St. Anne’s Community Services – who, what, where and why?

I thought I’d dedicate my first blog post to explaining at little bit about my internship, and the organisation that I’ll be working with over the coming weeks.

St. Anne’s Community Services is a charity based in Leeds that provides a huge variety of services to many groups, from the homeless to those with mental health problems, from asylum seekers to people with substance abuse issues. In 2014 (see my previous Charity Insights blog posts!) I carried out a project at St. Anne’s that was focused on Alcohol Related Brain Damage, or ARBD, in the homeless. I really enjoyed working with the team at St. Anne’s and really admired the (often difficult) work that they do, so it’s no surprise that I’m back again!

This year, my project is focused on Spice, a synthetic cannabinoid that, until May 26th, was classified as a ‘legal high’. Before this date, it was legal to sell Spice in the UK, so it could be purchased on the internet and even in shops. Due to increasing concerns about the effects of Spice on both the physical and mental health of its users, on May 26th this year it became illegal to sell it, or to possess with intent to sell.

Spice comes in hundreds of different varieties, is relatively cheap, and can have a huge range of effects, most of which are not desirable. These range from black-outs, anxiety and a racing heart to seizures, psychosis and even death.

So where does my project come into all this? During my time at St. Anne’s in 2014 I spoke to quite a few service users who had mentioned Spice. I didn’t know what it was, so decided to investigate. After speaking to the staff and doing some research of my own, I realised just how serious this problem was, especially amongst the homeless. Worryingly, because Spice has only begun to be abused relatively recently, there is little or no data available on its use, long-term and short-term effects.

During my internship this year, then, I will be gathering information from service users at St. Anne’s (who are homeless or what we call ‘vulnerably housed’) about their experiences with Spice. In addition, I will also be working closely with the staff to gauge their knowledge and experience of the drug and its effects. The aim is to help St. Anne’s understand how and why the homeless are using Spice, if they contact the emergency services as a result, and how they are obtaining it now that the law has changed. We also want to ensure that the staff have all the knowledge they need to identify someone who has taken Spice, and ensure that they receive the appropriate care. It’s a challenging area, but it’s so important that we learn more about this really worrying trend.

If you want to find out a bit about the effects of taking Spice, watch the episode of ‘999: What’s Your Emergency?’ that was broadcast on 11th July 2016 on Channel 4. It shows how the emergency services are trying to deal with the devastating effects of legal highs, and is a bit of an eye opener. Take a look.

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