The last year has seen dramatic change in bringing small and disparate recovery communities together in Lancashire, say Alistair Sinclair and James Attwood
community-led recovery is becoming more and more visible within Lancashire these days. For many recovery activists here it feels like new, diverse and creative communities of recovery are growing, becoming more confident, making new links and becoming stronger.
The Lancashire User Forum has launched its recovery barge (the LUF boat), the Red Rose Recovery Choir is finding its voice, Recovery Radio has taken to the airwaves and at the beginning of November more than 200 people turned out on a rainy Saturday afternoon to support the launch of The Well. Every Saturday afternoon since then has seen the Dallas Road boys’ and girls’ club in Lancaster transform into a social club, run by and for people in recovery, which, as one of the launch participants put it, ‘brings people together to share stories, support each other and build recovery’.
Described by Dave Higham, a local recovery activist who worked tirelessly with a few others to pull the social club together, as ‘a source of strength, a place where people can come to power up’, The Well is a place where people in recovery and family and friends can come together to play some sport and games, paint faces, drink tea, chat, make new friends and have fun; a safe place in the community where people can connect and build on their strengths.
Not just a social centre, The Well is also the base for a ‘Warrior Down’ (DDN, November, page 20) support network which will offer peer support in the community to people who are struggling. It intends to be self-sufficient and independent, reflecting a desire to develop community recovery and, judging by the diversity in the room at the launch (local social enterprises, faith groups, fellowship members, political activists, the UKRF, the mayor) it’s on the way.
Here’s what people had to say at the launch: ‘The Well makes recovery visible in the community, it’s about building a space where people in recovery can come together and grow their recovery through the building of friendships’ (Lesley); ‘We want to empower people to support their own recovery. What’s unique is we’re bringing family members and people in recovery together to build new relationships because its relationships that sustain recovery’ (Dave Higham); and ‘Projects like these are the future, the future is about communities coming together to sort things out for themselves’ (Hayden Duncan NTA).
A week after the launch of The Well, the editorial team of the Lancashire Affinity newsletter met at the social club to plan their second edition. Launched in October this newsletter is produced for free by volunteers from the Lancashire recovery community and distributed free to anyone who wants it. The newsletter focuses on celebrating recovery and making visible what supports the ‘five ways to wellbeing’ in Lancashire. It connects people, advertises activities, encourages reflection, supports people in taking notice of the good stuff around them, encourages learning and provides opportunities for people to give within their communities. Hosted on the UK Recovery Federation website, the newsletter is also available to everyone to download for free. It’s early days but by producing it in this way it’s been demonstrated that when people with passion come together and map their assets (a process that started at a Lancaster UKRF recovery seminar in November last year) it can be surprising – to some – just how much they can do for themselves without funding and without services’ involvement.
If people want a print copy of the Affinity newsletter they can print it off themselves and if services want to distribute it then the cost is theirs. Through doing it this way the Affinity group has maintained its independence. It’s a way of working that can be reproduced anywhere by anyone who has the will to do it. The Affinity newsletter has the potential to be a voice that connects and celebrates the recovery community in Lancashire. It can help to make recovery visible and it could support the growth of stronger networks based on an ‘affinity’ – a commitment to promote the ‘five ways to wellbeing’ for all and a desire to support recovery in its widest sense within communities.
While there have been small recovery communities in Lancashire for quite a while (the fellowship and friends from rehabs supporting each other) they’ve often been invisible to those who didn’t know where to look, and the various recovery pockets were disparate and unconnected. The last year or so has seen this change dramatically. Communities of recovery have started to come out into the light and, as they’ve done so, they’ve begun to articulate a message of solidarity, hope and optimism. In becoming visible, new connections and friendships have been made and stigma challenged in real and concrete ways. The Well has just begun and it’ll be a while before we see an Affinity network in Lancashire. But it’s a good start and there are plenty of people in Lancashire who are committed (as we say in the UKRF) to making the path as we walk it.
James Attwood and Alistair Sinclair are UKRF directors.