Funding row could see the closure of Ayrshire's pioneering drug rehabilitation site, River Garden

A digital image of the shared accommodation units at River Garden. Bosses at the unit say they need a building warrant that would allow them to secure a certificate for a House of Multiple Occupancy. However, the funding row has left them in limbo
-Credit: (Image: G1 Architects)

Bosses at a pioneering drug rehabilitation site in Ayrshire have today warned their entire operation is three weeks away from closure - if no new funding can be found.

The River Garden Auchincruive, on the outskirts of Ayr, offers a three-year residential programme - which swaps traditional rehabilitation therapy for communal support and hands-on work, including horticulture, woodwork and cooking.

However, Ayrshire Live can reveal its future is hanging in the balance - with bosses claiming the Scottish Government has ‘paused’ their funding.

Marina Barnard, Chair of River Garden Auchincruive, said: “River Garden has been starved of the revenue required to meet the level of service provision that was agreed with the Scottish Government in a meeting in December 2023.

“We are limping forward, based on revenue being generated by the community café, public donations, and the sale of some woodcraft items.

“It has become clear in discussions with the Scottish Government that they have found all spending was legitimate, but they are still not providing the promised funding.”

And she warned: “We are now three weeks away from having to close our doors.”

River Garden Auchincruive was initially awarded £6,356,654 by the Scottish Government as part of the Residential Rehabilitation Rapid Capacity Programme.

However, bosses say that funding was paused in October 2023. And instead of helping 56 people, as planned, they can only offer help to just six residents- due to the financial squeeze.

In another worrying development, they also claim that, as a result of the freeze, contractors won’t complete the necessary building work that would enable River Garden to obtain an appropriate building warrant. This would allow them to secure a certificate for a House of Multiple Occupancy.

However, the inability to obtain the certificate means that Housing Benefit, to support accommodated residents, cannot be sourced either.

Ms Barnard added: “They (the Scottish Government) cannot give us any assurance that they will pay the contractors or give us sufficient income to survive.”

One politician is seeking answers into why River Garden funding has been paused.

South of Scotland Conservative List MSP, Sharon Dowey, warned First Minister John Swinney over the closure risk at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, in the Scottish Parliament.

South Scotland Conservative List MSP Sharon Dowey
South Scotland Conservative List MSP Sharon Dowey -Credit:UGC

And she pushed Mr Swinney to step in with funding, which she claimed was ‘previously promised.’

Ms Dowey, said: “The SNP must answer why they paused this funding and immediately act to sort this out. Scotland has the worst drug death rate in Europe- but beds are lying empty because funding has been frozen.

“The future of the facility is now at risk. It may close imminently if it does not receive the funding they were told they would get.

“This looks like another broken promise from the SNP.”

River Garden also has a social enterprise cafe and their open-gates policy allows residents to interact with the general public and heal broken family relationships via frequent visits.

An aerial shot of Auchincruive Estate, where River Garden is based
An aerial shot of Auchincruive Estate, where River Garden is based -Credit:galbraith

Speaking in the chamber Mr Swinney said he couldn’t give Ms Dowey a direct response to her “very specific question” but he would take it away and “explore it.”

He added: “We are on target to increase the number of beds available for rehabilitation services, according to the expectations of the National Mission (launched in 2001 to reduce drug-related deaths and improve lives impacted by drugs.) So I’m surprised to hear the information Sharon Dowey has put to the parliament, given the fact that my expectation is that we will achieve our published targets.

"But I will take away that particular issue and explore the issues regarding River Garden.”

Read next:

Don't miss the latest Ayrshire headlines – sign up to our free daily newsletter