Page 17 - DDN 1403 web

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March 2014 |
| 17
Profile |
Ossie Yemoh
Service user group B3’s name stands for ‘be heard, be motivated, be free’.
David Gilliver
hears from project manager Ossie Yemoh about the
importance of autonomy
– the commissioner isn’t keeping
us under the thumb,’ says Ossie Yemoh of B3, a rapidly growing organisation that’s
the official service user council for Brent DAAT in north-west London.
B3 offers peer support and advocacy services alongside training and awareness-
raising. It celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, while its weekend centre B.Safe
(Brent Social Access For Everyone) has now been running for three years. Yemoh
has been involved in B3 for more than four years himself – becoming project
manager last year – but it’s been a long journey to reach that point.
‘In 2010 I was diagnosed with a major clot, which was so severe that apparently
we could have called it a day,’ he says. ‘I could barely walk or breathe. As painful as
it was, it was like I was given a sign to get it together and I did, but it wasn’t easy.’
His addiction had ‘kicked in relatively late’, he says. After school he trained as a
hairdresser, going on to work for some of London’s top salons and staying very
close to his brother, four years his senior. ‘I was in my 20s and I looked up to him –
he was always hustling and doing his stuff to make ends meet. I always knew
there were drugs around but I never knew what they were. I knew about hashish
and weed, but not this white stuff.’
He’d take his pay cheques to a local shop to cash but as time went on he’d wake
up to find the money gone. ‘My brother and his missus would have been through
all of it. This went on for months and it was always, “we’ll pay you back”. I never
However, he slowly became intrigued by what he now knows was the aroma of
crack smoke. ‘I thought, “that doesn’t smell too bad”. Then came the day when he
said, “do you think you’d ever try smoking a pipe?” I remember just replicating
what they did – I didn’t know what I was doing – but it was so intense. From that
day I went rapidly downhill, chasing the highs. The so-called enjoyment factor was
very shortlived, but the addiction kicked in quite quickly – not wanting to do
anything else other than smoke. I was around 26, 27 and I’m 43 now, and until
about four and a bit years ago my addiction never really stopped.’
He spent long periods overseas – in Amsterdam, the US, South America and
Africa – eventually ending up in prison, he explains. ‘I was trafficking on all
different scales. I was in prison in South America, Holland, a short sentence in
America as well. I would make a shedload of money then that would go,
possessions started going, my appearance, all the usual.’
The clot then put him in hospital for several weeks in 2010 and when he finally
came out he ‘knew something was different’, he says. ‘My brother had come out of
jail and got himself together, so I went with him to Addaction and got a keyworker.’
It was during those initial sessions that he learned about B3 and their plans to start
a Saturday service. Curious about volunteering, he went along to find out more.
‘Two or three of them really took me under their wing, and that first Friday
meeting turned into every Friday without fail. I got involved very quickly because I
was committed and turning up every day. My input was being valued so I thought,
“maybe I can do this”. Members came and went but I just stayed with it and
eventually I inherited the chair role.’
He volunteered in that post for around three years, going through the basic
training while also putting himself through college, and all the time developing
more and more of a rapport with the local commissioner and other managers. ‘I
was finding that managers were actually calling me by name – I was paranoid and
thinking I’d done something wrong,’ he says. ‘Senior people from the Met, from the
DAAT would say, “Ossie, what do you think?” and I’d be, “are you shitting me?”
Some of it was tokenistic, I know that, and there were times when we only had a
skeleton staff of volunteers, but by now I had full understanding of what user
involvement meant and what it meant to empower service users.’
Part of this also meant coming to terms with his own issues, he explains. ‘I
can’t carry the guilt and shame forever – I have to lead by example. Yes, I fucked up
many times and did things I’m not proud of, but it is what it is. It’s done.’
B3 became a registered charity at the end of last year, and he’s been project
manager – a paid post – since last June. ‘It’s been a slow journey, and at times very
hard, but I love my job. It’s frustrating, but the outcomes and the self-worth you get
out of it are priceless. If you’re getting involved in user involvement for the thanks
you’ve picked the wrong thing, but when you see people evolving in their own way
it’s incredible. And you can be a part of their development and support them.’
When B3’s B.Safe facility started three years ago it was only on Saturdays, but
since last year it’s been a full weekend service, taking on a momentum of its own. ‘We
didn’t plan beyond a year to begin with, but now on a busy weekend we could have
70-plus people come through the door. It’s for people who are struggling, people who
are doing well, people who feel isolated or lonely – they know they have a safe space
to come. Recovery isn’t nine to five, Monday to Friday. It’s about picking up people’s
morale – just a social, safe space and it works because of the simplicity of it.’
B3 is also involved in training recovery champions – almost 50 in this financial
year alone, spread over three groups. ‘The dropout rates have been the bare
minimum – one or two at the most – and that’s phenomenal, even when you
compare it to training for professionals,’ he says.
The course covers areas like buddying, outreach work and personal
development, but B3 is adamant that the focus isn’t just on drugs. ‘It’s about how
they take what they’ve learned to support and advise people, but it’s also about
recognising that not everyone who does the course necessarily wants to go into
the field,’ he says. ‘People who’ve been through treatment have the tendency to
say, “I want to give something back”, which is brilliant but it doesn’t necessarily
have to be related to drugs and alcohol. You may want to do young people’s work,
go back to studying or just back to something you’ve got love for. Whatever you
choose to do, it’s OK.’
Partnership is central to B3’s work – with Addaction, CRI, WDP, EACH, Junction
and Lift, alongside GPs and housing providers – and the organisation is now
involved in developing a new version for people living with HIV, ‘BPositive’, as well
as looking to do something similar for mental health. Both the weekend service
and the recovery champion course, meanwhile, are funded by the DAAT. ‘We’re
very, very lucky in Brent with our commissioner, Andy Brown. He’s phenomenal,
very hands on, and I’m very aware that peers and colleagues in other boroughs – in
the current financial climate – don’t have what we have.’
However, while partnership with the DAAT and others is key, ‘I always make it
clear that we’re not under the umbrella of any other organisation,’ he states. ‘When
I see literature that says, “our project” I say, “please change that – we’re not your
project, we’re your partners”. It’s about arguing the point in a professional manner.’
One ambition now is to develop ‘a clear package of user involvement so that if
you want to get involved in that you can come and see what we do’, he says, as
well as, hopefully, part-time funded posts for committed volunteers and forging
links with boroughs that don’t have such a strong user involvement structure,
‘approaching them to see if they want to buy us in. We’re not keeping all our eggs
in one basket, and we’re trying to bring in additional funding. The more funding I
can bring in the more opportunities I can give to volunteers.
‘I don’t think anyone really saw what was coming – how evolved B3 has
become,’ he says. ‘Challenges come up, but it’s about staying firm. What we’re
doing works.’