s a relatively new area, working predominantly with travellers, Roma, and new community, making it accessible for, I suppose, that marginalised cohort of people to access services within the community.


If you had to try and summarise it what are the key services that you provide?


So I suppose by just telling a few things that we do in FAST, we do case assessments, comprehensive assessments, case management, but we’ve also got pre-entry recovery pathways program, we have a day program, we’ve women’s group, with a garden project. So we’ve kind of along the recovery-oriented service and the continuum of care with cocaine and alcohol support group, we have a NACA fellowship meeting. So we’ve kind of we’re looking to address people’s substance misuse, but we’re also looking at creating, so we have a sober space cafe, where people can come and engage.

We have a lot of stuff with social inclusion outreach and a mobile outreach service. So FAST is after growing hugely over the last, I suppose five years, we’ve broadened our horizons to what it was that we provide.


It struck me when you mentioned the sober cafe there’s a lot of talk and discussion, say at the moments for evening times and if people want to go out there is nowhere but the pub.


Well, FAST has Monday, Tuesday and you know what, we live in a great and vibrant community that we have a lot of other services, we and Saint Helena’s have fellowship meetings, which is another program to support people in addiction, which have fellowship meetings we have the voyagers, which provide education and support. So, we’ve got a lot within our community.


You’ve mentioned Linda that you’ve been there for over 15 years, how has addiction evolved over your time there?


As a service provider, we’re constantly changing. We’re now in the middle of our strategic plan for 22 to 24. Our priorities are about creating a roadmap to support our service in the demand and needs, like delivering quality and developing services and that allows us as time goes on, so the cocaine and alcohol program would be a program that we’ve always run, but now we’re running it more, the substance that’s most presenting at the minute would be cocaine and then alcohol, that’s within our service.

In the outreach team, it’s crack cocaine, you know. It depends, it has massively changed. We have independent family support services which support people that are impacted by substance and alcohol use, which is huge in our community. We’re developing as a service to meet the needs that are present, we can’t do it all. We rely on interagency networking as well.


You’ve mentioned the launch of the outreach programme recently, tell us a bit more about that.


The mobile outreach was, I suppose, the brainwave of Linda. As she was the outreach team leader, so that was, it took many months to get it from like, being a dream to actually be now on the street, because part of the Outreach team is just not everyone, low threshold, people will walk through the door. It was a matter of just let us get out and meet people and get where they’re at, you know, and reach people that probably would have never actually walked through the doors of FAST.


It’s like say counselling, if somebody says they’re going to a counsellor they always wanted to make sure nobody’s looking around when they’re going through the door.


Yeah. So it’s, it’s we can meet people wherever they’re at, you know, what I mean, which is the beauty of the outreach, and we’ve lots of information and, like, we’ve lots of products. on the outreach. The people in the community they’re absolutely delighted. Because it just means that we’re in the heart of things, this drug problem is a huge issue. So whatever we’re doing, to try and help that the community are really onside with it. It’s absolutely amazing and we were kind of going out, you don’t know what response you’re gonna get. The response has been absolutely amazing.


We work with the hospitals, the local clinics, the youth centers & we work with a lot of high-risk individuals. And I suppose there, they would experience multiple barriers in accessing health care and better support. We do a lot of advocacy, we do a lot of engagement in building rapport. On the mobile outreach service, we can do rapid HIV tests, and we were linked in with the Mater and Bernard West, who’d be the peer support worker there for hep C, we will provide condoms were kind of at the minute, we’re not doing harm reduction equipment, we’re exploring the needs that are present, and then we’re going to come back and review because it’s new but the community has been fantastic. We would have a lot in the summer, we’d have a lot of people coming from outside the area and there would be a lot of pop-up tents, which would cause a lot of chaos within the area.

But this year, we have a little bit more planning around how we might manage that as a service. We were looking, there was a poll there carried out by Merchants Quay and they were saying that like six in ten people in Ireland experience addiction, whether it’s themselves or a family member, and that’s huge.


How have the last couple of years been like trying to plan things out?


It was new we never stopped working. So we would still provide services. We moved everything to remote. I remember we were doing it in the Sober Space Cafe before that it was a Monday, and we were like: What are we gonna do?!?

We were playing Solitaire and you have to be so innovative. But look what we kind of noticed was coming out of COVID we relied a lot on technology. We had to kind of as a service, look at how we do this better. It’s given us loads of opportunities moving forward to access people that could never come to the service. You know, it’s given us ideas about how people adapt, you know, we had family support members that we were meeting out in the car park, and we were teaching them how to download Zoom it was crazy. But and I want to say one thing, FAST is only FAST because of the staff team that we have.

We had originally, our CEO called Barbara Condron, who actually was part of getting our building up and running. Over three years ago, we had a CEO Amy Rose, she would have come from Coolmine, she absolutely changed the whole service. We accessed people we never accessed before. So it was with flexibility and as individuals, we went through so much change within ourselves that we had to stop and look at, we forgot about ourselves sometimes in this we were manning in a COVID center in town where we had children, we were in hotels, children with COVID parents, the Roma community, it was a mainly Roma community and for travellers, but we did it, how are we did it looking back on reflection is, is crazy.

But people’s priorities changed. They were trying to survive; it was all about survival. Missing that connection, we missed that terribly, even having a cup of tea you had to learn to adapt remotely and I think a lot of what we noticed was a lot of the long-term people in recovery, all the distractions they had in their life, the gyms, the meetings, everything they built around when that was taken away, it was very difficult for people to sit with themselves. So what I think was beautiful was people learning to self-regulate, doing a bit of mindfulness breathing techniques, people became self-reliant, you know, looked a little bit internal, and what can we do for ourselves to look after ourselves, you know, so that’s, in my opinion.


