Long before the championing of recovery in the Drug strategy 2010, there were incredible efforts across the country – many run on a shoestring – to provide hope, guidance and support for people in recovery, often outside of formal treatment structures. These efforts have been increasingly important as a result of austerity and the reduction in mainstream funding for specialist services, and have been brought more into focus during the COVID pandemic when looking at what community support there is post-treatment.
These organisations and groups have often had to survive on goodwill and sometimes small sub-contracts – vulnerable to being cut if the overall contract fails to deliver, and open to the criticism of lacking formal evidence and credibility through reporting mechanisms such as NDTMS. This is not always the case, yet it provided the impetus for the Recovery Connectors group to form.
Starting in May, a group of ten champions of recovery from different corners of the recovery ecosystem began to meet on a weekly basis to share their thoughts and support each other. An agenda quickly developed consisting of five objectives:
1. To expand the scope beyond a narrow definition of recovery to include all of those damaged by exclusion and marginalisation – and so the term LERO (lived experience recovery organisation) was born
2. To provide a platform for sharing and disseminating the innovations that are central to recovery-oriented organisations
3. To agree on a core set of values for lived experience recovery organisations
4. To create an evidence base for recovery organisations to provide credibility and professionalism
5. To develop a set of standards for LEROs as a framework for growth and development, rather than a cage.
It’s no coincidence that these five objectives connect to form another acronym – LIVES. The aim of all LEROs is to support individuals, families and communities to lead positive and meaningful lives that contribute to the wellbeing of their communities. This parallels and builds on our previous work on ‘recovery cities’ based on the notion of developing community growth and wellbeing. Our early endeavours have seen a recent round table contribution to the Dame Carol Black review and have been highlighted by William White in his blog.
Linking to the Northern Recovery College
There was a natural fit between the LERO initiative and the Northern Recovery College (DDN, April 2019, page 6) which has for the last three years been running events across Yorkshire and Humber as a partnership between the University of Derby, Spectrum, RDaSH (Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Trust) and ADS (Alcohol & Drug Service), with the aims of:
>> Educating the alcohol and other drug treatment workforce about recovery
>> Providing a forum for people in recovery to learn, innovate, share and develop their understanding and knowledge
>> Generating different experiential learning for the attendees
The event held on 25 September was the formal launch of the Recovery Connectors group and the LERO initiative, using the Recovery College principles but delivered online. The aim was to explain the logic of the approach and canvas initial opinions and willingness to engage from outside the current group.
The day started with a panel discussion involving all of the Recovery Connectors, offering a discussion of what the aims of the group are and how we are intending to evolve, and highlighting that LEROs are truly person-centred and asset-based rather than system-centred and deficit-based on health needs assessments.
The remaining three hours were expertly hosted on Zoom by our Canadian colleagues Peter and Yvonne from Axiomnews.com, who ensured that everyone had a chance to express their views and become actively involved. The Axiom News team have been practicing asset-based community development and appreciative inquiry for two decades, and remarked on the similarities between LEROs and those approaches, such as:
>> Honouring each person and their voice
>> Openness and generosity
>> A focus on giftedness
>> Belief in personal agency and community abundance
Path to recovery
While working with us on the summit, Peter was struck by phrases like, ‘we are experiential people’ which reflect the potency of lived experience in all of life’s recovery and thriving. The way LEROs have been grassroots, each unique, and each owning their own approaches, has been community-driven and deeply democratic. He feels that this way of being offers a path to recovery from dissociation in all of its forms, and that people with lived experience and LEROs offer a beacon and leading light even beyond their own communities. It was an incredible bonus that they captured the event in the poem and sketch shown.
It was a positive and rewarding day for all, and one that clearly indicated the appetite and need for the Recovery Connectors’ work and for the LERO initiative to form wider associations and more formal connections. A total of 168 people signed up for the event and throughout the day there were typically around 80-100 people actively participating. The whole event will be shared in the near future.
We have been overwhelmed with messages of support since and, crucially, by requests to be involved. A follow up 90-minute Big Conversation event is planned for 4 December to explore reflections from the initial launch and discuss current and future developments.
You can book here.
So what now for LEROs?
Our group will continue to meet on a weekly basis and we are meeting up in November to advance each of our aims around the LIVES agenda. We will start to work on a set of standards for LEROs that are not simply an adaptation of specialist treatment services but that recognise the unique demands and needs of LEROs. We will continue to refine our values and our model for championing innovation and the evidence base.
We will continue to act as one of the working groups for the College of Lived Experience Recovery Organisations and will attempt to increase the profile, professionalism and connectedness for LEROs to influence strength-based commissioning in local areas. We are also looking to continue to engage LEROs from across the UK in our Recovery Connectors Forum. We want you to be a part of this exciting work, to inform and advise us and to help create a unified and coherent voice for LEROs.
We want to unite LEROs, celebrate differences and create an opportunity for these groups to have a voice and remain equitable against more formal care structures in the local communities we serve.
To be a part of the Recovery Connectors Forum, please contact LERO.firstname.lastname@example.org