Turning the tables

People with drug and alcohol problems can be used to a cycle of punishment and low self-esteem. Kaleidoscope used a recovery awards event to reverse the mindset of service users, as Barry Eveleigh explains

1Having worked in the field of substance misuse for more than 25 years as a practitioner, manager and commissioner, it’s always struck me how we constantly ‘punish’ people with drug and alcohol problems – withholding prescriptions, placing people on supervised consumption or reducing doses for non-compliance. Granted, these measures are for clinical governance and safety reasons, but ask yourself this: how often do we actually reward and acknowledge the successes of the people who, at the end of the day, pay our wages?

When I was commissioning, a study of our clients’ profile was undertaken. What was particularly interesting, but perhaps not surprising, was that most people in treatment had low-level academic achievement. Most had left school at an early age without any qualification whatsoever, or didn’t get any good grades if they did take exams (80 per cent fell into the former category). People who used our service also had a long history of loss, breakdowns and punishment.

Looking at these facts and how we worked with our service users, I began to question whether we simply affirmed a sense of hopelessness and failure within a group of people who already had significantly low self-esteem.

2When I moved to Kaleidoscope in Wales I was shocked, having worked previously in larger inner cities, to see how little rural treatment services had available – not just in funding terms, but also in relation to things like access to transport, employment and leisure opportunities. Despite these barriers I was amazed at how people who used our services overcame them. Just getting to our services deserved a medal. And that’s when the penny dropped – perhaps we ought to consider an awards ceremony that recognised people’s achievements? Combining this idea with the recovery agenda seemed the perfect opportunity to establish such an event, so this was how the first recovery awards event in July 2013 came into being.

We all know that recovery is a journey – or at least is meant to be – and should not purely focus on those individuals who had made and sustained abstinence (which is brilliant, don’t get me wrong). With a small group of staff who volunteered to get this off the ground we looked at where someone’s recovery journey started and finished and how we could incorporate this journey into a variety of awards. Rightly or wrongly, we decided that getting naloxone training should be the first award or first step to recovery, as this was where someone, who may not be stable or even in treatment, took responsibility for themselves and for others. From thereon in things started to flow and we ended up with a total of 14 awards (see table).

We tried to make the awards as inclusive as possible. Not only did we want to award recovery success, but we also wanted other service users to witness recovery success. Venues, transport and buffet were ordered – the next hurdle was making nominations and inviting guests along. This might sound easy, but in a rural community people are still very anxious about going public over a drug or alcohol problem. For some people who had left the service, their days of coming into contact with drug and alcohol users were over and they were quite adamant that they did not want any further contact with us.

4We finished up with 100 people getting awards and with a total audience of more than 200 people, including service users, members of the public and professionals. Each nominee would be called out – just like a graduation ceremony – and be given a certificate by our chief executive, Martin Blakebrough.

The event went well and the atmosphere was both relaxed and charged with excitement. The reception people gave each other as they went up for awards was so encouraging and emotional, especially as most people didn’t know each other. For a lot of people, this was the first time they had ever received a certificate or formal recognition of their achievements of any kind.

One service user who won the ‘Inspiration to others’ award, having conquered homelessness, severe alcohol abuse, poor health, antisocial behaviour and become abstinent alone, commented: ‘It was nice to feel valued and acknowledged as a person.’

For staff too, the event helped them to see improvements in their clients from a different perspective, when working with what they would often see as an unchanging caseload. ‘It was nice to see that we are making an impact,’ was a comment from one worker.

The event has made a difference to both staff and people who use our service and as a result we ran our second event last month. Staff were really keen to nominate individuals for this year’s awards, and in terms of clients’ recovery the event does seem to be contagious – our DNA (did not attend) rates have improved, more people are cutting down and more people are stopping. Word has spread and clients are really happy to be nominated this time around.

Staff have become so enthused with the recovery agenda that we have expanded from the recovery awards to a recovery month, in line with the UKRF, with staff working to produce a programme of events for each day of September. We tried to make the events open to service users, their families, the public, and community groups, to spread the recovery message. The month was called ‘My Month – My Recovery’ and events included a recovery photo competition with an exhibition of works that will travel across the county, country walks, litter-picking, gardening and allotment schemes, a ghost walk, an awareness event for faith group leaders, as well as bowling and sporting events. For a rural community with limited resources, this has been an exciting challenge to which everyone has risen and I am proud of everyone’s commitment in getting this off the ground.

From just one event, it is amazing the impact that this has had on both the people who use our service and staff. It has improved the motivation of all the people involved with Kaleidoscope in Powys and we can only see our recovery movement going from strength to strength. 

Barry Eveleigh is team leader at Kaleidoscope Project, North Powys

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