Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Community Action Article for Drink & Drug News

What is the ‘recovery movement’? The term is used by all sorts of individuals and groups with a vested interest in ‘recovery’.

However, most of the ‘leading lights’ in the ‘recovery world’ come from treatment, or organisations with very close links to treatment, which raises some important questions. Is the recovery movement situated within treatment, or is it primarily situated within the wider community? Do we have a recognisable recovery movement, or do we have a lot of very disparate groups and individuals? Recovery communities have
existed in the UK for a long time and mutual aid groups can be found in most areas – do these communities and groups self-identify as being part of a recovery movement? Can treatment actually ‘build’ recovery in the community – is it an either/or proposition? And, if the movement does principally sit within communities,
why don’t we hear more from voices of recovery in these communities?

There’s movement within treatment towards a ‘recovery orientation’. However I think there’s still limited knowledge of recovery’s historical roots within the substance and mental health field, with many unclear as to what recovery means within the context of service provision and within the community. There’s still a
need to identify and clarify the core values and strengths that underpin recovery orientation within treatment, and significant work required to develop recovery orientated standards.

What of the wider recovery movement – what is it and where is it? If we accept that the recovery movement is a social/civil rights/grassroots movement that concerns itself explicitly with political advocacy, I think we must also accept that it will only be generated and sustained in communities by people who are
recovering and in recovery, and their allies. How wide they stretch these terms will be up to them. Where are their ‘leading lights’, where are their voices heard? The UK Recovery Federation (UKRF) believes there is a need to find and support new voices within services – because treatment does sit within communities – and
within the wider community.

We believe it is these new voices – alongside current activists – that will articulate, define and shape the UK recovery movement.

So what is the UKRF doing to support the emergence of a distinct UK recovery movement? Last year I wrote a piece that suggested that while mutual aid (in its widest sense) was a core component of the wider recovery movement, we hadn’t established a unified recovery vision and language that was acceptable to all
(DDN, 13 September 2010, page 14). It’s the UKRF view that recovery can only be owned’ by individuals and communities and they will define its terms. As recovery sits within individuals in their lived environments, and is built through our strengths, passions and connections to others as human beings, there is a need
for new community-based recovery networks that will bring people in recovery and recovering, and their families, friends and allies, together.

The formation of new diverse networks – built around strong recovery principles and an asset-based approach – will define and shape the recovery movement, and this movement will find its strength, voice and direction in diverse and inclusive communities. These communities need the active support of recovery-orientated services but will define their own agenda as they identify and develop their recovery capital. In the article we proposed the establishment of five regional recovery networks in the north-west and said that we would be holding a conference in Preston in September, in partnership with the NTA, to promote this, our ‘big idea’.

Since last September the ‘big idea’ has got bigger. Independent of the UKRF,  two new recovery federations initiated by Mark Gilman of the NTA – principally through Wiredin – were established in Greater Manchester and Cheshire. The UKRF has supported the establishment of a Merseyside Recovery Network and
this network has embraced the UKRF recovery principles (as have the Lanarkshire Addiction Recovery Consortium in Scotland and other groups) and a strengthbased approach. Around 40 people attended the last meeting of the Merseyside network, and over the last three months we’ve focused on the mapping of
individual strengths and the assets of local associations and institutions.

This mapping will determine what the network decides to do while at the same time identifying new opportunities within the community for people in recovery and recovering. The next Merseyside Recovery Network meeting will focus on the building of new relationships across the Merseyside area. It’s our view – echoed in work by the RSA in its Connecting Communities Project and Whole-Person Recovery Project (DDN, 6 December 2010, page 18) – that the facilitation of access to diverse new connections generates and sustains recovery.

The Merseyside Recovery Network brings together people from abstinencefocused traditions, harm reduction and others in recognition of the fact that ‘recovery transcends, whilst embracing harm reduction and abstinence-focused approaches and does not seek to be prescriptive’ (UKRF recovery principle). The
UKRF wants to support individuals within the Merseyside Recovery Network to become recovery community organisers (RCOs) – people trained (drawing on their lived experience) in values-based and asset-based approaches and enabled to support others in the development of new recovery networks and communities.

The UKRF supported a major event in the south-east in April when recovery community members came together with service providers at the Guildhall in Portsmouth to begin to explore strength-based approaches and the beginnings of new relationships founded on our similarities as human beings. The event, organised and facilitated by people from the recovery community, led to the formation of the South-East Recovery Network, and this network will be hosting the 2012 UK Recovery Walk in Brighton. A smaller-scale event in Bedfordshire took place in June, organised by Bedfordshire DAAT and supported by the UKRF, and a
Bedfordshire Recovery Network is now going to be established with SUSSED (a local service user-led group) at its heart.

The UKRF is also in discussion with recovery community members in the London boroughs of Kingston (RISE) and Camden (Camden Frontline) and presented a proposal for a London Recovery Network at the London User Forum in June. Lancashire will soon have its own recovery network and a north-east recovery network is likely (alongside the east Midlands) in the near future.

The UKRF envisages a time when there will be recovery networks in every region of the UK – every locality, every city and every town. Diverse and vibrant, they will be reflective of their membership, but bound together
through shared values, a commitment to the equality and potential of human beings, and the growth of the strengths that every person has.

Recovery networks are growing and they are spreading. People are coming together to support each other, identify and access new opportunities and mobilise for change. With strong social justice principles at their heart, these networks are beginning to connect with each other, often through relatively new media like Facebook. Where once people and communities were isolated and alone they are beginning to reach out past old boundaries to shape new identities and make new friends. The UKRF has forged new links with abstinence-focused and harm reduction focused groups and individuals to facilitate this process. It’s a beginning. The recovery networks we see emerging welcome all those who seek to recover – as they define it
– and are working to build something new within their communities.

At our conference in Cardiff on 9 September we will bring many people from these networks together to explore how we can continue to support the new recovery movement through the development of new inclusive and diverse recovery networks and the establishment of recovery community organisers. We will also be discussing and debating a UKRF recovery consensus statement that will reflect where we believe recovery lives – within communities and individuals and grounded in a commitment to the
challenging on inequality and injustice.

The recovery movement can support agencies in developing recoveryorientated services. We believe recovery networks have a significant role to play in public health responses to unhealthy dependencies in individuals and communities, on individual, cultural and structural levels. However we believe the new recovery networks will principally focus on advocacy for those that are recovering and in recovery and on the building of new cultures of recovery within our communities.

We hope that as many people as possible will stay in Cardiff for the third UK Recovery Walk on Saturday 10 September. We will be celebrating the achievements and strengths of people in recovery and recovering, and
the people that support them, coming together in solidarity and friendship. It’s our intention that the UKRF conference and the third UK Recovery Walk will play a significant role in celebrating and supporting the
many new faces and voices of recovery in the UK. Many of those who come to Cardiff in September will play a significant part in the evolution of the new UK recovery movement. It will rise from communities, and in
communities it will be sustained.

We make the path by walking it. Written for DDN by  Alistair Sinclair who is a director of UKRF

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