Step by step

Reintroducing people to stable employment and supporting them in the workplace are challen­ges that can be met with the right policies and culture – and a dash of inspiration, heard delegates at the recent Recovery Festival. DDN reports from the 2014 Recovery Festival

Screen shot 2014-08-19 at 14.26.54‘How can we get employment at the heart of our services,’ asked Selina Douglas, managing director of substance misuse and offending at Turning Point. ‘We’re a social enterprise with an ethos of helping and supporting,’ she said. ‘So how can we join up a network of social enterprises? Let’s get some energy behind it.’

There were many questions surrounding barriers to employment. ‘How do we give people hope that there’s employment at the end of this?’ she asked. ‘How can we make sure frontline staff are positive and motivated? How can we make partnerships real and get people into employment?’

The reality of the sector was that we were being asked to do more for less, but partnerships – such as those with colleges, training providers and the job centre – were more important than ever.

Turning Point’s ‘Back in Business’ model involved talking to people about their aspirations and how to reach them, and included looking at life skills, literacy and IT, as well as offering trial interviews.

‘It’s important we talk about these small goals and steps,’ said Douglas. Turning Point was also keen to ‘help social enterprises to stand on their own two feet’, and had been working with Business in the Community to build relationships with local business and tackle stigma in the workforce.

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Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) had created a peer support network to bring ‘experts by experience’ into the workplace, said Annette Dale-Perera, strategic director of addiction and offender care at CNWL. Co-presenting with Alan Butler, who was a peer support worker at the Max Glatt Unit, an inpatient detox facility for drug and alcohol addiction, she explained that the success of such schemes depended on thorough preparation with the staff teams, getting them used to recovery-orientated approaches.

‘We rewrote policies and renewed support mechanisms – this is a learning experience,’ she said. Supervision, support and training days for the new recruits were enhanced by ‘giving them time and space where they owned the environment and when they shared it with staff,’ she said. ‘It’s about respect.’

While CNWL were ‘very active on keeping staff and experts by experience happy’, through encouraging them to be healthy and active and explore the ‘five ways to wellbeing’, she was realistic that people did sometimes relapse and ‘fall over’. Alongside having robust support systems in place, she said, it was important to ‘try to learn together’.

Having ‘lived in addiction for three decades’, Alan Butler was driven by wanting to use his experience to help others.

‘I came to the unit and wanted to give my lived experience to the patients who were suffering,’ he said. ‘But I didn’t realise how much my experience would benefit the staff, giving them insights they’d never had before.’

Arguing his case to stay at the unit at first (because of the perceived risks to his own wellbeing), the value of his work was quickly recognised and valued.

‘A gambling man wouldn’t have put a pound on my recovery, yet here I am. I would say to patients that if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for them. I’m just a bog-standard addict,’ he said. ‘This work has a value. It provides a lifeline that’s vital.’

‘How do we get to people before they get to chaos?’ asked Martin Blakebrough, chief executive of the Kaleidoscope Project, who presented with his colleague Rondine Molinaro.

Blakebrough described Kaleidoscope’s partnership with Tata Steel, one of the biggest employers in South Wales, which involved helping them to review their drug and alcohol policy and realise that it should be dealt with as a safeguarding issue for people involved in dangerous work.

The skill base of the drug and alcohol workforce could also bring value to many other businesses, he said, such as helping retailers to train security staff in drug awareness. Skills were also useful in helping businesses to reduce stigma and address prejudice that often stood in the way of treatment.

Molinaro ran a peer mentoring service that was targeted on employability. Initiatives included a partnership with Railtrack and a scheme at Prescoed Open Prison, helping prisoners to get references and gain qualifications and work experience.

‘The mainstream media don’t talk about partnership stories, such as The Hub, a volunteer-run café,’ she said. ‘But I’m in recovery myself and I truly believe that finding a job saved my life.’

Peer mentoring services, such as ‘Change Step’ for military veterans and those from the emergency services, were proving to be an effective way of supporting people in the workplace – and a way to ‘save a lot of money for the NHS’, according to Blakebrough.

Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 13.17.49Catherine Sermon of Business in the Community (BITC) explained a campaign called ‘Ban the Box!’, which looked to change criminal record disclosure policy – the tick box on application forms – in a bid to create fair opportunities for people with conviction to compete for a job (DDN, June, page 8).

‘We’re not asking to ban disclosure, just delay it,’ she said. ‘We’re forcing people to scratch their heads.’

