Stronger Together

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Mike Trace

The legal niceties on the merger between Forward Trust and Action on Addiction were completed on 1 May, on which date over 100 staff became employees of the Forward Trust, and the merged organisation took responsibility for all contracts and delivery for Clouds House, the SHARP day programmes in Essex and Liverpool, the M-PACT Family programme, and the CATS training service.

All mergers cause some disruption, and the legal and HR procedures are complicated, but this has felt like a smooth process – with a clear shared mission and culture between the two organisations, and an excitement around what the future can bring. We aim, as an expanded Forward Trust (we are also mobilising around £6m of new probation contracts at the same time), to be a strong and consistent voice in the sector – providing high quality services, but also campaigning to raise public and policy understanding of the causes of addiction and social exclusion, to tackle the stigma our clients face, and to improve the design of our responses.

This latest step change in the scale and reach of our services underlines our core mission – learnt through decades of managing recovery programmes for people struggling with drug or alcohol dependence, but now applied to a wider range of client groups and situations (offenders, homeless, long-term unemployed, those struggling with mental health problems). We believe that anyone is capable of making transformational changes to the direction of their lives. With determination and support, our clients can break the cycle of addiction, offending and social marginalisation to build a positive and fulfilling life.

We are clear on the shared beliefs that lie behind this mission:

• That the root causes of most people’s slide into addiction or criminal lifestyles are adverse experiences (neglect, abuse, trauma) in childhood or adolescence. Most of our clients have been dealt a poor hand in life. They may not always have made the right choices, but they deserve our support to change the script.

• That most people want to change – they don’t choose a life of desperation, conflict and marginalisation. But they have lost, or never had in the first place, the tools to get out of the negative cycles they find themselves in.

• Consequently, instilling belief in our clients that a different path is possible, and that they are capable of following it, is a crucial component of recovery. The visible presence of role models with lived experience is therefore central to our service design.

• Services funded by the taxpayer – as most of ours are – should be designed to maximise, and be measured by, their impact on bringing about these changes.

It is important for organisations in the social care sector to have a clear set of beliefs, shared by everyone involved, that give us clarity on what we come in to work every day to achieve. I am proud that Forward Trust has this ‘mission drive’ and I would guess that similar motivations are driving most of the people working in this sector. But I am not sure that commissioners and providers spend enough time on ensuring that services are designed to represent these principles, and that we maximise the opportunities for personal development and recovery that exist in our clients.

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Whether people come to us for help with drugs, alcohol or other addictions – or practical help with employment, housing or prison releases – our approach is the same: how can the individual be helped to find their own strength, and the support of those around them, to become more than their past.

We structure our services according to four stages

Of course, it’s rare for an individual to pass through these stages in a simple and linear process, but they are useful in giving staff and clients a framework for the progress we hope our clients can make:

PAUSE – this refers to efforts to help clients rise above the pressures of often chaotic lives to stay safe, and find some stability to consider their options.

ENGAGE – where clients are ready, we work hard to build their motivation to believe in change.

DEVELOP – For those who have committed to turning their lives around, we offer a range of intensive programmes and pathways that focus on an individual’s personal development.

PROSPER – Where clients take the reward for their hard work, and pursue their interests with work, family and community – we try to continue helping them by creating peer-led recovery communities through our Forward Connect network.