Concern voiced over drug clinic plans

A MULTI-million pound project to provide intensive treatment for some of Suffolk's most vulnerable children in a huge Elizabethan mansion was last night criticised by anxious villagers.

By Richard Smith

A MULTI-million pound project to provide intensive treatment for some of Suffolk's most vulnerable children in a huge Elizabethan mansion was last night criticised by anxious villagers.

The former Wood Hall Hotel at Sutton, near Woodbridge, has been earmarked for a therapeutic community for 15 children aged between 15 and 18 who misuse drink and drugs or who have mental health problems.

It will cost £100,000 annually for each child and there will be very high staff ratios with three staff per teenager at night.

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The building will be locked at 9pm and no teenager will be allowed out until after 9am.

They will not be permitted to leave the grounds unless supervised by staff.

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The project, to be known as REEDS, is for children who have been, or are in danger of being excluded from school and society due to their problems.

It will not accept people convicted of arson and sex crimes, those who have a history of violence or have acute sociopathic or psychopathic disorders.

A briefing note issued to residents stated: “REEDS will not be a secure unit or extension to juvenile prisons, the whole ethos of the community is to empower these young people to take ownership of their own lives and to always consider the consequences of their actions and reactions.

“It will not be a place where young people can sleep and continue to feed any habits, addictions, phobias or disorder that they have.

“This is a clean and dry community, not a needle exchange or ongoing maintenance clinic.”

The project has been put forward by Ian Read, a teacher at the Hollesley prison complex.

He unveiled a similar scheme in Badingham two years ago, which met with a storm of protest from worried residents.

It is understood that he has a Millennium Award with financial support for the project.

Mr Read, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, has told locals that the parish council will be invited to monthly meetings to discuss the running of REEDS.

Villagers will also be able to use the swimming pool, conference suite and nightclub building.

Residents in Sutton attended a parish council meeting to hear details about the scheme.

Mavis Masters lives in the Coach House, which backs onto the grounds of Wood Hall.

She said: “It is going to be privately run and that means we can not go to the NHS or anybody else if it goes wrong.

“The parish council was told the staff would have six weeks' training and they would be fairly youngish people, but what happens if they find the job is difficult and they leave?

“We feel that we are very, very vulnerable with 15 people like that in an area which is unpoliced.''

George Franks, Sutton parish council chairman, said: “The general tenor of the meeting could not have been described as positive or supportive of this project.”

One Shottisham resident, who declined to be named, said: “He is in partnership with an accountant and they have been trying to find funding to purchase Wood Hall with various institutions.

“They are aiming to apply for a change of use for the hotel at the end of September or the middle of October and they are now trying to find out how the community feels about the project.

“But the community is not feeling very good. I think there is a concern over the security of the unit and there are people who live near the hotel and they are worried.

“Economically, most of us realise that it could drag down our property prices substantially.

“The plans still seem a bit vague, in terms of the security and the staffing and at the moment they are not giving a hell of a lot away.''

Wood Hall is a three-storey detached 16th century grade II listed building. It was a hotel for 35 years with 14 bedrooms and seven acres of grounds with various sports facilities, a nightclub and a function room.

Permission was granted four years ago for it to be converted into a house and it is no longer a hotel. Situated within the grounds is a three-bedroomed cottage.

The Elizabethan mansion was, for many years, the dowager seat of Suffolk's famous Quilter family. The owners of Wood Hall have declined to comment.

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