Work, rest and play

Addiction can be like swimming in shark- infested waters, but the recovery community are like people in a life raft holding out their hands, Dr Ed Day of the National Addiction Centre told guests at the opening of Recovery Central in Birmingham. Holding out their hands and welcoming people on board was exactly what the team running the new centre planned to do.

The new enterprise was planned and conceived by Changes UK, an independent social enterprise for people in recovery. It will provide support, volunteering opportunities and business incubation, and its facilities include a café, a dry bar, and recording studios. It set up with Public Health England (PHE) capital funding, working in partnership with CGL, the agency responsible for delivering services across Birmingham.

Changes UK chief executive Steve Dixon has ambitious plans for the place. Described by Day as ‘the Richard Branson of recovery’ Dixon has always been entrepreneurial, including spending every hour working at his plumbing business to get money for drugs. This finally changed in 2004 when he met members of the recovery community in Weston-super-Mare. Here he spoke to people who hadn’t used for several years – an idea he said he could barely contemplate – and realised that one of the reasons his attempts at recovery had been unsuccessful had been because he had been on his own. Returning to Birmingham, he realised he wanted to help create a similar community in the UK’s second city.

Russel Brand

Using a house inherited from his grandmother, Dixon started up Changes UK in 2007. It now incorporates a detox service, community-based rehab, supported and ‘move on’ housing, and it has just opened the doors to its most ambitious project to date.

Based in a former industrial unit in Digbeth near the centre of Birmingham, Recovery Central’s 15,000 square foot venue provides meeting spaces and office facilities to support the numerous projects that will be run from there. One of new centre’s key aims is to provide volunteering and training opportunities to help people in recovery return to work – particularly those who want to start businesses or access training in different sectors, beyond the substance misuse field. These ideas are being put into practice, with the construction social enterprise Building Changes providing volunteers to work on the refit of the premises.

With an innovative business model that hopes to help grow social enterprises to a point where they will be independent and able to create a sustainable revenue stream, Changes UK sees volunteering as a means to an end. The value of this was emphasised by Rosanna O’Connor, director for alcohol, drugs and tobacco at PHE, who spoke of the importance of volunteering in helping people build confidence and shared how her own experience of volunteering had put her on the path to her career. Others to lend their support to the new venture included Duran Duran bassist John Taylor and singer Jimmy Somerville, who both sent video messages. Actor Russell Brand attended the launch of the centre to express his admiration for the project and the way it supported individuals in recovery: ‘This shouldn’t be a rare project, this should be the standard,’ he said.

Members of the Changes UK team, Collette Carter and Alex Davey, gave two of the most memorable speeches of the day by explaining how they had been able to transform their lives. Davey relayed his experience of first meeting people in recovery who were at peace with themselves, while Carter said that she had been encouraged to go out and find her passion. They both expressed hope that Recovery Central would help to change people’s perceptions of recovery, among both active users and in the wider community.

‘The tanker is turning,’ added Dixon. ‘People are starting to support recovery. Recovery Central gives us an amazing venue that we can use to help more people in our city into recovery from addiction and gain the skills to live a life with meaning and purpose, so that they also can be an asset to our community rather than just a burden.’


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