The BFG (Big Friendly Group), a peer mentoring project from Cyfle Cymru working in partnership with Llanfaes Church, held their launch on Tuesday, May 30.
Cyfle Cymru peer mentors help people affected by substance misuse and mental health conditions to gain skills that are necessary to go out and work. They provide support to access training, qualifications and work experience.
Cyfle Cymru is part of Kaleidoscope, who run substance projects across Wales and help thousands of people each year.
The BFG is being facilitated in partnership by Andy Pole of Cylfe Cymru and Rev Rich Wootten of Brecon Ministry Area.
They are both ex-police officers; Andy retired as a full time police officer in 2021, and Rev Richard was a special police officer, leaving his role in 2018 to begin training for ministry.
The BFG started in April 2023 and is currently supporting people who have lived experience of mental health, trauma, and substance misuse.
The aim of the group align well with the role of the church, which is to treat everyone equally without judgement.
Similarly to the BFG, Kaleidoscope’s aim was founded on Christian principles in 1968 and run from local churches.
The collaboration between the church and the BFG came about through a chance meeting where Rev. Rich Wootten and Andy were passing through Brecon.
They spoke about using the church space as a place for the group to meet. Following their interaction, Rev. Rich Wootten said at the launch event: “It just came to me that actually this was the perfect opportunity for the church as it is a Christian response to the need that is out there.”
Since the project started, Rev. Rich and three other volunteers have been trained to administer Naloxone, a drug used when people overdose on opiates.
The BFG also marshalled traffic for the Christian Walk of Witness on Good Friday, have cleaned and painted the church kitchen and are currently fixing push bikes to give to Ukrainian refugees and doing maintenance in the churchyard - fast becoming a local volunteer force.
Since working with them, Rev. Rich Wooten said: “I’ve been so inspired by some of the work the guys have been doing here and I’ve fallen in love with them.
“I’m really, really proud of all the work they’ve been doing and the journey that they’re on.
“It’s really helped me personally. I’m training to be a preist so with all the challenges in the ministry, actually seeing the people here and how well they’re doing and their growth has really inspired me and I just hope this project explodes and goes really big!”
BFG identified that service users are stigmatised and then marginalised. It seeks to redress that by showing positive qualities of empathy, love and support for each other. Typically, people who have been drug users suffer with shame and guilt.
Discussing the project at its launch event, Andy addressed the crowd saying: “We’re trying to help those people get to that good place where they’re confident to go out and work.
“By working or volunteering they’ll feel better about themselves, look after their mental health and all of a sudden hopefully be dealing with their substance issue.”
At the launch, BFG representatives received a donation from Mortimers Solicitors of £1,000 to assist with the running of the project.
In attendance at the launch event was MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, Fay Jones. Commenting on the event, she said: “I really enjoyed popping into St David’s Church in Llanfaes to learn about the Big Friendly Group, a welcoming space for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
“It was really great to meet Andy from Cyfle Cymru Powys as well as representatives from Oasis Community Church Challenge Valleys.
“I learned a huge amount about addiction and different ways to think about it.
“It was a really eye-opening afternoon, huge thanks to Reverend Richard Wootton for the invitation.”
It is envisaged that the BFG Project could be rolled out to other locations in the future.