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NETWORK A national newsletter on substance misuse management in primary care

Alistair Sinclair describes the origins and the underlying principles of the UK Recovery Foundation, an organisation that embraces recovery while recognising the importance that treatment services can play in this process. Ed.

individuals in the environment in which they live. We understand recovery to be an asset-based approach, as opposed to many current state-sponsored treatment interventions that are often deficit based and reductive. We believe that we can learn a lot from educationalists like Paulo Freire, community activists like Saul Alinsky and John McKnight, Larry Davidson within the mental health field, William White, George De Leon and Bruce Alexander in the substance use field. But principally we believe we learn most from listening to individuals and communities. Through this listening, this engagement as equals in a shared learning environment, we believe we can develop and support new forms of community-focused practice that will facilitate shifts from cultures grounded in unhealthy dependencies to new cultures of recovery.

The UK Recovery Federation

“We make the path by walking it”

This phrase, taken from the Spanish cooperative movement, has been embraced by the UK Recovery Federation (UKRF) and sums up our central approach. Together we make new paths, open up new possibilities and support the release of the many diverse strengths all people have. We are all assets. We all have value.

In January 2010 a group of activists from the recovery community met in Glasgow to plan the second UK Recovery Walk. We wanted to build on what had been achieved the previous September when the first UK Recovery Walk (organised by SHARP in Liverpool) saw around 1000 people out on the streets of Liverpool celebrating their achievements and making recovery visible. We felt there was a need for an organisation that would ensure a UK Recovery Walk took place each year, learning from each year’s experience and developing as a significant articulation of recovery which would challenge the stigma associated with substance use. Glasgow saw nearly 2000 people marching on the 25th

increase at the next Walk in Cardiff on the 10th year.

Because we believe that strong recovery values must sit at the centre of all our work we have developed a set of UKRF Recovery Principles, building on three years of work in the US by the Centre for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT):

1. Recovery lies within individuals, families and communities and is self directed and empowering.

2. Recovery lies within our ‘connectedness’ to others, is holistic and has many cultural dimensions.

3. Recovery is supported by peers, families and allies within communities.

4. Recovery involves the personal, cultural and structural recognition of the need for participative change, transformation and the building of recovery capital.

5. Recovery involves a continual process of change and self-redefinition for individuals, families, organisations and communities.

6. Recovery challenges all discrimination and transcends shame and stigma.

7. Recovery emerges from hope, gratitude, love and service to others.

of September last year and we expect numbers to of September this

We felt there was also a need for a grassroots peer-led body that would focus on the building of recovery capital within communities through the establishment of new and diverse Recovery Networks. Out of this vision, our version of the Big Society, the UK Recovery Federation (UKRF) was born.

We have avoided subscribing to any one definition of recovery. We believe that if recovery is going to be owned by each individual and by communities then they must define its terms. However we have found William White’s definition helpful:

“the experience (a process and a sustained status) through which individuals, families, and communities impacted by severe alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems utilise internal and external resources to voluntarily resolve these problems, heal the wounds inflicted by AOD-related problems, actively manage their continued vulnerability to such problems, and develop a healthy, productive and meaningful life.” 1

Whilst there is a clear and crucial need for recovery-oriented services (and a need for research in this area where rhetoric often dominates) we believe that recovery, in essence, sits within

1 White WL. Recovery (2008) Old wine, flavor of the month or new organizing paradigm? Subst Use Misuse 2008;43:1987-2000.


8. There are many pathways to recovery and no individual, community or organisation has the right to claim ownership of the ‘right pathway.’

9. Recovery exists on a continuum of improved health and well-being.

10. Recovery transcends, whilst embracing, harm reduction and abstinence based approaches and does not seek to be prescriptive.

11. Honesty, self-awareness and openness lie at the heart of recovery.

12. Recovery is a reality and contagious.

The UKRF aims to promote these Recovery Principles and support the development of a diverse UK Recovery Movement. We believe it is time to radically re-evaluate the nature of support that is offered to people with substance use issues, just as it is time to re-evaluate what is offered to all those that receive welfare. It is time for change. By working together, embracing our differences and celebrating our similarities as human beings we can make new paths.

Alistair Sinclair, UKRF

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