A drugs and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Scarborough has celebrated its 20th birthday – with scores of people returning for the event who have been helped over the years.
From the outside, Ark House in Valley Road has an understated frontage, similar to neighbouring hotels and blocks of flats.
Many people do not even know it’s there, but the impact of the centre has been wide and far-reaching – undoubtedly saving hundreds of lives.
It was founded in 1993 by Bjorn Roswald, who also has Bjorn Clogs in Queen Street.
Bjorn had experienced problems with alcohol himself and after getting sober, decided he wanted to help others, showing them they could have “a new life – and a good life”.
He trained in America to become a counsellor, returning to Scarborough to open a rehabilitation centre first in Eastborough, then at Ark House in Valley Road.
For the past 20 years, the centre has been offering therapy, lectures, group work and one-to-one sessions.
It can accommodate 20 residents and has helped people from all over the UK and from as far afield as Greece and the USA.
Bjorn explained: “Over the 20 years we’ve had 1,800 through our doors and I would say 1,200 of them are still clean and sober, and have got new lives. It has also helped me to stay sober and given me a new purpose in life.”
He added that people stay in touch, letting him know about important events in their lives, for example if they’ve got a new job, got married or had a baby.
If people are waivering, they can be paired up with “rehab graduates” who provide moral support and friendship.
Following rehabilitation, many choose to stay in the Scarborough area and go on to complete training courses and find work.
One of these people is Ruth Oliver, 52, who is originally from Newcastle.
Ruth said: “I came here 18 months ago today. When I first walked through the doors, I had problems with alcohol and prescription pills.
“I wasn’t good at all when I got here. I’d been in rehab before and drank as soon as I got out. I thought it was just a matter of time before I died.”
Ruth said that her time in Ark House changed everything, adding: “It was fantastic. It was difficult, but I saw the opportunity and there was no looking back.
“Ark House is my spiritual home and I’m happier then I’ve ever been in my life because of it.”
Ruth now lives in Scarborough and has her own flat, does voluntary work and is just about to finish a peer monitoring course.
Another success story is a lady who asked to be referred to just as Joan, 41, of Scarborough.
Her addiction to drugs and alcohol began after she lost her son in a house fire, as she was struggling to cope.
Joan said: “I never grieved for the baby I’d lost. I went on to have another child, but I was still using alcohol and I brought him into a dysfunctional relationship.
“Drink had a hold of me - it helped me cope.”
Joan explained that when she came to Ark House in 2007, she “could not look at herself in the mirror”.
Sadly she had had to send her six-month-old son for adoption.
Joan said: “My councillor in here really helped me. I learnt how I could be a good mum and with the help of everyone in here, I got my son back, who’s eight now.”
She added: “I just can’t thank them enough. I never thought it could happen for me, but I’ve been sober for six years.
“I can see a future for me and my son now.”
Father-of-two Colin Catterall, 46, of Preston, has also turned his life around with the support of Ark House.
He came to the centre in August 2010 and stayed for 12 weeks, having experienced problems with alcohol since his teenage years.
Colin said: “It got worse and worse to the point where I put drink before my wife and my family. I got divorced because of it.”
He collapsed one day, ending up in hospital, and knew he had to do something about it.
Colin said his stay at Ark House was difficult to start with, but it got better as his recovery progressed.
He now has a good relationship with his children and remarried his ex-wife on December 20 last year.
Colin said: “It has taught me how to cope with things. Every day might not be a good day, but now I know how to cope with that.
“I’m babysitting for my grandkids now and that would have never happened before.
“If I’d not come here, I’d be six feet under by now - I know I would. This place is a lifesaver.”
He is now doing a counselling course because he wants to “give something back”, having benefited so much from counselling at Ark House.
Many of the centre’s “graduates” now stay in touch via Ark House’s Facebook page.
It’s a place where people can keep in contact, exchange news and support each other with a process that keeps going long after they’ve completed their rehabilitation.