Nestled away in the small brewery town of Burton-Upon-Trent in the Midlands, Langan's is a traditional, formal-but-friendly tearoom with a difference. At first glance, it has the upmarket British town, vaguely Downton Abbey-esque characteristics you'd expect—all corniced ceilings and gleaming, polished floorboards.
The difference with Langan's, though, is that beneath the meticulously-painted walls and ornate furnishings, all its staff and volunteers are in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse.
Launched by Noreen Oliver, a former alcoholic, and connected to the treatment center she runs, BAC O' Connor, Langan's Tea Rooms offers paid and voluntary work to ex-users who have received treatment at the center.
NOREEN. ALL IMAGES BY THE AUTHOR.
Noreen's battle with alcoholism brought her close to death. Since getting into recovery, though, she's devoted herself to helping others with addiction problems. "All the people who work here have been through BAC, and when they leave they will have an NVQ—something to fill the gaps on their CV with," she says.
The tearooms have been embraced wholeheartedly by local communities, and celebrities like Russell Brand—a massive public supporter of schemes that promote abstinence-based recovery in the UK—have visited the tearooms on a number of occasions. This has helped, obviously, in removing the stigma that is associated with addiction. We all have pre-conceived notions of what an addict might look like or be capable of.
Often—very often—that notion is wrong.
A MEMENTO OF RUSSELL BRAND'S VISIT TO LANGAN'S. CHRIS MAKING LEMONADE BATTER.
Noreen might have taken a chance with the recovering-addicts-staffing-a-posh-tea-room business template, but her experiment appears to be working brilliantly. I went up to visit on a Monday when you'd expect it to be pretty quiet, being an upmarket in a small town and all that. Not so. Tables were full of customers getting their fill of homemade cakes and little sandwiches. All this, Noreen believes, has helped instill a sense of pride in the team running the place. "We wanted this beautiful building to be a place people can be proud of," she says.
The immaculate kitchens are run by chef Nick who, when I met him, was whisking up a can of R. White's Lemonade. This was puzzling.