User-led recovery (as it should be!)

Shared experience supports recovery. That’s the thinking behind a recovery community. And there’s evidence that it works.

Starting in the US, recovery communities can now be found in the UK and are growing as an alternative to traditional services for people recovering from substance misuse or mental health problems.

This week in Kingston-upon-Thames in south west London, the Recovery Initiative Social Enterprise (RISE) is being launched. It aims to develop a recovery community consisting of people recovering from substance misuse issues. As a user-led enterprise, RISE will actively encourage its participants in their recovery journey. It will provide problem solving opportunities, learning and skills development and peer support for those currently in their recovery journey. The project is being both developed and delivered by service users in recovery, targeting Kingston’s c.200 substance users accessing existing services. It hopes to expand to other vulnerable groups such as people with mental health problems following an initial pilot.

I am very pleased to support RISE, as it is an initiative led and inspired by people who have overcome substance misuse problems and it embodies social capital in action. The aim of RISE is to bring together people who are in the process of recovery to support one another and generate social capital. Connections made in the course of engaging with RISE will potentially provide members with access to shared resources previously unavailable to them.

I have been asked to evaluate the pilot of RISE to assess outcomes for its members. We will collect data from the first 40 members of Kingston RISE and evaluate whether or not it improves their well being and access to social capital over three months. We will also evaluate members’ perceptions of the benefits of RISE for them.

I was invited to work with RISE by Mario, its director. I met Mario this summer during a focus group I was facilitating as part of the Connecting People study. When we met, we both recognised each other but at first struggled to work out where from. I soon realised that I had worked with Mario and his family when I was a practitioner about ten years ago. When we got talking, I was pleased that we were able to relate well to one another and appreciate our shared passion for the development of social capital.

I feel quite honoured to be in a position to work with Mario again, but this time in a very different capacity. The power differential has completely shifted from a practitioner-service user relationship to a collaborative one. We have jointly agreed the objectives of the evaluation and are sharing responsibility for it. The collaboration is a very different kind of relationship to the one we had when I was a practitioner, but, on reflection, it shouldn’t be. However, the pressures of local authority social work often make the development of meaningful collaborations quite tricky.

I have written previously about user involvement in social work education, but this is a completely different experience. RISE is initiated, led and promoted by service users. As a fully user-controlled service, it has achieved the highest rung of Arnstein’s ladder of involvement. Arguably, this is never achievable in social work education as, by definition, it is under professional control. 

I wish Mario and Michele (the co-director of RISE) all the best as they embark on this exciting adventure and I look forward to evaluating the outcomes for the community they develop.

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