PJ Smith remembers an important member of Liverpool’s recovery community, DAMIEN KELLY, and recalls a lot of the positive impact he’s had on people’s lives through his work at The Brink and beyond.

On April 2nd, the world lost a real force for good, when Damien Kelly passed away peacefully in his sleep, aged 47.

Our lives crossed paths around a time when we were both figuring out that the routes we were following were only ever leading us to destruction and disconnection. We vaguely knew each other from frequenting various County Road pubs, our relationship based on ‘nearly let-ons’ while under the influence.

I’m fortunate enough to have witnessed a lot of people turn their lives around, but I doubt I’ll ever see such a dramatic turnaround as Damien’s. The people who knew him from old, as Day Day, still haven’t gotten their heads around it. It literally did send shockwaves around the community. That someone, in his own words, so ‘hopeless’, would end up inspiring and supporting people. In doing so, he gave them the impetus to change their own lives. Instilling hope in people. That’s what Damien did. He’d found his role in life – although the jury is still out on his pink V-neck jumpers.

Damien was a very important member of Liverpool’s recovery community, being instrumental in the formation of The Brink – Britain’s first ever dry bar. His role there, as Community Engagement Worker, involved bringing people together. Among other things, he set up spoken word events, under-18 band nights, appeared on national TV to spread the recovery message – but, most of all, he was a living example of how it was possible to change.

It was at The Brink where people got to know him, he was always on hand. Some of the groups he helped to set up there really had a lasting impact on the participants: active citizenship, money management, assertiveness workshops, returning to learn, local history. All these groups were vital in encouraging a lot of people in the very early stages of their recovery. This is just one reason why Damien has left a legacy. Those people he helped are now all out there helping other people. Community in action.

Unbeknownst to most people, Damien was a very talented poet. He was a regular at The Everyman’s Dead Good Poets Society and frequently attended The Egg Café’s poetry reading nights. He had recently threatened to ‘come out of retirement’ make an onstage appearance at La Violette Società. He was one of the people who gave me permission to pick up a pen, just by leading with their own example. I, along with many others, thought, ‘If Damien’s doing it, it must be alright’. I’m going to honour him for that.

He didn’t change his life by magic. He faced himself, head on. Sheer courage and willingness. He always used to say, “If I can do it, anyone can”. He’s right, y’know? Hope rather than despair.

ISSUE 99 FINAL SAY Image

I’m fortunate enough to have witnessed a lot of people turn their lives around, but I doubt I’ll ever see such a dramatic turnaround as Damien’s. The people who knew him from old, as Day Day, still haven’t gotten their heads around it. It literally did send shockwaves around the community. That someone, in his own words, so ‘hopeless’, would end up inspiring and supporting people. In doing so, he gave them the impetus to change their own lives. Instilling hope in people. That’s what Damien did. He’d found his role in life – although the jury is still out on his pink V-neck jumpers.

Damien was a very important member of Liverpool’s recovery community, being instrumental in the formation of The Brink – Britain’s first ever dry bar. His role there, as Community Engagement Worker, involved bringing people together. Among other things, he set up spoken word events, under-18 band nights, appeared on national TV to spread the recovery message – but, most of all, he was a living example of how it was possible to change.

It was at The Brink where people got to know him, he was always on hand. Some of the groups he helped to set up there really had a lasting impact on the participants: active citizenship, money management, assertiveness workshops, returning to learn, local history. All these groups were vital in encouraging a lot of people in the very early stages of their recovery. This is just one reason why Damien has left a legacy. Those people he helped are now all out there helping other people. Community in action.

Unbeknownst to most people, Damien was a very talented poet. He was a regular at The Everyman’s Dead Good Poets Society and frequently attended The Egg Café’s poetry reading nights. He had recently threatened to ‘come out of retirement’ make an onstage appearance at La Violette Società. He was one of the people who gave me permission to pick up a pen, just by leading with their own example. I, along with many others, thought, ‘If Damien’s doing it, it must be alright’. I’m going to honour him for that.

He didn’t change his life by magic. He faced himself, head on. Sheer courage and willingness. He always used to say, “If I can do it, anyone can”. He’s right, y’know? Hope rather than despair.

“He didn’t change his life by magic. He faced himself, head on. Hope rather than despair” PJ Smith
ISSUE 99 FINAL SAY Image

I’ll fondly remember our times at the match, going to gigs and hiking in Wales. In all of these activities, he brought people together with his attitude to life and his unique and intelligent take on the world we live in. Such a funny man, with a very curious mind. Lots of people were pleasantly surprised when they first met him, as he spoke so eloquently on all manner of various subjects, in his extremely thick north-end brogue. I think he quite enjoyed mischievously misleading people with his imposing physical stature.

Despite me knowing how important he was to people, the recent outpouring of affection and respect for him on social media following his passing made me realise how much of a positive influence he had been to so many people, from all different walks of life. While this has obviously been a very upsetting time for his friends and family, I am sure that something positive will eventually come out of this. That’s what I watched Damien do over the years – turn his pain into something that has purpose.

Damien tragically lost his daughter, Grace Kelly, to a rare illness when she was just a few weeks old. How he coped and came through this with his sanity intact, I’ll never know. He later became a father again, to Jake, who is now five years old. I’d often spot the pair of them, hand in hand, walking up Bold Street, pulling the same face.

Not so long ago, we sat together at the house Damien was building for him and his son, and talked about music.  He was a big New Order fan but wasn’t impressed with the bossa nova sounds I constantly pushed on him. He ‘confessed’ to liking Safety Dance. I think I just laughed my head off – but in the words of The Men Without Hats:

We can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance
Well, they’re are no friends of mine
I say, we can go where we want to a place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
And we can dance

Damien John Kelly – a beautiful man. I believe in you… forever.

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