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The importance of visible recovery - Alistair Sinclair, UKRF

On 29th September 2012, thousands of people will gather together on the south coast to celebrate and promote recovery in their communitites. The 4th UK Recovery Walk is a national event, which brings together recovery community members from all over the UK and for a little while makes recovery very visible on the streets. Here, The UK Recovery Federation's Alistair Sinclair explains why visible recovery is important.

The importance of visible recovery

Alistair Sinclair

Thousands of people will be gathering in Brighton on the 29th of September for the 4th UK Recovery Walk. Inspired by Faces & Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) in the US the 1st UK Recovery Walk took place in Liverpool in 2009. Since then UK Recovery Walks have taken place in September in Glasgow (2010) and Cardiff (2011).

This year’s Walk (planned, organised and delivered by people from the local Recovery Community) has adopted ‘creativity’ as its theme and welcomes all those who want to celebrate and promote recovery (the potential and reality of transformation and renewed meaning) in their communities.

The Walk will be a celebration. It will be fun. It will bring together recovery community members from all over the UK, and for a little while it will make recovery very visible on the streets of Brighton.

So why is visible recovery important?

A fair bit has been written, particularly within mental health recovery, about the importance of hope and optimism within services that seek to become more recovery-orientated and within communities that nurture and build recovery. Larry Davidson, a key figure in mental health recovery, believes that the instilling of hope and optimism is at the heart of recovery and the UKRF has embedded this within its Recovery Principles. By making recovery visible (and I'm talking here about recovery in its widest and most inclusive sense) hope is offered to individuals and communities, a world of new possibilities opens up and evidence is provided that transformation and renewal is possible; recovery is possible. If recovery is to be 'contagious', if it is to spread, we must encounter it in our daily lives within our communities. In a society where unhealthy dependencies are spiralling out of control as communities fragment and fracture, there is an ever increasing need for visible recovery. The UK Recovery Walk represents the beginning of an articulation of an alternative to dependency in all its forms. The walk, along with more and more visible recovery activity within the UK, is beginning to challenge stigma and discrimination through its embracing of diversity, championing of individual and collective strengths and through an emphasis on connections, belonging and community.

Recovery is a communal and social endeavour. New communities and movements grow as they become more visible. Recovery Walks play a significant role in this process. However there is a need to make recovery much more visible within all our communities. The New Economics Foundation (nef) has, having analysed a huge amount of national and international research, identified ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’; Be active, Take notice, Learn, Connect and Give.

The UKRF believes that we need to focus on the assets that support the ‘5 Ways’ for individuals, groups and communities and challenge our current deficit/needs-based culture. In identifying and supporting the assets within our communities that support the ‘5 ways’ we will support new and diverse forms of mutual aid and make recovery visible and accessible for all. We will ensure that Recovery Networks are there for all that are recovering. An asset/strength-based philosophy and practice, grounded in social justice and rooted within communities, will make recovery visible. In embracing it we will all become ‘Recovery Champions’. We will do it together, as equals, making the path as we walk it.


Diana Powell FRSA

I fully agree with Alistair's emphasis on 'visible recovery' and the contagion which is the necessary engine to give impetus to, and continuation for the ripples of recovery to spread and be recognised in any community.
The RSA, nef and other 'thinktanks' have produced real thought-provoking reports directly related to the values and ideals behind the goal of recovery.
As all realise, this requires a paradigm shift in the approach to and understanding of addiction and dependency.It asks citizens, including those who work in the field to re-think their approach towards those individuals who currently live with addiction; to welcome change; to be prepared to have their doubts confounded and to work together towards as socially just a society as we can possibly muster.

owen fielding

I agree with Alistair's article. Here in Scotland, we found that making recovery visible within the treatment pathway and in the communities, helped develop recovery capital and an ethos that recovery is possible. When this takes place, addicts begin to believe that recovery is possible, having seen recovery success in peers.

Many of our recovered citizens made recovery visible by posting their story on the Facebook page which we set up to give recovered citizens a voice. This in itself has been a driver for others to embrace treatment and recovery.

It is our belief that services 'do not have all the answers'. There is much to learn from collaborative working with community and statutory bodies with a healthy amount of input from those seeking to recover; all within the context of services being person-centred and recovery-focussed.

To see how we achieve this in Scotland, visit:


Kenneth Eckersley

The visible recovery we should all focus on is the REDUCTION of DEMAND (the lead outcome specified by the Government) as this entails curing addicts of their addictions, by bringing them to relaxed lasting abstinence.

Including prison units, this is achieved in 169 self-help addition recovery training centres in 49 countries, and there is no reason why it should not be available here.

Kenneth Eckersley
CEO Addiction Recovery Training Services (ARTS)
A not-for=profit community support organisation
established in 1975.

Jon Royle

Visible recovery in the wider community is important but let's also make sure every service user that sets foot in a treatment service sees recovery oozing at every turn. Waiting rooms with walls plastered in anthrax posters, overdose prevention signs, rules and regulations don't usually tick this box! Recovery volunteers/champions meeting and greeting service users, recovery walls with inspiring stories, recovery DVDs playing in the background, recovery signs and symbols, these are the things I'd hope to see in a modern recovery orientated treatment service

Alistair Sinclair

Absolutely Jon and I'd like to see services make much more visible how they support the '5 Ways to Well-Being' within their environment alongside evidenced demonstration of how they support well-being in the wider community. I reckon that's about making opportunities to connect, be active, take notice, learn and give much more visible within service provision. It's about truly embracing a philosophy of co-production; working together as community members (and breaking down some of the professional barriers) to develop and sustain a recovery-orientated environment. I believe some of this involves challenging notions of 'treatment'; the 'doing things to people' as opposed to 'doing things with people'. In some ways this is the biggest cultural challenge to developing recovery-orientation as it has implications for everybody; policy makers/politicians, commissioners, managers, practitioners, service users, communities. Is a service ever truly recovery-orientated when it remains deficit-orientated at its core and resistant to real co-production? A theme for another post maybe.

Phil Jackson

All these comments of visible recovery are well meant, I'm sure but reading the comments suggests that the highest aspiration ex service users should have is to "meet and greet". As an ex service user and now volunteer SMART Facilitator and Recovery Coach I believe the best way to demonstrate visible recovery is to train and employ committed ex service users and follow Arnstein's ladder of citizen participation for those who want to remain volunteers.
I believe this frightens employees and managers for understandable and valid reasons.
My earning potential as a Charted Engineer is much greater than as a drug/alcohol worker but I believe I have a contribution to make and actively am applying for jobs
The feedback I've had from interviews are basically the same "you are knowledgeable in recovery, you can obviously be a great help to service users but what can you do for us"
Maybe I'm missing something but if effort is concentrated on service users the outcomes will surely follow. I think it's a bit like making sausages, the secret to tasty sausages is in the ingredients and their proportions, a monkey can come out the other end

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