Becoming Culturally Competent

Culturally appropriate drugs servicesMore than half of the population of Leicester is from a non-white background – something that hasn’t always been reflected in services, says Dilesh Popat.

Turning Point’s drug and alcohol service in Leicester has been working with the local community to support clients from a south Asian background who are often reluctant to seek specialist help. The 2019 rapid evidence review ( conducted for Alcohol Change UK found that people belonging to ethnic minority groups are less likely to access services and may be less likely to seek help for alcohol use until they have experienced serious health consequences.

Leicester is one of the most diverse cities in the country. The 2021 census showed that 51.9 per cent of the population are from a non-white background, with the largest single ethnic group being Asian at 43.4 per cent. However, Turning Point services in Leicester noticed that the ethnicity of the city didn’t reflect that of the clients seen at the service.

Five years ago, only seven per cent of the people we support were from a diverse background. When it comes to south Asian communities, a UKDPC survey ( found that a reluctance to seek help due to stigma and a lack of knowledge about services are reasons why these groups are underrepresented. A perceived lack of understanding of their culture and, occasionally, racism within services were also reported as barriers to treatment.

Fear and Shame

From our work with south Asian communities in Leicester, we’ve found that people are afraid to ask for help from their GPs or their local drug and alcohol services because of the perceived shame it will bring upon their families. 

We’ve noticed that families often have their own ideas on how to help their loved ones overcome alcohol and substance use – one is to send the client to the sub-continent in the belief that they might not be able to get hold of the drugs or alcohol. Even if this succeeds there’s clearly a risk of relapse when they return home. 

At Turning Point we not only want to raise awareness of drug and alcohol services that are available, but also remove the stigma associated with accessing these services – we’ve taken the approach to work with the community, in the community, for the community. 

If you look at south Asian communities, one thing Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs all have in common is they meet in large gatherings – at the temples, gurdwaras or mosques.

We work with these organisations who are already established within the community. We work with community leaders, spiritual leaders, educational leaders and offer them support, training and education. 

Spinney Hill Recovery

Spinney Hill Recovery was created by two imams to help address the growing number of people from the Muslim community in Leicester that had developed an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.

Mushtaq Dakri, one of the founders of Spinney Hill Recovery, said he created the group as Muslim clients felt mainstream services weren’t aware of the specific needs of different cultures. 

‘There’s always been drugs consumed in the area,’ he says. ‘But there was a change we noticed in the type of drugs that were being consumed. We went from cannabis and class B drugs to class A drugs, synthetic drugs and alcohol. People were becoming addicted and they were asking us for help. Initially we referred them to commissioned services. However, over a period of time, the feedback we were getting was that they didn’t feel like it was meeting their needs. They didn’t feel like the services understood them culturally. They didn’t like having to go to town and be seen by members of the community.’

They decided to establish something for themselves that would meet the needs of the community. ‘When we first looked at this around 15 years ago, there was very little interest from the community because it was thought drug addiction was something that happened to other people,’ he states. ‘But as time went on, people have realised that this was now on our doorstep and we can’t ignore this anymore. There was a realisation that something had to be done.’

When Spinney Hill Recovery approached Turning Point six years ago, things were starting to get out of control in their community with substances like heroin, crack and alcohol. It now refers clients to Turning Point, which aims to get the client assessed and into treatment within 24 hours. 

One thing they found was that people were relapsing because there wasn’t anything for them to do when they came back from rehab, so Spinney Hill put together a package of activities for every day to keep them engaged and to reduce the rates of relapse. 

Spinney Hill and Turning Point have developed their working relationship further and Spinney Hill now receives funding from Turning Point and has its own facilities – a large area with a gym, pool table, kitchen, group room and room for one-to-one counselling.

The service is open to everyone, not just Muslims. But the goal is to use spirituality as a tool to recovery, and it has imams come to deliver spiritual classes and work with the clients.

Drinking is a major issue in the Sikh community, with a BBC investigation finding that although drinking alcohol is technically forbidden in Sikhism 27 per cent of British Sikhs report having someone in their family with an alcohol problem. A parliamentary early day motion in July 2022 called on government to acknowledge the prevalence of alcohol addiction within the South Asian community and to tailor appropriate outreach and services through overdue alcohol strategy.

Sikh Recovery Network

Jaz Rai founder and chairperson of the Sikh Recovery Network
Jaz Rai, founder and chairperson of the Sikh Recovery Network

The Sikh Recovery Network is a national organisation that helps support people with drug and alcohol recovery, running online and face-to-face groups around the country, including a Leicester-based group.

Jaz Rai is founder and chairperson of the Sikh Recovery Network, and regularly talks about his own addiction and recovery journey. I approached him and we started working together. 

In Leicester, we have drop-in sessions for clients at the local gurdwara. If anyone Leicester-based contacts Jaz he will refer them to us, and we get them into treatment and start supporting them straight away. We have a number of volunteers and peer mentors who have come through recovery via the Spinney Hill Recovery and the Sikh Recovery Network and are now working for Turning Point as peer mentors and volunteers. 

Something we’re trying to do at Turning Point is ask if we’re culturally competent as a service. Do we have enough people of colour within our staff? Do we have a variety of different languages spoken by support workers? Do we provide information in different languages? We celebrate Christmas, but do we celebrate Eid or Diwali or Vaisakhi? 

We’re sharing the work we’re doing with south Asian communities in Leicester with our services across the country to help them meet the needs of different communities. It’s all about spreading awareness to the people we support and our colleagues.

Dilesh Popat is diverse communities team leader at Turning Point

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