GRACE helps with life traumas in East Dunbartonshire

With good grace...charity founder Robert Smith is modest about his achievements, heaping praise on the GRACE volunteers and fellow board members. (Pic: Emma Mitchell)
With good grace...charity founder Robert Smith is modest about his achievements, heaping praise on the GRACE volunteers and fellow board members. (Pic: Emma Mitchell)

We all suffer ups and downs in life and most of us have friends or family we can rely on to help us cope ... but not everyone is so fortunate.

And that is where the East Dunbartonshire based charity GRACE can help.

It was set up in 2012 by Kirkintilloch man Robert Smith, who battled his own demons with alcohol after being made redundant from his job in the building trade following the economic downturn in the industry.

As the founder of GRACE – Group Recovery Aftercare Community Enterprise – Robert has worked tirelessly to provide a safe space to support anyone who has suffered from trauma.

Based at the new bright and airy Hillhead Community Hall in Meiklehill Road, the charity does not restrict itself to those suffering from addictions though.

Robert (52) said: “I decided to set up the charity as there was no aftercare for people in East Dunbartonshire once they had completed a recovery programme.

“Our ethos is to offer help to anyone who has suffered a life trauma – it’s not just restricted to those with drug, alcohol or gambling problems.”

Mental health is also a growing issue for the charity.

Robert said: “There are many issues that impact on people, many of which are not helped if someone has mental health issues.

“These include homelessness and social isolation, which could be caused by bereavement of a loved one or losing mobility as people get older.”

What GRACE now offers to the community is so unique that Robert was nominated and went on to receive a Local Hero Award from local MSP Rona Mackay in June last year.

But a modest Robert insisted the charity is a team effort and he could not achieve what he has without the help and co-operation of the many volunteers who give up their time to help run activities every week.

He said: “The award was for everyone at GRACE.

“I was reluctant to accept it because I’m not doing this for the publicity – I’m just the figurehead.

“The real success story is the people who manage to turn their lives around after experiencing some very dark times.”

A volunteer board of eight members assist Robert in the day-to-day running of the charity and help in the decision making process.

Among their number are chairwoman Indira Pole, secretary Ivor McLure and vice-chairwoman Lynne Hale.

Indira said: “Collectively we all work as a good team and support Robert.

“We couldn’t do what we do without Robert’s tireless work or the army of dedicated volunteers who help out on a day to day basis.”

The charity’s success can be measured by the number of people who have returned to employment after turning to GRACE for support.

After gaining confidence through peer-to-peer help, they are often able to return to work.

Activities have grown steadily from one day a week to a range of activities spread throughout the week.

The ethos and focus is on activities which promote a feeling of self awareness and self help to rebuild people’s confidence and self worth.

In practical terms, this translates into holding creative writing workshops, digital classes, arts and crafts sessions and living on a budget tutorials.

Many of the people who use the service have been out of work for some time so accessing training helps them to rebuild their confidence.

Robert said: “We also find that health and physical activity, such as the walking group we run, can have a positive effect on people.

“Walking encourages people to talk.”

Many of the people who use the service go on to become volunteers and organise events that other users of the service indicate would be helpful to them.

Robert added: “It is in this way that we can remain relevant to those that need help. Aftercare is so important in bringing people back into the community after a challenging time in their lives.

“By highlighting GRACE’ work, I hope it will let people know we are here to help them if they need us.”

GRACE also aims to help family members of the person using the service by offering help and advice to compliment the support they are giving to those on the recovery programme.

For more information on the charity visit facebook.com/grace.aftercare.

A helping hand in recovery

GRACE is a peer-led charity which provides volunteering opportunities and training to help improve individuals employment prospects after they’ve experienced addiction or other life traumas.

Set up by Robert Smith in 2013, in it’s early days it offered a safe space to talk and discuss issues surrounding recovery from addiction.

Now it offers a more holistic approach to providing aftercare for people who have completed or who are established in a recovery programme from addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling or who have mental health issues, are homeless or have suffered a trauma.

And it’s this which makes GRACE such a unique project.

The group provides learning, training, health and well-being activities, personal development and physical pursuits for those in need of support, enabling them to turn their lives around.

After building up group members confidence, they are encouraged to engage in training or volunteering, which may lead to employment.

Many of those who use the service go on to volunteer at the charity and share their experiences with others going through similar challenges.

The charity strives to make sure the programmes it offers are relevant to its service users.

Engagement and involvement are key to the success of GRACE. Its training programmes ensure that participants gain the most from their involvement so they, ultimately, progress into employment or further education, training and volunteering.

Vulnerable people can also learn how to deal with challenging situations through stress management and self awareness workshops.

GRACE also prides itself in not only helping the individual but their family members too.