Working tirelessly to stop solvent abuse

YOUR HONOUR

Barrie Liss was talking to

Peter Rasmussen.

To stop it before it ever happens, that's the ideal," says Barrie Liss. An impossible task? Not to the man who was recently made an OBE for services to the prevention of solvent and volatile substance abuse. Sixteen years ago he founded the charity Re-Solv, of which he has been chairman ever since.

The ducks are quacking away in the back garden pond of Marion and Barrie Liss's house, idyllically situated in Stafford. Inside, the former joint managing director of Evode, manufacturers of adhesives, talks with commitment about the long fight against the abuse that has cost more than 1,500 people - mostly teenagers - their lives in the UK since 1980.

Barrie was born in London in 1933, but at the beginning of the Second World War, as a young boy, he was evacuated along with the rest of his family. That marked the beginning of a ten year stay in Hertfordshire. Though he did return to the capital on one rather poorly timed occasion.

"I went back to London for a short period, when they didn't think there would be any bombings. But actually I was there for all of the bombing, and then we were evacuated again," he remembers with a smile.

After two years as a National Service officer, he started working in wholesale in London, but was soon offered a job with a Stafford based company producing adhesives.

In London he had met his future wife, Marion, who was studying medicine. She later followed him to Stafford, where she has now been working as a GP for more than 30 years.

The firm in Stafford which Barrie joined in 1957 was to be company and line of business he stay in. "In the early 1980s, glue sniffing had become such a big problem that the adhesives industry was concerned that the image of the whole industry would be tarnished by it," he explains.

Through the years, Barrie Liss had worked his way to the top of the company. As joint managing director, he was chosen as a representative for the trade association to find out what could be done to reduce the damage of the abuse - both to the industry and the abusers.

"At that point I knew nothing about the problem, but when I was asked, I looked into it. I found out that there were a lot of problems all across the country. A lot of people were sniffing glues, harming themselves, and quite a number of them dying," he says.

His advice to the industry was clear: Stop hiding from the media, be honest and explain that this is not just an industrial problem, but rather a social one.

But his initial approach to the abuse of solvents had already changed. Seeing how widespread the problem was, he decided to do more than advise the industry on how to approach the problems, and so in 1984, still working with Evode, he founded Re-Solv. He saw that there was an urgent need for a national organisation that knew what it was doing.

"Some local authorities and self-help groups were trying to do something about the problem. But there were a lot of unco-ordinated things going on; leaflets being prepared by people with very little knowledge, leading to really poor information," he remembers.

Today the organisation is involved in preventative work across the UK, including distributing educational material, sponsoring research and holding conferences.

Being chairman of Re-Solv has not taken all of Barrie Liss's time though. His CV indicates that he is a man who firmly believes that idleness is the root to all evil. Among other things, he has been chairman of the Mid Staffordshire Health Authority and is still a member of Mid Staffordshire magistrates. In his opinion, being made an OBE will change nothing, for him nor the organisation, but he was still delighted when he heard the news.

"It's definitely an endorsement of the work we are doing and an encouragement to go on," he says. Barrie Liss often talks to parents who have lost their children because of solvent abuse. It can be a psychological strain, he says, but it also keeps him going.

"A lot of the parents we talk to say to me: 'If we had only known what you have told us, we would have known which danger signals to look for.' That makes me feel that our organisation and further information is needed."

If you have questions about solvent abuse, you can call the Re-Solv Helpline : 0808 800 2345, or find them on the Internet at www.re-solv.org


The Post - 5th August 2000