One of the catalysts had been her own organisation’s difficulty in getting clients on employment placements: ‘We thought, if we’re struggling, what are the chances for everyone else?’

BITC also ran a programme called ‘Ready for Work’, which helped around 700 disadvantaged people a year to find work, many of whom had had drug and alcohol dependency and convictions. ‘It’s all about challenging stigma,’ she said.

Philip Richards, senior partner in major law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, demonstrated the scheme in action, by explaining how the company signed up to the Ready for Work programme and offered 25-30 places a year.

‘You can’t work as a lawyer with a conviction, but there were lots of opportunities for support staff,’ he said. ‘At first we bottled it – we thought the lawyers wouldn’t like it. But the numbers of people going back into jail is a national disgrace, so we asked ourselves whether people could come and do work placements with us.’

Realising they needed help with considering the risks, they talked to probation officers and decisions were made by the company’s global HR. But once the scheme started, ‘the clients have been great – committed, energetic and employable,’ he said. ‘When Business in the Community started “Ban the Box” it wasn’t a difficult decision.’

‘This is a huge problem and we can’t make a difference on our own,’ he added, urging delegates to think about the influence big national companies and public sector employees could have. ‘We need to get the word out.’

Lester Morse and Dan Farnham from East Coast Recovery gave a perspective of how they, as treatment providers and a recovery community, were making clients ‘work-ready’.

‘We’re more than a rehab – we try to create spaces,’ said Morse. ‘We create lots of projects and keep it as close to real living as possible to get the foundations in place.’

Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 13.18.10Farnham described how East Coast Recovery’s range of opportunities, such as their woodworking business, were investing in the recovery of their employees. Together with the education programme, they were making sure people were leaving with the skills necessary to get a job.

Don Shenker, director and founder of the Alcohol Health Network, brought a much-needed perspective on reducing alcohol in the workplace.

‘Most of the population are rubbish at working out how much they drink,’ he said. ‘We are trying to work with the people who are in work but drinking at too high levels.’

Drinking at these levels could have a serious impact on work performance. ‘Our intention is to support people at a much earlier stage,’ he said.

The aim was to work proactively and preventatively in all sorts of ways, rather than reactively, signposting them to support and linking them to local services.

‘But are there other ways we can engage with people we know are stuck,’ he asked. ‘We want to engage the recovery community to bring in expertise. Come and speak to us – we want to find a way of joining the dots together and supporting people in work.’  DDN

Over to you…

Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 13.18.38BBC broadcaster Edward Stourton chaired an expert panel, with contributions from the floor 

Is volunteering viable?

‘Volunteering is really key… employees need to be as clear as possible about working requirements.’ Don Shenker, Alcohol Health Network

‘I was petrified of doing “normal things”, like going into a shop and buying a newspaper. People don’t get that – it’s a petrifying world. If you’re taking on volunteers, it’s important to have structure and support… but sometimes it’s the little things that are important as well.’ Richard Maunders, UKRF

‘There are two problems with volunteering – the first is that you’ll give people the impression you’ll give them a job at the end of it when you can’t. The second is that some employees now see themselves above volunteers. We need to break down the hierarchy.’ Martin Blakebrough, Kaleidoscope

 ‘After 17 years in recovery, I’ve been professionalised. I felt better when I was a volunteer – I felt like I was giving. There should be routes to both choices.’ Ashley Gibson, The Basement Recovery Project

‘How about professionalising and training people rather than just calling them volunteers?’ Andy Stonard, Esprit de Bois

‘Part of the problem is that the conditionality regime doesn’t necessarily support volunteering. It’s important to have a clearer, more consistent message across the board.’ Paul Anders, DrugScope

How can employers be more supportive?

‘It’s about having a conversation with people and having appropriate supervision. Learn from your own experience and empathise with other people.’ Martin Blakebrough, Kaleidoscope

‘Make companies aware that there are different types of issues with problem drinking. Employers have a duty of care.’ Don Shenker, AHN

‘I’m a service user and I come from a corporate environment. It’s dog eat dog out there, so the last thing we were there to do was talk about problems. It was a liberating experience to ask for help; it takes strength to do that. The corporate attitude is all about going on the piss.’ Delegate

The UK Recovery Festival was organised by DDN on behalf of The Recovery Partnership, with the aim of creating a dialogue between the treatment, housing and employment sectors. 

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