It sounds especially for someone who may have been going through addiction, it sounds like it was the two extremes of how it was incredibly difficult for them. But also at the same time they were able and benefit from they would have found stuff to do, where they could do it at any time and anywhere they want.


I think during COVID sea swimming became popular. I think there’s been since then, there’s been a whole recovery kind of family built around that.


From your side of things, it almost sounds like you were busier than you would have been before. Would that be correct?


Definitely yeah, it was. We weren’t kind of checking in on everybody, everyone’s priorities changed. There was a lot of panic, there was a lot of anxiety, and we were looking at how are we going to do this. How do we adapt? But we’re very resilient human beings and not service providers, but even as individuals getting through it, and having our own families, there’s a lot to learn.

But also, I think the services that stepped in, nobody waited for anything, everybody got appointments, everybody got on scripts, there was no homeless on the streets, there was accommodation sought, and I think we were very reactive and how we all responded but we’d never been faced with an issue like that before.


From even a public standpoint, whenever addiction is brought up in public, there’s the response of we want these locations open, but nowhere near us. Is there anything you’d hope the public to know about when it comes to addiction?


You know what coming to do this myself and Michelle were looking back at people that attended our service last year, 48% of them were in employment, you know, 48%.

It’s not always the stereotypical image that we have, of people with addiction. But the one thing that I would work with, like, I’m on the week, I’m out on the mobile van I’m in here, I’m in different various parts of the service. I think the one thing people forget, is there’s somebody’s child, son, daughter, or mother, father, you know, somebody brought them into the world, somebody loves them, regardless of the path they ended up on.

We are very focused on the word recovery, you know, we look at it as anybody has the possibility to recover, there’s loads of support out there. But the one thing looking down, we’re after doing a photo and piece through DCC, it’s about capturing what it’s like for somebody in outreach, someone that’s homeless, and we’ve got amazing pictures, it’s like somebody sitting on the ground looking up you’ve people coming towards you at a garage, and you’re tapping with a cup, and you’re a mother and your two kids are in care, and you know, they forget about the impact of that mentally on somebody, a lot of tents, people sleeping rough, and people pass by them. You know, it’s not, we’re grown, where that’s, that’s normality. That’s becoming a norm in our culture. It’s not okay, they’re somebody’s child. Course, they were somebody’s child, they were brought into the world. But, you know, it could happen to anybody.

Years ago, when I came into college, and I did a piece around substance misuse, I had always been under the illusion going back years of you turn to drugs, and that was it your life was over. You looked at people who are on drugs and there was no hope, my life education, and knowledge changes everything, you know, anybody has the ability to make a change, there are loads of services there to help, we need to be a little bit grateful as well for where we are in our lives and what we have. You know, there’s people out there who don’t just people I know we’re talking about the hike in electricity, there are hikes, there are people that don’t have electricity. How to heat up the houses, people that are sleeping on grass, damp grass, that don’t have warm blankets, you know, and I think if we’re just mindful around situations like that, we get great support from there’s a service called Feed Our Homeless, we provide sheltering facilities for people that we meet while we’re in outreach or social inclusion.

People can ring us and say that there’s no heat. You know, we’ve had calls from people that don’t have any heating and can they come down for a shower, we ring Tasha or Tony and feed and we’d say there’s someone coming down and they need a shower, and they need shoes, jackets and they are over within an hour. You know, so just a nice service.

Yeah, stigma and shame are huge. I think we should self-reflect when we’re kind of going to a place like that. I wish life was wonderful and that substance or alcohol never impacted us. But as a culture, we’re very adaptable to alcohol and what that brings.


You mentioned that the Cabra side of things is expanding out, since it’s opened how has that been going?


We’ve only we only reopened that on February 7th. So my colleague, Sonya, who would have been the team leader, she’s also the interim CEO at the minute. She’s everywhere at the moment and we’re dying to get back down here, because we’re waiting to get a new CEO currently, and that in the process, but so we got the keys back on the 7th. Sonya has been over there a lot trying to get the service up and running.

At the minute, we’ve got two employees over there, we’ve got a couple of our staff who are assessing the needs that are presenting. But we’re hoping we’ve only got a short lease on there. We’re looking forward to getting a new building. We’ve launched this Thursday it’s a reopening coffee morning, just to let the community know that we’re there. So now we haven’t kind of we hope it to be a mirror of FAST but adapted to the community’s needs that are presenting.


Do you have any other kind of say events or fundraisers that are going to be taking place over the next while?

We were in Bloom last year, and then we had a Recovery Month. So it’s a whole month, September, and focused on the recovery and getting it out there, making recovery appealing to people, We did a walk from the Garden of Remembrance down to Marion Square, and it happens every year. It was to be on the news that day, there was two other walks. They were featured and we weren’t, and we’d marched down O’Connell Street like Sonya had been in the setup of the Recovery Academy many years ago. This is a huge thing, recovery isn’t there, it’s not as visual. But if people would like to get on board and do something to celebrate recovery want to happen in September every year, so keep an eye on our Facebook page.


To wrap things up is there any kind of message or anything you want to kind of let people know about just in around the services you provide?


If anybody wants to even come in and have a visit an agency visit or pop in, feel free, pick up the phone, give us a call, and we’ll organize that we do get a lot of calls and then we’ve got to we’ve got two of our staff team are currently on their fourth year in the college. It’s very inspiring to people get out there re-educate, get back into the community, but for anybody that like to find out more about us feel free to pick up the phone or pop us an email.

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