Best foot forward

Alistair sinclair WEB. jpgThe volume of activity and appetite for change during September’s ‘recovery month’ speaks volumes about the momentum of the recovery community, says Alistair Sinclair

Three hundred and fifty people from around the UK gathered in Leicester on 26 September at the sixth national UKRF event Creating narratives for the recovery movement: the good, the true and the beautiful. I’ve written in DDN about Phil Hanlon and his call for a ‘fifth wave of public health’ ( and the UKRF event was our first attempt to explore what the ‘good, true and beautiful’ might actually look like in communities and services. 

Fifty presenters in the main room and in ten ‘wellbeing zones’ (themed around the ‘five ways to wellbeing’), shared their thoughts around key action and learning that support the good (values and ethics), the true (learning) and the beautiful. 

Material generated by presenters and participants will inform the development of a recovery manifesto for the UKRF – which is grand, but the important thing for us is that the day brought people from services and communities together to share and to connect, generating energy for change. It was a hopeful day and it was, among some other things, our contribution to the 2014 recovery month. 

There were 102 events in September’s recovery month. It kicked off, a little early at the end of August, with a Fallen Angels Dance Theatre workshop in Salford and a sunset candlelit vigil in Stroud in Gloucestershire. On 1 September, at an event hosted by the Scottish Recovery Consortium, people gathered in Glasgow to ‘remember loved ones lost to addiction’. Kaleidoscope in Wales supported activities throughout September under the banner ‘My month – my recovery’ (something Barry Eveleigh wrote about in last month’s DDN) and Recovery Cymru held a number of events in Cardiff and Barry. 

People in Ireland walked in Dublin on 20 September, while Scotland held its first recovery walk in Edinburgh on the 27th, with North Wales walking the following day from Colwyn Bay to Llandudno. Thousands gathered in Manchester for the sixth UK recovery walk on 13 September and smaller, but no less important, walks took place throughout September in Snowdon, Lancashire, Lewisham, Derbyshire, Loughborough, Leicester, Rotherham, Bournemouth, Bexley and Gloucestershire.

During September The Anonymous People film was shown in Worksop, Cheltenham, West Bromwich, Stroud, Gloucester and London, while the Recovery Street Festival toured the country showing in London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow. A number of lucky people experienced the ‘Dear Albert’ film (a documentary filmed over three years around a drugs service in Leicester) at the Leicester UKRF event, which marked the end of a Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland recovery week which encompassed art exhibitions, flashmobs, a harm reduction café, drama, walks, open days and a picnic. 

The Umbrella Café, a dry bar, launched in Manchester on 5 September and they’ve been putting on really impressive events on Friday and Saturday nights ever since. A focus on fun, creativity and celebration in recovery month led to festivals and parties in Doncaster, Bradford, Burnley, Brighton, Halifax, Hackney, Manchester, Preston, Liverpool, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Henley, Scunthorpe, Norwich and Lanarkshire. 

For those who fancied something a bit more sporty there were football competitions, fitness sessions, sponsored cycle rides (from Wolverhampton to Manchester), rambles, mountain climbs, funlympics and some hardy folk even walked over seven days (185.4 miles) from Weston-Super-Mare to Manchester to join the UK recovery walk in Manchester.

But what does all this activity involving thousands of people all over the UK mean? Clearly it means different things to different people, but I think there are a number of core themes that link all these diverse activities and people together. At the heart of all of it is hope; the belief that we can change, we can make things better. When we make recovery visible we’re making hope visible and we’re locating this hope firmly in the ‘core economy’; families, neighbourhoods and communities. At our event In Leicester I think that for a little while people put their ‘hats’ down and came together as community members. That’s what I see at the recovery events I go to. 

On a hillside in North Wales on 28 September I listened to ‘service users’ share their feelings and hopes, and I listened to a commissioner share his. For a brief moment we were a community, a bunch of human beings on a hill. The UKRF will continue to promote a recovery month that celebrates the good, truth and beauty in everyone and the huge strength and potential that exists within communities. 

A few days ago in a Westminster meeting about the stigma faced by people with ‘substance use disorders’ I heard someone say that the ‘time wasn’t right for a public-facing campaign’. I felt the need to point out that this campaign has already begun. Recovery Month is here. Thousands are already on the move and there are many people, even in these austere dark times, who still have hope. 

I think this is where recovery starts. Where we’ll end up is down to us; making the path as we walk it.

Alistair Sinclair is a director of the UK Recovery Federation (UKRF),