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  • David Best, Ph.D.

Inclusive Recovery Cities

Inclusive Recovery Cities

Launched at the Riverside Football Stadium, Middlesbrough on the 9th of May 2023

Professor David Best

Centre of Addiction Recovery Research

Leeds Trinity University

The vision: Our aim is to create a network of innovative partnerships that challenge stigma, share knowledge, insight and innovation and where groups previously excluded and marginalised can contribute to the vibrant growth and well-being of communities.

While for around 15 years (since a wonderful monograph by William White published in 2008), there has been a research and policy interest in Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care (eg Sheedy and Whitter, 2009; Kelly and White, 2011; White, 2008), the focus of this model has been on creating integrated systems to report recovery initiation and sustenance.

An Inclusive Recovery City (IRC) goes further than this by focusing on reciprocity, mutual growth and collective wellbeing. The aim is not only to improve recovery pathways and recovery communities but showing that, in doing so, the ‘giving back’ that is central to almost all models of recovery, is measured in terms of its community impact and the resulting capacity to build connections, trust and collective efficacy across the whole community.

How do recovery organisations (community and residential) give back and what does this mean? The traditional model of recovery (12-step mutual aid, therapeutic community) was of a closed space to protect the vulnerable individual and to protect their identity. Yet as recovery transitioned to becoming a ‘movement’ for social change in the US first and then in the UK and internationally, so it both became something intentionally visible (and so acted as a political pressure group, as outlined in Greg Williams’ wonderful film, The Anonymous People) and increasingly something integrated into and with the communities that it served.

This meant that the recovery community would not only march annually to proclaim its existence and its successes but that it would also have events and activities that were open to people in recovery, in active addiction, to family members, to ‘professionals’ and, increasingly to anyone who was curious and wanted to be there.

This then transitioned into a third phase of community engagement which was ultimately linked to the missions of recovery organisations and to the ethos and spirit of recovery, which was about ‘giving back’ to the communities that the recovery organisations were based in. With the growth of recovery residences and Recovery Community Organisations (RCOs) in the US and Lived Experience Recovery Organisations in the UK, there was an increasing sense that active participation in communities and showcasing the talents and skills of its members was an integral part of recovery community work.

The event: So what does this have to do with the launch of Inclusive Recovery Cities in Middlesbrough? Our aim is to showcase those cities that are already engaged in innovative recovery work that has a focus on giving back in this way. While all of our partners have an incredible range of recovery champions and recovery initiatives, they have the three explicit goals of:

- Community integration

- Community penetration

- Community contribution

In other words, the recovery community is woven into the physical community, its reach is extensive through geographical, demographic and social groups; and its work is about benefiting the recovery community through enriching and contributing to the wider community.

So why Middlesbrough as a launchpad?

There are three essential elements in the work in Middlesbrough:

1. An incredibly innovative Lived Experience Recovery Organisation (LERO) in Recovery Connections who have an established track record of community engagement and participation around two hubs – Bedford House and Fork in the Road as well as the mobile catering units with the coffee bike and the food truck

2. Political engagement and leadership partly through national grants but also because of an established and trusting relationship between the City Council and Recovery Connections that means direct funding (rather than the usual whole-system approach in England) and a commitment to a recovery vision for the city

3. An increasingly integrated approach and model to service delivery that is striving towards a recovery-oriented system of care. This includes strong links with all substance misuse services and institutions in Middlesbrough to align them with the recovery city goal (alcohol care team, police, prison, probation, and the councils commissioned services), as well as the wider community engagement in Middlesbrough, community cafes, community hub, youth groups, community cafes, localised community projects

This has resulted in work with the local university (Teesside University in the form of a Collegiate Recovery Programme) and the largest employer in the city (PD Ports) as well as social enterprises that contribute to the wellbeing of the wider community. This is the ideal starting point for an Inclusive Recovery City, and the hosting of the launch event brought local people together with recovery champions and advocates from all over the UK. And with the event opened by senior members of the local public health team, and concluded with their signing of the Recovery Cities Charter, Middlesbrough already has the support it needs at all levels to develop this crucial work

The future: We have two immediate objectives – the first is to convene the initial meeting of the international advisory group to decide how we most effectively extend the collaboration to some of our existing partners – Ghent, Gothenburg, Dublin, and a number of cities in the Balkan region – and to look to recruit further cities from further afield.

Second, we will convene in the coming weeks a workshop for all of the UK cities that have expressed an interest in being a part of the Inclusive Recovery Cities model. Our aim here will be to identify who will do what and how we can create a group of UK cities to share ideas and innovations, to showcase recovery success and to disseminate and celebrate recovery successes at a community level.

This is not a closed shop and we will welcome all cities from anywhere in the world who want to be a part of this model moving forward. For further information please contact David Best on

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