San Patrignano, Italy. A light at the end of the tunnel.
About 15kms from Rimini is a remarkable community of over 1600 residents. It’s not a religious group, although they’ve ‘seen the light.’ They are all recovering drug addicts.
In 1978 Vincenzo Muccioli began his dream of helping addicts to recover when he welcomed the first group into a home owned by his family. The project quickly grew and now the San Patrignano Foundation owns the land all around it, stretching almost as far as the eye can see.
The views are unforgettable. Perfectly-pruned grape vines grow across the slopes. A horse in a paddock gently nuzzles her foal. Cows can be seen in their sheds. Mountain villages form a back-drop in one direction, and the blue line of the sea is the other way.
All the buildings blend into the landscape and are often shielded by trees.
San Patrignano is completely self-supporting. Even the electricity is supplied by methane from the cows, and solar panels.
But they aren’t cut off from the rest of the world. The children go to local schools, and the public are encouraged to visit for a tour, to eat the high-quality food in the restaurant, while admiring the stunning scenery, and to buy from the shop, O’Malomm. (It literally translates as Bad Man. But it’s more like Naughty Boy!)
Everyone is studying to learn a trade, and when they leave the community, they are guaranteed employment. But there are no wobbly pots here, or clock-watching. They all take a pride in the work they produce and the Community has won many prizes for their cheese, wine, charcuterie, and many other products. The fruits of their labour are sold in top stores all over the world, plus their own shop.
Everything that you see there has been constructed or made by the Community. They’ve built the schools, the houses, the theatre, and all the furniture too.
The huge dining-room feeds everyone in two shifts. The first shift is waited on, then they take over and serve the others.
Before each meal there is a minute’s silence where they can pray or just have their own private thoughts.
We visited the bakery first, where a sourdough base is used. Around 15 people make the bread and biscuits. The biscuits are biscuity perfection. They are shipped off to the best stores.
The dairy produces a large selection of cheeses, using San Patrignano’s 3,000 litres of milk from 400 cows, plus sheep and goats. The milk is high-quality and rich in fats. A portion of it is pasturised, then sent to the kitchen to be used in meals.
The whey is used to make ricotta, and the rest of it goes in the cows’ food.
Recently the dairy workers won 1st prize for their cheese with chestnut leaves.
Around 50 workers are involved in making the wine. Most of them work in the vineyards.
When it’s harvest time, the grapes are tipped on a conveyer belt and examined one at a time by about 150 girls.
Even Champagne grapes aren’t examined that carefully!
The rejected grapes are used for vinegar, and on the land.
Lately they have started making bio-dynamic wine, planted according to the moon’s phases.
The wine tasting room has all been carefully designed out of marble and plastic to show the true colour of the wine when the glass is held over it, and of course, it’s been made there. So have the chairs.
A chandelier made out of wine glasses and wrought iron hangs over the table.
On the next floor above, the glass-topped tables cleverly show off the wine barrels below through a hole in the floor. All the seats and sofas have been made in the workshops.
Outside, animals are an important part of the Community. 20 residents raise Labrador retrievers, and take in strays, mostly abandoned mongrels. The Labrador breed is well-suited for pet therapy for disabled children and people with other medical problems, as they are intelligent and sensitive.
There are around 80 horses, used for breeding and show jumping. This creates a selection of training for grooms, blacksmiths, vets and nutritionists.
They also teach riding to young people and disabled children.
The beef, pork and lamb is produced from their own animals, providing training in farming, animal rearing, charcuterie production, feed preparation and butchery.
Other members can choose what to learn from a large range of crafts, including pottery, carpentry, decoration, weaving, sewing, artwork, chocolate making, beekeeping, and many more necessary skills, including hairdressing, catering, cleaning, renovation work and the laundry room.
We were amazed and surprised at how clean everywhere was, including the spacious toilets on the floor below the dining-room.
Everyone seems so happy and close. They make a point of patting each other, or dangling an arm over shoulders.
The situation seems idyllic. But is it?
For most of them, it’s their last chance. They would be either in prison, or worse, dead, if they hadn’t made the decision to drastically change their lives. Just about all of them have been living a criminal life to fund their habit, either by stealing or dealing.
SanPatrignano has saved the Italian Government literally hundreds of prison years, and over 30 million euros!
Obviously, in the beginning, after years of drug use, their personalities and self-esteem leave a lot to be desired. First of all, they have to show that they really want to change.
People from anywhere in the world are welcome, not just Italians. They can stay as long as they like. But if they walk away before they’re completely ready, the gates are closed and, like the film Brigadoon, their opportunity has vanished for ever.
Their admission and their whole stay is absolutely free. The only requirement is the will to stop using drugs and to make a radical change in their lives. And they have to apply for entry themselves. Nobody else can apply for them.
There are no wages paid for any work except to outside helpers. This means that there is nothing to steal. All money raised by sales of work goes into the costs of running the Community.
There are 228 rooms for 6-8 residents, and 60 detached family houses that would sell for a fortune as holiday homes!
In the ‘SanPa Space’ and the theatre, TV programmes are shown from 7pm-midnight. There are theatre and dance workshops, a choir, basketball, soccer and volleyball teams, plus track and field sports. The teams compete against outside teams.
What was my opinion of San Patrignano? Absolutely wonderful. A brilliant idea with an over 70% success rate. But isn’t it sad that it’s needed in the first place?
Of course, they’re working hard and giving talks to teach adolescents to avoid taking drugs. Let’s hope that the youngsters listen to them, before it’s too late.
Tel 0541 362488 (rif. Oscar Piastra.)
The region is served by three international airports;
Rimini-Ryanair from London Stansted and Liverpool
Bologna-BA and Easyjet from London Gatwick, Ryanair from Stansted, Gatwick and Edinburgh.
Parma-Ryanair from London Stansted.