Recovery rising

September saw recovery activities taking place across the UK and Ireland. Richard Cunningham, Alistair Sinclair and Stuart Green look back on a vibrant recovery month.

ShieldProtective shield

Recovery is at the heart of a popular annual tournament in Gateshead, as Richard Cunningham explains

This September Gateshead International Football Stadium played host to a football event with a difference. The majority of the players involved in the tournament were recovered, or in recovery, from drug or alcohol dependency.

The recovery shield is an annual tournament organised by Turning Point. It has been going from strength to strength and is now in its third year, with each year seeing more players and teams competing. What started off as a local tournament has become a national event, with healthy regional patriotism adding to the tournament’s competitive edge. This year we had a record 20 teams and more than 200 people took part. 

It is my hope and one of the main aims of the recovery shield that the growing profile of the tournament will help to break down the stigma often associated with alcohol and drug dependency in wider society. Without concerted efforts to bridge the gap into the community, there is a chance that people in the early stage of recovery can be left feeling more and more isolated, making sustained recovery much more difficult to achieve.

Working in the substance misuse field we know that dependency on alcohol and drugs does not discriminate. It is not restricted to certain segments of society, nor is it a question of age or gender. When an individual is dependent it can often be hugely difficult to see a way of escaping the problem, and that is why it is so important that events like the recovery shield exist to not only support people in their recovery but to give a wider reason to recover and reassurance that it is possible. 

As Tommy Armstrong, one of the players from this year’s winning team Norcare, said: ‘Everyone participating took it as an opportunity to make friends and show the outside world that we are not all the same and people can make a difference to their lives with support and social interaction.’

The event provides a meeting place and an activity that enables those in recovery to come together in an environment without  judgement – a place to meet new people and share experiences. This can assist with recovery and, more importantly, provide a situation where the players can feel comfortable and be themselves. 

I am not claiming that events like this are the magic cure for those in recovery but they can go a long way towards helping people reintegrate back into their community, to show that there is life after dependency.

Recovery shieldThe game itself is also shown to have a positive effect on people’s mental health. Players feel part of a team, which is very important to those who can often feel outside of, or removed from, society. In the tournament these players become part of a collective that must work together to progress through the rounds. Those who have played in football games, or any team sport for that matter, will know that you need to place an element of trust in your team mates and the importance of this simple human connection cannot be overplayed. 

The recovery shield is all about partnership working. Scott Duncan from HMP Northumberland, a key partner in the event, spoke about his involvement:

‘I was delighted to be involved in the 2013 recovery shield and feel the whole event was a huge success. The players who participated were a credit to their various organisations and testimony to this is the fact that we had a total of 52 matches and at no time was a player ‘sin-binned’ for inappropriate behaviour. Bringing together teams from various areas encourages integration and sportsmanship, this was evident in abundance.

‘My personal role as HMP Northumberland’s representative in the community is to assist ex-offenders on their recovery journey to minimise the likelihood of reoffending. Sport is a hugely important part of recovery and clients who attend the gym on a regular basis whilst in custody are given excellent tuition on health and training by the PE department at HMP Northumberland. This support is carried on to when they are released through the SAS (Sport After Sentence) project when they are given advice and guidance on local sport and gym opportunities.’

David McCormack, who played for North East Athletic at the tournament added:

‘The recovery shield is strongly becoming one of the most celebrated events in the recovery community both in the North East and further afield. It celebrates the changes in people’s lives and also gives renewed hope to those around, by allowing them to understand there is something else out there other than addiction. 

The tournament has been a fantastic success and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the winning team Norcare. The awards and recognition are great of course but the recovery shield is all about coming together, as individuals in recovery, partner agencies, friends and family and all those who work in the substance misuse field to celebrate and promote recovery. This is at the heart of everything we do.

If you are interested in being involved in the 2014 recovery shield please get in touch! 

Richard Cunningham is peer mentor coordinator for substance misuse at Turning Point,


recov4We made the path

With its ambitious walks and varied activities across the country, the vision of a recovery month became a reality, says Alistair Sinclair

As I write this, on the last day of September, I’m on my way to the Wirral to attend the ARCH 20th anniversary recovery event and mark the end of the first UK recovery month. This seems particularly apt as a few days ago I attended the official launch of Hope Springs, a new recovery centre in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, where Mark Gilman, recovery lead at Public Health England, talked about the heroin explosion on the Wirral in the mid-80s. Mark said that nearly 30 years later, people on the Wirral were ‘finding recovery’ with the same people who had introduced them to heroin, and he went on to talk about the vital importance of authenticity, healthy social networks and visible recovery in communities.

Recovery was very visible at the fifth UK recovery walk in Birmingham on 22 September. Around 5,000 people from all over the UK walked through the city centre, celebrating community strengths, solidarity and the importance of building friendships and connections. Organised and delivered by the Birmingham Recovery Community (you can find them on Facebook) the UK recovery walk was the big celebration in a recovery month that saw events in many places across the UK. The UKRF had promoted the ‘idea’ of a recovery month through its networks, and we were pleased – if not a little relieved – to see 49 recovery events (that we’re aware of) take place throughout September. This year was a bit of a rehearsal for future years, but it saw thousands of people engaged in making recovery visible and making new connections in many places across communities.

