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Gary Puffet is a Labour Party activist and former Chair of Newbury Constituency Labour Party. What, you may ask, was I doing sitting on a bench with him in Lambourn?

Gary’s brother Shaun was a Lambourn resident who died of alcohol related illness in 2017. Gary is determined that other families should not have to go through the same tragic experiences. I was chatting with Gary on what has become known as Shaun’s bench in Lambourn. This is where Shaun used to sit in the last few years of his life and from where he became a popular local figure despite his tragic illness. So many people like Shaun live in our community or share our lives in one way or another. Many of us may know someone who is declining to an early death due to the terrible effects of alcohol. There is a new initiative being promoted by West Berkshire’s Public Health and Wellbeing team, offering health checks and advice to anyone interested in learning more, led by people who really understand the effects of alcohol on our communities. In addition to Gary and his family, I was with Graham Jones, former leader of West Berkshire Council now continuing his role as Lambourn’s pharmacist. Not wanting to diminish in any way the effect of drugs on people’s lives, Graham makes a sober calculation, “Don’t get me wrong, drugs devastate people’s lives but in my time as a pharmacist in Lambourn I have known of only one person die of drug addiction whilst I have lost count of the number of people have died from alcohol abuse”.

Graham is working with the local GP surgery, West Berkshire Public Health and others in the community to provide a coherent, joined-up service to those suffering from alcohol addiction. They will be in Lambourn next Thursday 25th July, offering a free health check which includes a diagnostic liver examination which is non-invasive and can be done in seconds and help with finding the right organisation to encourage an individual to drink less or stop drinking altogether. Very often alcohol addiction comes as a result of underlying problems in people’s lives and it’s important that those problems are addressed at the same time.

Shaun’s decline and subsequent death had a devastating effect on his family. It is hugely impressive to see the way that Gary has overcome his grief to do what he can to ensure that no other family has to go through what they experienced. I hope that this initiative will mean that lives can be saved and future tragedies averted. You can find out more from denise.sayles@westberks.gov.uk or by ringing 01635 503435.