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‘Don’t get mad, get organised’ said Si Parry from Morph at the first DDN national service user involvement conference in 2008, and it was a message that set the tone for this dynamic event, as delegates spoke out, questioned, participated – and most of all claimed it as their conference, giving it a unique life of its own.
While more than 500 people attended that first conference, most delegates were coming wearing the badge of their local drug and alcohol action team (DAAT), and while there were a few nascent service user groups attending they were clutching homemade leaflets and often completely reliant on their local service for survival.
Fast forward nine years, and how things have changed. Many of the groups that were just starting out back then – and some that weren’t even a twinkle in their founders’ eyes – have developed beyond all recognition. The 2015 conference saw a service user exhibition area filled with professional stands and high quality materials to rival the larger treatment providers.
Of course it’s not a story of untrammelled success, and sadly some groups have not survived round after round of budget cuts. It would also be naive to claim that starting and funding a group is easy, and most successful groups credit the support they received from a local commissioner or drug worker who believed in them and backed them from the early days. It’s a long hard slog making sure service users are represented meaningfully, and the purpose of the conference has never been clearer.
Many groups have managed to grow far beyond their original remit, and engage in a wide range of activities that would have been hard to imagine when they started up. Across the country we’ve been charting some highly motivated groups prepared to challenge stigma and support their members’ personal journeys. Peer-led groups now operate as equal partners supporting local treatment services, contributing widely to the community. Campaigning for national naloxone provision and other outreach initiatives has also seen groups break down the traditional barriers between harm reduction and recovery to share common ground.
Peter Yarwood from Red Rose Recovery was inspired to start a group after hearing speakers at a previous year’s DDN conference. ‘Our organisation is here for people who aren’t yet members – it’s for people that don’t know who we are yet,’ he said.
Hopefully this year’s event will once again be the empowering networking opportunity that will inspire service user groups and recovery groups to start up, grow and flourish all over the country.