Bosses at a recovery hub in Ayrshire are looking to take the service they provide to local people "to the next level".

The River Garden project, based on the banks of the River Ayr at Auchincruive, brings in people from across Ayrshire and beyond who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

They will stay at the site, between Ayr and Mossblown, for three years, where they will learn to live a life free from addiction through work-based rehabilitation that helps them develop new skills, build their self-esteem and learn how to work collaboratively with others.

On the project's official website, River Garden Auchincruive, as it's officially known, is described as "a training and social enterprise development centre offering a residential programme for people in the early stages of recovery from drug and/or alcohol addiction".

Taking inspiration from projects as far afield as Italy, Sweden and the United States, it aims not just to help people into long-term recovery but to reintegrate them into employment and mainstream society through abstinence, trust, firm boundaries, mutual support, respect for life and responsibility.

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Having been transformed around a decade ago, the facility has capacity to care for up to 24 residents, having taken on its first in 2017.

River Garden will welcome its first female residents later this year, after planning permission was granted in September 2023 for new residential buildings for service users and staff, providing 36 additional bed spaces.

The ultimate aim is that it will be able to help up to 56 people at a time on their journeys of recovery.

A key part of each service user's journey towards recovery involves engaging in meaningful work, and those staying on site take on jobs at the project, in the garden or cafe, to help prepare them for life away from Auchincruive.

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The cafe, known as The Bothy, is open to the public five days a week and is fast becoming hugely popular, with a series of five-star reviews on ratings website TripAdvisor testifying to the high regard in which it's held.

The Bothy has played a key role in establishing River Garden's status in the wider community since it opened its doors, though the initiative's service users also produce vegetables and herbs for the cafe, and bespoke wooden products for the home and garden.

An events team has been set up too, and The Bothy has played host to legendary Scottish pop group The Bluebells, up-and-coming Scottish alternative music band Constant Follower, and the cast of the short film Miraculous, including Scottish actors Colin McCredie and Tam Dean Burn.

Those projects, establishing ever-closer links between River Garden and the wider public, are the building blocks that the team behind the initiative are intent on adding to in the years ahead.

According to official police figures, the number of drug deaths recorded in Ayrshire last year fell to 83 - the lowest annual total since 2017. 

But with 707 drug deaths having been recorded in Ayrshire since that year, the steady fall in the number of lives lost to drugs in the area isn't changing the River Garden outlook or approach one bit.

General manager Jardine Simpson said: "When people come here, we need the commitment from them that they are in recovery and they're no longer stuck to their addiction.

"That's the first main step in us being able to help them and making sure their life isn't controlled by their addiction.

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"When they're here, they get involved in a lot of different things which can stand them well for when they leave here and go on and try and find work.

"We've had numerous success stories from people who have now had full-time employment for a number of years.

"This really can save someone's life."

Just one of the success stories mentioned was Harvey, who moved to River Garden when he was 20, having taken drugs from around the age of 16 or 17.

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Whilst staying there, Harvey discovered his love for the outdoors and, in particular, tree surgery.

Harvey has now been employed in the industry for more than a year. As well as that, he owns his own car, is in a long-term relationship, and has moved into his first flat - things he would never have imagined before joining Auchincruive.

Harvey's is the kind of success that Jardine says he wants River Garden to build on and shout about, to spread the positive message about the work the project is doing.

He also wants it to be seen not simply as a place people go to to recover from addictions, but somewhere the wider public can visit as a matter of course, as they do with the many other visitor attractions spread across Ayrshire.

Ayr Advertiser: Harvey found his love for tree surgery while at Auchincruive.Harvey found his love for tree surgery while at Auchincruive. (Image: River Garden)

"We want this place to be somewhere that people just come for a coffee and go for a walk with their dogs, and for it to become a place people recognise," he said.

"We're hoping to link up with the local schools and to be able to spread our messages about what we do, and for them to come in and help us with projects we'll have ongoing.

"The people really make this place what it is. We all look out for each other and we're all going through, or have been through, something similar.

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"So we really just want to shout and sing about the great work going on here to change lives."

In line with the philosophy that those in recovery at River Garden need to want to change, application is by self-referral only, though the project is happy for treatment staff and workers in other support agencies to signpost potential applicants.

Find out more about River Garden, and the stories of some of those who the project has helped over the years, at