On 1 September more than 100 people from Birmingham, Chester, Coventry, Leicester, Lancashire, Bradford and North Wales, climbed 3,600 feet to mark the beginning of recovery month, raising a purple flag of recovery on Snowdon’s summit. Gloucestershire and Cumbria held their first recovery walks and Weston held its second. In Lancashire, 55 very determined people endured appalling rain to climb to the top of Pendle Hill. There were other walks – some in fancy dress and sponsored – in Cleethorpes, Scunthorpe and Leicester and a bike ride in Morecambe. Dublin held its second Irish recovery walk and there were recovery celebrations in Ayr, Durham, Doncaster, Cardiff and Liverpool. There were film nights in Wigan and Blackpool, football tournaments in York, Burnley and Lancaster; an art exhibition in Liverpool; a festival in Oxford; a recovery awareness day in Kingston and the opening of Café Hub in Blackburn. 

recov2The UKRF ran six workshops in recovery month exploring community values and strengths in Derbyshire, Rochdale, Norwich and Birkenhead. Working in partnership with the Derbyshire NHS Trust, we brought people from the worlds of mental health and drug recovery together at a national conference in Chesterfield to explore shared values and begin work on a recovery model for the whole community. 

Ruth Passman from NHS England spoke at our conference and invited recovery community members to an NHS values summit in Manchester. The summit was opened by the head of NHS England, Sir David Nicholson, who described it as taking place in ‘national recovery month’. This idea – a month that brings people together to champion recovery in its widest sense, celebrating and promoting wellbeing for all within communities – became a reality in September. 

For recovery activists involved in September’s activities, 2013 will be a significant year. The British recovery movement, a movement that places individual and community wellbeing above drug or alcohol or mental health status, is finally on the move. Watch out for recovery month 2014.

Birmingham Recovery Community,

Friends of the UK Recovery Federation,

Alistair Sinclair is UKRF director



In it to win


Giving something back to the community gave a winning formula to Doncaster’s recovery games, says Stuart Green

Every year at New Beginnings, part of Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, we look to raise sponsorship for Aurora, a local cancer respite charity. This year, one of the staff at New Beginnings, Neil Firbank, came up with the brainwave of the recovery games. The idea came from discussing with a colleague and group members what had inspired them over the past year and the Olympics and Para-Olympics kept coming up – actually seeing and believing in others who had achieved something to be proud of appeared to be the main reasons. So we decided to go ahead with the recovery games. 

The original idea was to have local teams competing against each other, while raising money for charity. This would give them the opportunity to give something back to their local community, learn to work together in a team with staff and each other as well as reducing stigma within our community. We were looking to attract between four and eight teams of up to ten members.  Once we got the message out with the venue – a local activity centre with its own marina, part of Doncaster Cultural Leisure Trust (DCLT) – it became apparent that this was going to go viral. We closed registration with 22 teams and had to turn away four further teams of ten. 

The day began with a zumba demonstration as a warm-up, with people competing against each other in eight rounds of events. These included a gladiator duel climb, low rope challenge, kata-canoe race, eliminator run, team archery, the boom blaster, giant buzz wire and a demolition wrecking ball.

The event was pitched in the summer holidays to attract a family atmosphere and there was plenty for spectators to do, including a bouncy castle, face painter and a circus entertainer mingling with the crowd. The children competed in a space hopper grand national, with the fastest time over three age groups being awarded recovery games gold medals. 

recov1At New Beginnings it was a frantic week leading up to it – the arts and crafts room was abuzz making banners, costumes and the podium for the winners. We gained a lot of support from people we work in partnership with, who kindly donated time or money to the event. This resulted in every participant getting a medal presented by the mayor of Doncaster and our assistant director, Ian Joustra, with the winners receiving gold medals and a commemorative shield. During the lunch break we had live jazz and a raffle for locally sourced produce from the place where our service users volunteer. As well as entertaining the crowds, a strong message of health and wellbeing was promoted throughout the whole day, with a number of stalls from the community fire safety team, local carers groups, complementary therapy taster sessions and free physical health checks.   

On the morning, it was pouring down with rain and we really didn’t know what to expect. But suddenly coaches, cars and people started turning up in their masses. We had more than 300 people attend. There was a clear buzz in the air and a competitive but respectful edge for each other among the teams. The local campers thought the Martians had landed and could not work out what was happening to their tranquil camping site next door. As the weather improved, more people arrived and the catering facilities did not stop all day.  

The culmination of the day was a united feeling that recovery could be fun, competitive and a genuinely viable option. We had teams from Scunthorpe, Grimsby, Doncaster, Chesterfield, York, Rotherham and Sheffield, to name just a few, and more than £400 was raised for charity. Feedback is still pouring in as to how much people enjoyed the day itself, from local community members, staff and of course those in recovery. This looks like it’s going to become an annual event, with York expressing an interest to take it forward next year.

Oh, and finally, there was no fix but New Beginnings won – all that training paid off!

Stuart Green is service manager at New Beginnings,



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