Thousands of people are gearing up for the fifth UK recovery walk in Birmingham on 22 September. Richard Maunders, chair of the planning group for the walk, talks about what the walk means to those taking part.
In recent years I’ve learned that recovery becomes contagious within communities when it’s visible, when it’s seen and felt, and hope and inspiration are passed on to those still struggling, still trying to define what recovery means to them. This is most apparent at the UK recovery walks. Anyone who attended last year’s walk in Brighton will have seen and felt how powerful the walk, a mobilisation of hope and optimism, can be. Looking down the hill in the centre of Brighton last year I saw a crowd packed with happy faces, faces filled with love and hope, faces once etched with pain and misery, now beaming with gratitude in the September sun. Three thousand people marching up from the beach joined in a desire to celebrate recovery in all its diversity.
Whatever your view, or definition of recovery, it is hard to deny the transformative effect of the recovery walks. While communicating a living message of transformation and inclusion they have quite literally been ‘tipping points’ for lots of people. As one Birmingham walker said to me, ‘I really needed today. I love the feeling of belonging to something. I love knowing that all around the country there are people like me, with the same struggles and fears, and knowing that there is a way through this and I’m not alone.’
He wasn’t alone. I know of many people from the Midlands, where I live, who came back inspired and determined to take control of their recovery. The Brighton walk planning group passed on the baton (or, more accurately, a stick of Brighton rock) to Birmingham. They’ve continued to build recovery in Brighton as ‘creative cascade recovery’, and now it’s Birmingham’s turn to host the UK’s biggest public recovery event.
As the day comes ever nearer I’ve learnt many things about our recovery community in Birmingham. We’ve come a long way together. We’ve had our highs and lows. But what’s overwhelmed me as chair of the planning group is how passionate, determined and enthusiastic our community is. We’ve discovered skills and attributes we didn’t know existed. We’ve learnt to ask different questions – ‘what are our strengths, our passions?’ – and unearthed a community bubbling with strengths and assets. We’ve learnt that we need to look at what we’ve got and not at what’s missing, and find the abundance within our own communities. We’ve learnt that it’s not about what can be done for us but what we can do for ourselves. Together we’ve become powerful and we’re really looking forward to making new friends when we walk together on 22 September.
The walk is a powerful articulation of visible recovery, but we believe we can do more. The UK recovery walk charity, established in April this year, will be supporting walks from 2014 onwards. After the Birmingham walk I’ll be focusing, in my role as a director with the UKRF, on the promotion and support of a UK recovery month. Inspired by the recovery movement in the US, we want to see September established as a month that makes recovery visible in every city, town and village, speaking to everyone, offering hope to all.
This year we’ve taken some small steps in preparation for 2014 when UK recovery month will launch. We have some learning to do along the way and we’ve decided to start the mini 2013 recovery month on top of a mountain.
Flying the flag
On 1 September, groups from all over the UK will gather at the top of Snowdon in Wales for a cuppa and a chat. We’ll plant a purple flag (the colour of recovery) at the top and we’ll reflect on what we’ve gained and what we’ve lost. People will make their way to the summit in different ways, symbolising the many different paths they have taken on their recovery journeys.
This social gathering, for the UKRF, will mark a new beginning – a shedding of past differences and an embracing of our common humanity. We all have mountains to climb at some point in our lives. In coming together around our similarities as human beings and in recognition of the validity of all paths we hope to support the emerging UK recovery movement. Making the path as we walk it.
There will be other events in 2013 recovery month (that we know of) in Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Rochdale, Hertfordshire, Birmingham, Norfolk, Lancashire, Kingston, Somerset and Cumbria. It’s a beginning and it will grow.
To register for the UK recovery walk in Birmingham: www.ukrw2013.co.uk/register
For more info on 2013 Recovery Month: www.facebook.com/groups/UKRecoveryFederation/ or contact: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Maunders is chair of the 2013 UK recovery walk Birmingham planning group and UKRF director Alistair SinclairUKRF Director