Staying dry

30 Jun 2017
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Staying dry
Photo Credit: Lee Dunstan

The Dry July campaign started almost 10 years ago with an aim to support adults living with cancer. It’s a time in which people are encouraged—and challenged—to give up alcohol for a month, with a view to consuming less alcohol in future, or even none at all. This isn’t an easy choice in our booze-soaked society but it’s gradually becoming a more popular one. Just ask Sandy and Trevor Schofield, who run an alcohol-free “bar” in Tuggerah, on New South Wales’ Central Coast.

The daughter of an abusive alcoholic, Sandy has seen the less glamorous side to drinking. At age four she was already a product of a broken home, her mother having left her father and fallen into a tumultuous relationship with an alcoholic who physically abused her.

“When my older brother first saw the bruises on my mum’s face, he was horrified. He demanded to know who had hit her. My mum had become an alcoholic herself by this point. She told him to pack his bags and get out,” Sandy recalls.

It wasn’t long before her mother had also kicked out Sandy’s other brother and sister. The baby of the family, Sandy had no alternative but to stay with her mother and the man who was now her stepfather.

“I had no hope of a secure upbringing in that household,” Sandy says. “I had to sit there each day and watch my mother being physically, verbally and emotionally abused.”

Her sister Valerie, 11 years her senior, desperately wanted to help Sandy but didn’t know how. Around this time, their brother Mervyn was invited to a church. Valerie went with him.

The church didn’t impress Mervyn, but Valerie instinctively knew it was the solution she had been searching for. She began praying earnestly about Sandy’s situation, certain that the loving God she was learning about would rescue her little sister.

“Mum was drunk when Valerie came over and asked if she could have me,” Sandy recalls. “I still remember Valerie picking me up after school the next day. I didn’t feel sad about never seeing my mother again. Instead I felt joy . . . and relief.”

Sandy began attending a faith-based school while living with Valerie. Having never known what it was like to grow up in a nurturing family environment, she immediately felt welcomed by the loving people she met there. It began to really change her life.

Several years on, living in New Zealand, now married with four children of her own, Sandy was looking to make a fresh start, determined that her children would never know the trauma she had experienced. Sadly, the marriage failed. Disillusioned and disconsolate, Sandy stopped attending church. “But inside I felt empty,” reflects Sandy. One day, she found herself picking up a book her sister had given her some years earlier—Philip Yancey’s What’s so Amazing About Grace?—and found herself being drawn back into church.

She soon became involved in the church’s outreach program and working with the children who attended. Yet Sandy still felt as though God was calling her to do something else with her life. Then one day, while on her knees praying, she felt impressed she should move to Australia.

Sandy was a single mum. She had no job prospects and barely enough money to feed her family each day. But she believed that if God wanted her to move to Australia, He would make a way. Doors opened: she was offered work and found a house, where she still lives today.

Then Sandy met her now-husband, Trevor, who according to a smiling Sandy, “treats me like a queen.” They dated for two years before marrying in January 2011 in a beautiful outdoor wedding. They had been married for 15 months when Trevor made an unexpected proposition: “I want us to start our own business.”

“Only if it is something we are passionate about,” Sandy countered. 

At that stage, Trevor was spending up to four hours a day commuting to and from work. He was feeling tired and unfulfilled, but more than ready to take on a new challenge.

One evening he came home and wrote one word on a piece of paper, which he handed to Sandy: Alcofree.

Trevor had been putting his hours on the train to good use and this was the result—a business that supplied alcohol-free mainline wines, spirits and beers. 

The next step was to put the business plan into action, researching products from Australia, New Zealand and Europe, building a brand, corporate colours and having a logo designed.

Sandy did her best to support Trevor in his idea, but didn’t feel particularly enthusiastic about the concept until a serendipitous conversation with a stranger on a plane changed her outlook. On her way to London, Sandy chatted with a woman on the same flight.

“I’m leaving my job,” the woman told her. “I’ve had enough of the drinking culture that comes with working in the corporate sector.”

“Really?” Sandy responded, astonished. “My husband and I are actually setting up a business around alcohol-free drinks!”

The woman’s face lit up. “You’ve got to get into this,” she enthused. “I’ve seen what happens when people drink too much at corporate functions. It has to change.”

Overseas, Sandy reflected upon the painful memories of her childhood. She contemplated the physical and emotional damage alcohol causes—she had seen it all firsthand. And she realised this was something she was passionate about—“Alcofree” and its potential to transform Australia’s drinking culture.

“In Trevor’s mind, we were already business partners,” she says. “But that moment was when I truly became his partner.” She made the decision to leave her job and work for Alcofree full-time.
 

Staying dry 2 swovaw

From alcohol-free whisky to beers and ciders, Alcofree has the potential to change Australia’s drinking culture.


Today, Alcofree is no longer just a dream scribbled on a piece of paper. It’s Trevor and Sandy’s wine bar and cellar. Whisky, daiquiris, wines, beer . . . whatever your drink of choice is, you can find it there. Minus the alcohol, of course.

“People don’t treat you as normal if you don’t drink,” Sandy explains, sipping a glass of imported Spanish grappa. “People, even very confident professionals and businesspeople, fear the isolation that sitting without a drink in hand creates.”

She describes how after-work drinks can lead to infidelity (“You wouldn’t believe what happens,” her plane contact told her); how peer pressure in every walk of life creates a climate of drinking (“It’s endemic in politics and the public service,” said an encouraging government minister); and how difficult it is to get health professionals to speak out on the problems of drink (“They all own wineries”).

But she sees a thriving future for “alco-free” drinks, explaining how so many caught by alcohol are seeking to escape its addictive grasp for medical, religious and other reasons. “They wish to party with a drink in their hand, to switch to a non-alcoholic beverage, still enjoying the same taste, the social acceptance and be able to drive home.”

She is optimistic about the future, and not just about building a successful business, but about the next generation, who she perceives as different to their parents. “The new young upper class [wine drinkers] are disciplined and health conscious,” she explains. “They’re comfortable making choices that rally against their parents’ and peer cultures.”

Alcofree is more than a bottleshop, bar or cellar, selling a happier, healthier lifestyle. And it’s a great place to visit (in person or online) if you want to stay dry this July.


Who can benefit from an alco-free choice?

  • former drinkers and recovering alcoholics
  • serious sportspersons
  • professionals who wish to avoid isolation
  • seekers of a healthy lifestyle
  • pregnant/breastfeeding women
  • those on medications
  • faith devotees 
  • retirement homes 
  • those wishing to lose weight
     

PUBLISHED IN SIGNS OF THE TIMES MAGAZINE.

Vania Chew / Lee Dunstan
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