"I've lived in some right rough places over the last 14 years - so rough even the rats couldn't wait to get to the traps - and then I was on the streets before I came here" Vinny recalls "But here…Here you feel safe.
"It is a wet house" he adds "but the amount of change I've seen from some people when they move on is unbelievable, and that's down to the staff."
So called `wet houses' are unique and, as Vinny explains, there are only twelve of these places in the world, including the one in Salford. As opposed to `dry houses' where alcohol dependent residents are not allowed to drink, in wet houses they can drink, within reason, while getting support to sort their lives out. Studies have shown that such places work.
On the practical side, a study of a wet house in Seattle showed that inhabitants cut their drinking by 40%. On the financial side, another study in Seattle showed that local authority bills for policing, hospitalising and imprisoning alcohol dependent homeless people were cut by 53%. And on the humanitarian side the benefits are incalculable.
Every single person we spoke to at Royal Court, whether workers or the inhabitants themselves, said that people were going to die if the Salford wet house shuts down.
Royal Court was due to stay open until November 2013, according to Salford Council, to "ensure that vulnerable service users continue to receive the service that they require".
Councillor Peter Connor, Assistant Mayor for Adult Services, and Councillor Bill Hinds, Assistant Mayor for Finance and Customer Services, even signed a formal Council decision notice in October last year, stating that the contract for Positive Lifestyles, which runs Royal Court, would be extended "to ensure stability for the customer…Providers are currently performing well and provide good value for money…"
And then, around two weeks ago, residents at Royal Court received letters stating that the place would close on 31st March. Some are getting moved out well before that date. Few of the Royal Court dwellers know what future they will face…
"I've done a few days on the streets just before I came here; it was bloody horrible and I am a bit worried I'll end up back on the streets" says Andy "It's ridiculous. Here you've got a roof over your head, support when you need it, you're free to come and go as you please, you've got your own room and if you need anything the staff are always on hand to help you out.
"Now all I've got is a reference number for assisted housing, so I've got to start bidding" he adds "Until something comes up I'll just have to wait. I am bloody worried."
Gordon is from Salford, and has lived at Royal Court for four months after a period on the streets…
"I had a bad time but they've built me up here and that's why I'll miss this place" he says "I don't know what's going to happen when this place shuts, I might be back on the streets, hopefully not. I've been getting somewhere here; it's helped me in a lot of ways with confidence, and settling down and meeting good people. I'll miss them and I'm worried."
For Sean, Royal Court is all about a safe environment…
"Some people here have mental health problems and it's about putting them in an environment that is safe for them" he says "These lads need support – they can't just go into any house or put out on the streets. Some can't look after themselves and that's where the support has to come in. People need to come in here and talk to us and see what we have here – that we are safe, that there's never any trouble and that we all look out for each other. They just have a drink problem, I have a drink problem, we need help.
"I've no idea what is going to happen to me when this place closes" he adds "I
could end up on the streets and lose a lot of personal stuff that I can't carry around with me."
John says that he was lucky last time he was living on the streets – Salford `has a better class of bus shelters' and it was summer…
"I would have been dead if it was the winter" he laughs, ironically "But this place has helped me, not just the roof over my head which is important, but other little things. If you're feeling down you can come and have a chat about life, the universe anything, and if you've got a problem the staff will find out who you need to go and see. They are magic and give you a little bit of a push, or hands off, whatever you need."
John found out formally ten days ago that Royal Court was shutting down. He wasn't surprised…
"It's the way local authorities are implementing the Government cuts; the writing was on the wall that this kind of place would be the first to go" he says "Of course it isn't fair, it's not equitable, but then a lot of life isn't. You just have to suck it up. I don't know what I'll do. There's a possibility for something next week but if that doesn't come through I'm not 100% sure. The streets are always a possibility, but I've got to be a bit positive."
Those at Royal Court know what the perceived image is of alcohol dependent people. And that's why they believe they are being singled out for abandonment…
"`Alkies and druggies? Urgh, ghastly people!'" mocks John "Work for the BBC? `Oh you're ok you can come in'…"
A tour of Royal Court and a chat to its residents will soon change that image for anyone willing to care. These are bright, witty, intelligent people. Their rooms are immaculate. Their appearance is immaculate.
