Fifty Years On, The Friends of Ward 15 still Offer Help and Hope for Anyone Battling Addiction

29th January 2024
Colum Polly & Dan McCartan

The Friends of Ward 15, a vital support group in Downshire Hospital in Downpatrick, has given hope to thousands of patients with addictions since it was first created by ex-patients fifty years ago in 1974. The group provides essential support and comfort to anyone experiencing addiction rehabilitation.

Over the decades, the Friends have fundraised more than £350,000 for patient comforts within the ward and have provided items such as washing machines and tumble dryers, replacement televisions and audio/visual equipment, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous literature for patients and a wide variety of training equipment for staff. A comprehensive library which deals with the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction has also been provided by the group.

A “family room” in Ward 15 has been furnished by the Friends where children of patients can play, read or watch DVDs, as well as spending quality time with their parents. This room is a place of solace, away from any distractions and is a safe environment for the children.  A putting green and a tennis court have also been landscaped at the ward, which helps patients to relax after intensive therapy. Both facilities are also used by patients’ families, which is a major step in helping the entire family to recover from the user’s addiction.

Chairperson of The Friends of Ward 15, Colum Polly, highlighted the fantastic work members of the group undertake and said, “The Friends of Ward 15 is celebrating its 50th year. The dedicated group of ex-patients work tirelessly and selflessly in the background to help provide support to patients still undergoing treatment. When asked why they do it, their response is always “out of gratitude” for what they received while going through treatment at the ward.

“On a Sunday morning, we have a recovery meeting with up to 60 people attending.  There is a pool of Voluntary drivers who bring members to nightly meetings and offer support.  What the Friends of Ward 15 has done for me has been tremendous and I am very grateful.”

Treasurer and former patient, Dan McCartan reflected on his rehabilitation journey and said, “I am a recovering alcoholic and came to Ward 15 in 2012 after many years of alcoholic drinking.  In 2014, Jim Mageean asked me to join the Friends of Ward 15 and I thought what can I do for them?  I joined the group and it was a lifeline.

“People say to me about the work I have done for Ward 15.  All I am doing is what somebody did for me when I was a patient, nothing else.  It is great to have that little bit of input and to help those in the ward get to the stage that I am now at.  It is not impossible.  When I look back now, I wonder how I ever got sober.  It has worked, through commitment.  As time goes on it gets a little easier. It’s not easy by any means, I have great gratitude for Ward 15.”

“When patients are admitted to the ward, they are normally at their lowest and those who have families may have a strained relationship. With the help of the services provided by both the ward and the “Friends” there is a very good chance that patients can get better, stay better and develop a more meaningful relationship with their partners and children so that the family can recover together.”