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Scotland Against Drugs

To say the volunteer base of the society were wary of welcoming reformed drug addicts into their fold is a huge understatement

>SAD work

The achievements of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society (SRPS) are manifest. It has an impressive site, the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway, it is a registered museum and is a popular visitor attraction that receives 60,000 paying visitors a year.
It has a massive collection, possibly physically the largest in Scotland, and conservation is clearly at the core of the society’s work: staff estimate that the conservation backlog would take 50 years to  complete. Surprisingly, rehabilitation of former drug users has now also become an important part of the SRPS agenda.
In an unusual social inclusion project, which is not about maximising visitor numbers but instead focuses on providing real help for disadvantaged members of the local community, the SRPS has linked up with Scotland Against Drugs (SAD), a governrnent funded agency. For the past two years the museum has been involved with a SAD-funded back-to-work programme called Back on the Tracks. Former drug users who have completed recovery programmes join the museum staff and carryout a six-month stint of supervised conservation work.
 Now the project has been bedded in, both SAD and the SRPS are delighted with the results. Back on the Tracks is producing double the success rate of other similar SAD initiatives in terms of participants going on to find full-time employment. The SRPS has benefited from completed conservation projects and also the positive publicity generated by the project, which has already achieved a Heritage Railway Commendation.
 It is a success story that was built on initial scepticism. To say that the 300-strong volunteer base of the SRPS - the museum directly employs only three full-time staff and is the second largest voluntary agency in Scotland - were wary of welcoming reformed drug addicts into their fold is a huge understatement. This reluctance was overcome by the dogged persuasion of SAD and a leap of faith from key members of the SRPS management committee.
 Alistair Ramsey, the director of SAD, offered the society as much reassurance as possible: "It took about a year to set up and I had a lot of face-to-face meetings. People were obviously cautious about security being compromised and the possibility of drug use on site but our criteria for participants is that they must be drug free and must agree to random drug tests. If they fail the test then they are out.’
Bob Clark, an experienced museum consultant who provides the SRPS with curatorial advice, was an early convert and helped convince the membership of the benefits to the museum. ‘For SAD, the project’s objectives were to take small numbers of recovered drug users, who had been through the process of recovery, and provide them with a six-month period of sheltered employment within which they would be able to get used to going to work, keeping time and being organised and productive. For the SRPS, our aim was to tackle the restoration of a 1950's railway box van that had been seriously damaged by fire before acquisition, and the conservation of a unique survivor railway box van from an old Scottish-based railway companies dating from 1916.’
 After a year of debate, doubts had been sufficiently quashed to create the kind of supportive atmosphere necessary to aid the former addicts’ rehabilitation back into the workplace. Indeed, Clark says that one early participant, used to suspicion and disapproval, found it difficult to get used to people being nice to him.
 The project offers a lifeline for its participants. Scotland Against Drugs was becoming concemedthat formerdrug users were struggling to  maintain stability after completing recovery programmes. Employers who were quizzed said the only way they would consider offering a recovered addict a job was if they had a good reference. The Back on the Tracks programme functions as a stepping stone to full-time employment.
 ‘On the conservation side the conclusions have been positive,’ says Clark, proving his point as he shows me the shiny, completed railway vans currently on display in the museum’s new exhibition hall. Supervise a project properly using experienced curators and conservators and the results should be fine. However, although the work is done to museum standards we’re not training them to be conservators.
 Typical scenarios for the participants, who are nominated by local drug recovery programmes, are that they have no fixed abode, no driving licence, no bank account and they often have criminal records. Clark says they can be physically weak and mentally fragile at the beginning but at the end of their time here they end up with good DIY skills.

This article is an extract from "Museums" September 2003.

The S.A.D. project at Bo'ness was wound up (funding withdrawn) at the end of 2007.