"People think that alcohol dependent people are rough but you look at the way we dress, everybody's clean shaven and washed, there's no beer cans piled up or anything like that" says Vinny "It's alright people from posh estates calling us `alcoholics' and cutting our funding but the same people are going home having a bottle of wine, while MPs go to the bar in the Houses of Parliament where it's all subsidised. But they are the people who are going to kill places like this, and they're going to kill a lot of people."
Indeed, the latest Salford Council Health Survey shows that people in Worsley and Boothstown drink over three times more than those in East Salford, with almost a quarter of the Council's sample saying they drink on more than four days a week. Alcohol dependency knows no social boundaries – except that the Royal Court is for those who have almost lost everything.
Paul was a former business branch manager in Salford and stayed in Royal Court for three months…
"People get the wrong impression of people staying here" he says "I got divorced and just went on a downward spiral, drinking two bottles of wine a day. One morning I woke up and thought `What am I doing?'. I found this place, as I needed a roof over my head. With the staff and support it helped me tremendously, and it's now fifty days today since I've had a drink, and hopefully my life is on an upward curve."
Paul has bravely come back to Royal Court to tell his story and plead for someone to save the place and the future of the remaining residents.
"It's very difficult to stop drinking when you're in a wet house but it's helped me move back into the community, get my own flat and hopefully get a job shortly" he says "There are different levels of people in here. Some need medical care, others need support for different needs and I just hope they get support and are not thrown onto the street. Some of these people just won't survive beyond weeks."
It's a sentiment echoed by virtually everyone you speak to…
"Certain people here will not survive because they'll bang them on some council estate and, because they're alcohol dependent, people will clock them going to the shop with a see through bag and they'll say `we'll have them over'" says Vinny "A lot of people depend on this place and a lot won't survive. Not until Christmas. It's a guarantee.
"The Council or the Mayor should come here for a week and see what goes on, they should listen to us" he adds "The staff here have been in consultation but nobody has actually been here and spoken to us. We're being discriminated against. And I think we need to make a stand."
For Gareth Stowers, who works for Positive Lifestyles at Royal Court, the closure, from April 1st, is like "a vile April Fool's joke"…
"When this building shuts it will leave whoever is still here effectively homeless" he says "It was due to shut last year and we got a stay of execution where the Council said that they'd help us to get people re-housed. In my opinion they've blatantly failed to do that. They've had well over a year to provide an alternative service and a network of support for these guys and they've failed to do so. There's nothing at all in place – the help we've had from the Government or Council has been absolutely minimal at best.
"What really upsets me is that a service like this is really needed in a place like Salford where alcohol is an endemic problem and has been for a number of years" he adds "The whole country is in crisis at the moment, and when you have great periods of stress people start drinking to deal with that and then alcohol becomes an issue. This is going to become more of a problem not less of a problem
"When you shut down places like this people will end up on the streets or other accommodation that doesn't support people with alcohol problems, and they're going to end up homeless, sleeping in shop doorways" he concludes "And when they end up on the streets they're going to end up in prison cells and A& E, and that's going to put more stress on services. It's not saving them money, it's costing them money.
"Some people from here are going to do okay, but others are not going to do okay, and those are the people who keep me up worrying at night" Gareth explains "I worry about those people. The chances are that six months down the line some of them will be dead."
City Mayor Ian Stewart told reporters on the day Salford Council made £16million cuts that he would stand criticism of his judgement over spending (see here)…. While Royal Court is due to be tinned up on April 1st, Salford Council has spent £3.6million on the £14million Media City project The Landing, which includes a £120 a year Private Members drinking club (see here)…
• Some of the names of Royal Court residents have been changed…
* When Royal Court shuts on April 1st, five staff members will also lose their jobs, taking years of expertise of working with alcohol dependent people with them.
* Residents and workers from Royal Court will be speaking at the Salford Against the Cuts meeting this Saturday – see here for further details
UPDATE: 7th February 2013
Salford Council has finally responded, stating that the `formal decision notice’ to extend the contract for Royal Court until November 2013 “was a contingency plan to avoid any gaps in service during the change. In the end it was not necessary.”
Councillor Peter Connor, Assistant Mayor for Adult services added: "Everyone at Royal Court will be found suitable accommodation in smaller hostels or supported flats before the hostel closes at the end of March. No-one will be left without support.
“The new service will balance treatment and recovery and try to help people overcome their alcohol dependency through expert help including consultants in psychiatry and substance misuse.”