Twenty years ago today – 26 March 1998 – Kairos community moved into the tumble-down building that was 22 Linden Grove. Since then, staff, residents and volunteers have worked together with building professionals and other charities like CRASH, to transform the old house into the CQC-regulated community detox hostel it is today. It has been a place of recovery, health, safety and companionship for more than one thousand men and women, and continues to be so today.

The Linden Grove story began, for Kairos director Mossie Lyons, 20 years ago with a motor-bike ride…

One January morning in 1998, Fr John pulled up on his bike outside Bethwin Road, where I was manager at time. He had an extra helmet. I’m not a good pillion passenger and was relieved when we pulled up outside 22 Linden Grove. The  property was owned by Southwark Council, which had run it as a hostel. They wanted to sell it and a recent attempted sale had fallen through.

John was keen that we have a look at it because Kairos had been given notice to leave 158 Stonhouse Street, Clapham by the end of March and he was searching for a replacement.

A big but compact building, over four floors, it had been squatted for months. The squatters had kept warm by burning floorboards and then left treating themselves to the copper piping. The place was very run down and neglected and now its only occupants were pigeons, who displayed few signs of being toilet-trained. Its potential was obvious but major cleaning and refurbishment was equally obvious if that potential were to be realised. The building was bought in three weeks flat.

On the following Sunday a large work force was mustered together (maybe 30 people) and the place was blitzed. Far from being palatial, the first six people moved into the middle floor on 26 March, with a small team of workers led by Tony Walsh. Fr John Kitchen also moved there, as director.

Today, I sit in the beautiful dining-room and think, “Wow, its potential has been realised beyond our wildest dreams.” Now it is a 24-bed (mostly en-suite), CQC-regulated detox hostel.

After detox (managed/supervised by Dr Jenny), Linden Grove operates as a quasi-residential base for the Kairos Garden Day Programme,  providing a  unique combination of safe, comfortable accommodation and good quality therapy.

At lunchtime, this dining-room is busy – close on 40 people, most days (some come back for lunch from Move-On houses). The profile of the client group here is interesting and I would say has changed over 20 years: there are more women, more veterans, and clients are getting younger with most between 25-50 years old and from many ethnic backgrounds. Most residents have been diagnosed with related health problems (and a few with complex needs); most are carrying some form of trauma (childhood, domestic violence, abuse, homelessness), the well-educated and the near-illiterate.

Then there are the constants that over 21 years I have come to know and value above anything else and which provide the golden thread that gives Kairos at Linden Grove its heartbeat:

• The Kairos ethos of community – a homeliness where nobody is an outsider and everyone belongs.
• Outstanding food for body as well as soul, thanks to Sandra and Toddy in the kitchen.
Recovery modelled by ex-residents who are now providing indispensable backup to the professionals as volunteers. They prove recovery is possible, attainable and sustainable.
• The gift of time that allows for planned care and support. Time (Kairos time) for gradual progress into wellbeing and recovered health
Peer support and the 12-Step fellowships that provide structure for normal living
• Moving on with continuing support in our supported, sober Kairos Move-On houses.

Tony Walsh, Elizabeth McCormack, Frank Smith and Lorraine Beckford: the vital roll-call of managers who have managed and loved Kairos into a home for health and recovery.

Finally, a huge thanks to Fr John, Denis Walsh and a generous group of volunteers who were not afraid to dirty their hands to make the place habitable in those early days.

– Mossie Lyons, Director