Recovery or throw away the key?

At a partnership development event, ran by Whitworth that I attended last year, I met a serving police officer who spoke eloquently about the key to recovery being three cornerstones – jobs, friends, houses – and only by acknowledging and addressing these areas, could someone be supported to move from a vulnerable position to one of empowerment. Having worked with young adults in a variety of complex situations and through a myriad of both public and private partnerships, his words rang true. And so I asked him to contribute an article, which whilst it focuses on addiction, resonates beyond and I hope into some of the work we are trying to achieve.


Recovery or throw away the key?

Addiction is a mental health condition. It destroys individuals, their families and communities. Recent research shows some addictive behaviour to be genetic and therefore passed down through generations, but addiction can also affect individuals without any previous family history.

It is likely that amongst your wider circle of friends you may have knowledge of a family or individual that suffers the destruction of addiction. Nationally 4% of adults are dependent on alcohol and 9 individuals per 1000 are dependent on opiates or crack cocaine.

When you see a vagrant or beggar on a street corner – what do you see? A bundle of rags, beyond help, smelling and making a mess? Do you walk past as if they don’t exist? Do you tut and think “get a job, get a life”? Do you see a human being; a father; someone’s son or daughter and wonder what their story is or what addictive behaviours may have impacted on their life and brought them to this point?

Pain Killers 2004 Damien Hirst

Pain Killers
Damien Hirst

I am a serving police officer of 27 years. I have personally viewed the destruction addiction causes – criminal behaviour to fund the addiction, victims of burglary that have had treasured possessions stolen; telling a mother that a drink driver who was also an alcoholic has killed her daughter; breaking into a bed-sit to try and save a heroin addict that had overdosed…. …the list goes on.

So should we arrest addicts? Put them into mental health hospitals? Throw the key away?

Does society support redemption? Should individuals who are in addiction be allowed a second, a third, a ninth, a tenth chance?

Lots of questions!

Evidence of inspirational, personal stories of individuals that have achieved long-term recovery has proved to me beyond doubt that recovery is achievable. In fact, recovery is not only possible but also probable with the right conditions attached.

Conditions supporting recovery include:

  • If the individual is on a personal recovery programme (such as 12 steps, SMART, fellowship etc.)
  • They are in stable accommodation
  • They have positive peers to support them, and
  • They have meaningful employment

But here comes the rub – who will employ a 20-year heroin addict, who has been in-and-out of prison his whole adult life? Or lease a house to an alcoholic with no references?

Why should society support these individuals who continually relapse to their addiction?

We find ourselves in a ‘catch 22’ situation. The individual needs a job, friends and a house to sustain their recovery but they don’t have the background to grant them these chances. Meanwhile, the pull of their addiction draws them back in causing relapse, moving them further away from recovery and jeopardising any future chances for them or someone else in recovery. The end result reinforces that addiction is more powerful than the ‘potential’ of recovery.

So we know recovery is achievable; however society currently sees the stigma of addiction and offending before it recognises the power of recovery. Maybe an answer can be found in Blackpool?

A partnership has developed to include Lancashire Constabulary, Blackpool Council, HMP Kirkham, Blackpool and Fylde College, arts organisations, private businesses and third sector groups to create a social enterprise providing Jobs, Friends and Houses.

Jobs, Friends and Houses Community Interest Company’ does what it says on the tin! It provides meaningful employment, peer support and stable accommodation for people in recovery. Profits are re-invested back into the enterprise to help more individuals sustain recovery.

The company buys, renovates and sells (or rents) properties. All jobs and tenancies created are for people in recovery.  We particularly target houses of multiple occupancy – houses split into flats and bedsits – as we aim for each tenant to be supportive of the other tenants. By creating a community underpinned by individuals facing similar challenges of addiction, we hope to sustain recovery of each other and help those involved flourish.

Endell Street 1972 David Gentleman

Endell Street
David Gentleman

Currently, offers of employment centre on construction. Not everyone in recovery will seek employment within the construction sector so we are looking to create a ‘recovery hotel’, ‘recovery garage’, ‘recovery entertainment and leisure activities’.

One example of how Jobs, Friends and Houses create meaningful employment is the development of a partnership with a leading, local accountancy firm. We need an accountant so why pay for one when we can grow our own? We have recruited a suitable candidate from the recovery community; they are now on the necessary training (adult apprenticeship) via Blackpool and Fylde College and spend one day per week at college, one day in our office and three days per week being mentored within the accountancy firm.

Addicts take from their communities so we need to show that recovery can be positive and give back. A portion of our profits and volunteer hours will be fed into local charities and community groups as decided by our employees.

We also need to evaluate our project from which facts and figures, but even more importantly individual stories can be shared. In support, a recognised social photographer and writer has been commissioned to mentor people in recovery, to record their personal journeys and combine results to show what Jobs, Friends and Houses achieves in its first year.

We want to inspire current addicts to aim for recovery. Alongside recovery, skills of self worth, gratitude and accepting positive recognition will not only sustain their own recovery but also support other individuals to reach their goals. Creating a blossoming recovery community that is integrated into the wider community is truly achievable.

The journey has begun…..