EWAN GURR: Dave hit rock bottom with his last £1 spent on a crisis loan – now he is transformed

David Dyson with Robert Palmer and one of his paintings at the Reconnection Project
David Dyson with Robert Palmer and one of his paintings at the Reconnection Project

It is 10 years since I first met Dave when he appeared at the door of Dundee Foodbank.

As a result of chemical addiction he had lost his job, his home, his wife – everything.

He looked worn out and arrived having just spent his last £1 on a premium rate number to secure what was then a crisis loan he never received.

Dave Dyson was homeless and battling depression so, a decade on, it was fitting we should be reminiscing together during Mental Health Awareness Week.

The Dave I know is now a transformed man. Over the last 10 years, he has helped set up various community gardens across Dundee, including the Giving Garden opened in Menzieshill by former Lord Provost Bob Duncan in 2013.

Dave, 52, also has a successful painting and decorating firm but his main passion is the Reconnection Project, based at The Friary on Tullideph Road.

The project, which secured charitable status in 2015, reconnects the disconnected and also helps people into education and employment.

One such individual was Robert Palmer, 56, who was running his own business in Wolverhampton but hit a low point, culminating in a relationship breakdown which, he said, tipped him over the edge.

He left everything behind and spent more than two and a half years walking hundreds of miles before being picked up by the police in Arbroath.

Robert often slept in wooded areas, caught rabbits to feed himself and would wake up during the winter covered in frost.

There were times he would go four or five days without food.

He said: “My body felt like it began to cannibalise itself.”

Now, Robert says he is in a better place than ever before and has returned to his passion for painting.

Alongside Reconnection, he leads people through the creative experience in a relaxed environment.

One lady in his group started painting at the age of 85 and sends pictures to her son in New Zealand.

According to Dave, Dundee is not winning the war on drugs.

He knows of one person who came to the project having been on methadone for 30 years and reduced only once from 100 millilitres to 95.

Working with people experiencing substance misuse means Dave has seen some lose their lives in the fight against drugs.

He said his faith is crucial in sustaining him through tough times.

His long-term vision is to open a rehabilitation centre in Dundee to help people make the breakthrough.

Dave also emphasised the coalition of partnerships that makes Reconnection work.

The support from City Church, Crossreach and others has been vital and it is at The Friary that the emphasis on recovery was discovered.

Terms such as society and community are used inter-changeably but Dave believes they are different.

“Community is about relationships and, if you have communities within society, then people can flourish,” he said.