Funding Boost for The Right Key
Growing up, Tony Donovan, 69, had the same hopes and dreams as any young man. But his addiction to alcohol took a heavy toll – even leaving him homeless at one point – and life didn’t work out the way he’d planned.
It is only now as he is coming out of rehab and getting involved with The Right Key’s Recovery café that he feels he has a purpose again and is going to make the most of his life.
“When I think back to when I was 18 or so, I had the same ambitions as anyone else - to have a good job in life, and to meet a nice girl, get married and settle down, and probably have a few children. But my addiction was to take me on a completely different journey than what I had wished for,” said Tony.
For years, Tony, originally from Dublin and now living in Belfast, was able to hide his issues with drink. He worked successfully in a variety of jobs. On the surface, everything seemed fine.
“I worked as a manager of a pub in Rush, Co Dublin for six or seven years, and then I lost that job through my addiction. I wasn’t working, and my addiction was getting stronger and stronger.”
It was the beginning of a downward spiral for Tony that he has only recently been able to stop with support from the Right Key, a group based at their Recovery Café in Dromore, Co Down. The group has just received £159,409 from the Big Lottery Fund’s People and Communities programme to use music and crafts to support people in recovery from addiction.
Like many people the group help through the new project, Tony’s decline happened gradually.
“It didn’t happen overnight but my addiction took over my life and I became a slave to drink.
“It got so bad that I ended up on the streets of Dublin. I was drinking bottles of wine, and I was sleeping out in a cardboard box. My physical health suffered very badly as a result of it. I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually wrecked.”
It was this crisis that eventually led to Tony’s recovery.
“Everyone used to think that there was no hope for me. But I said there’s no such thing as no hope and that’s why I went into rehabilitation in Cuan Mhuire in Newry.”
It was just after he’d finished the programme around three years ago that Tony met Sheila Smyth from the Right Key. It was a turning point, and Sheila persuaded him to get involved with the group, initially singing in a choir they’d set up called Voice of Recovery. Their support has made such a difference to Tony, helping him to turn his life around.
“I didn’t think I would’ve pulled through, but after I got involved with the Right Key, my health got better, but above all my outlook got better. Even at my age, I want to make the most of life.”
Tony is involved in the new project supported by Big Lottery Fund and worked with other volunteers to prepare for it. Through it people affected by addiction will learn new craft skills including guitar making, and come together with others for support and friendship. They’ll also put together a Book of Recovery telling people’s deeply personal stories.
Sheila Smyth, development officer at the Right Key, said the new Big Lottery funded project a way of giving people meaning and hope for the future.
“The people that we work with may be coping with addiction but they also have another side to them. Before their lives went into ashes, many of them would have had good hand skills like cabinet making and joinery, or had an artistic side. They hadn’t used those skills anymore because their addiction took them to such an awful place. We talked to them about what they wanted to do and they told us that wanted to be active, and make things with their hands to feel content and worthwhile again.
Sheila said people are finding so much solace in the experiences of others.
“While they are working on all this, there are conversations happening about addiction, recovery and sobriety that are amazing. That’s what it’s about,” she said.
Joanne McDowell, Big Lottery Fund NI Director, said: “I am delighted to announce this grant to The Right Key under the People and Communities programme, which is investing £60 million over the next five years to support voluntary, community and social enterprise groups to work with local people to make the changes they want in their communities.
“We want to fund great projects that work with local people, build on a community’s strengths, and are well connected to other services and activities in the community. We are looking forward to seeing the positive impact these projects will make to people and communities across Northern Ireland.
“Remember this programme is open for five years so groups have plenty of time to work with local people to develop their project idea. You can call our People and Communities advice line on 0300 123 33 31 at any stage to discuss your idea.”
The People and Communities programme offers grants of between £30,000 and £500,000 for two to five year projects. More information can be found on our website,https://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/global-content/programmes/northern-ireland/people-and-communities
For media enquiries, please contact Lucy Gollogly at the Big Lottery Fund Press Office. Direct line: 02890 551 432
Out of hours media contact: 07580811135
Notes to Editors:
The Big Lottery Fund supports the aspirations of people who want to make life better for their communities across the UK. We are responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised by the National Lottery and invest over £650 million a year in projects big and small in health, education, environment and charitable purposes.
Since June 2004 we have awarded over £6.5billion to projects that make a difference to people and communities in need, from early years intervention to commemorative travel funding for World War Two veterans.
Since the National Lottery began in 1994, £35 billion has been raised and more than 490,000 grants awarded.