2019 Progress

Moving into the second year since visiting Collegiate Recovery Programmes in the US, we are slowly making progress. Recovery Connections are present within Teesside University, Students Union with 4 regular attendees. It’s a start and for those 4 students they are connected to a community of support and camaraderie.

An additional 3 students are at Middlesbrough College preparing for University. The organic growth process has started. The knowledge that support to cope with early recovery and education was available, helped them decide to take the leap. Support to enrol, attend the interview, join the library, reference an assignment are all daunting. Helping each other with support from Abi has helped reduce the stress. Our shared joy with 100% test marks and distinctions ripple through the building, giving hope for those in rehab that it’s possible. Beautiful.

We have work to do around raising awareness and challenging stigma associated with addiction & recovery. Education is a right for us all, fear of stigma and isolation can not be a barrier in 2019. In Middlesbrough we are doing everything we can to make sure it’s an achievable goal without feeling shame around your past.

#Recovery #Education #Collegiaterecovery #Teesside #WCMT

It’s all in the connection

Over the past few weeks following 10 months of researching, connecting and advocating it feels like we are starting to get somewhere. When I started this journey I had no clue about how higher education organisations worked, I just had a sense that there was a whole community of potential and current students that could thrive within a recovery community on campus. Having seen it in action during my Churchill Fellowship and asked endless questions I couldn’t find a negative.

Influencing the right people has been our biggest challenge, there are many layers of departmental leadership to get through. No opposition to date, it just takes time and patience to get the buy in and agreement. I have to mention Abi our Young People in Recovery Lead who has tirelessly worked to make this happen, she really is a huge asset.

Yesterday we launched a campaign to help raise awareness of why campus based recovery communities are important #RecoveryCommUNITYonCampus.

We are working with Newcastle University to establish the need and get some early traction, we have the luxury of a researcher to gather the data. We are in the early stages with another university and are hopeful of something moving soon.

Sober accommodation is a real asset for students and providers alike and not surprisingly we have interest from landlords. Who wouldn’t want students in recovery?

We couldn’t do this without support from collegiate recovery leaders in the US who have freely shared their expertise. As a legacy of my Winston Churchill fellowship I am developing a website that will help share our learning and offer some guidance for others who can influence their local education providers. Please get in touch if you want to know more.

Looking back to look forward


I have been waiting for the right time to begin putting my learning and experience into a report for my Winston Churchill Fellowship, today’s the day. This time in 2017 I had had my interview in London on the 4th of January which to my mind was cringe worthily bad! 20 minutes of machine gun questions and answers among hours of negative thinking and not believing I could do this. I was so convinced my application wouldn’t succeed that I failed to tell my husband until a few days before the interview.

Fast forward to late February and I receive the letter to say I had been awarded a travelling fellowship to learn about Collegiate Recovery Programmes in America. I had experienced the concept briefly on a previous trip and it had really struck a chord. Why didn’t we support people in recovery from addiction on campus was a question I kept asking myself and others. I couldn’t come up with any  reason other than we just hadn’t tried it. There are generally support structures and societies for diverse groups within Universities but not it appears for the many students who identify as a person in recovery from addiction.

The opportunity to spend 5 weeks in total with a number of programmes across America was a perfect opportunity to see and feel whether this was a ‘thing’ that only fit with the US culture.  I never got that feeling. Students described the same issues and challenges that a person in recovery in Middlesbrough face every day. They told me again and again that a supportive peer community on campus made a huge difference to them. It afforded them the ability to socialise together, study, hang out, attend recovery meetings and access support when needed. All made the difference between studying in an abstinence hostile environment successfully or risking relapse and drop out.

Returning to work I felt more determined than ever to make this a reality, without the experience of the fellowship I might not have taken the leap of faith and sought the support from our board of trustees at Recovery Connections. Progress so far includes the inclusion of a Young People’s Recovery Lead within our team, a sober society at Teesside University supported by us, another North East University working with us to pilot a Collegiate Recovery programme and the opportunity to share my learning at various events and strategic groups. All achieved within 3 months of returning and in addition to the other exciting opportunities with Texas Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University mentioned in my previous blog posts. https://wordpress.com/post/collegiaterecoveryinuk.blog

If you have an idea or passion that could benefit society, think about applying for a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. As a voluntary sector we are often those organisations that fill a much needed gap which contribute to making our communities strong, resilient and forward thinking.





Anyone for coffee?

My very short time at VCU Rams in Recovery has propagated a relationship which has already created opportunities that were most definitely not on my outcome list during my Winston Churchill Fellowship. I just love unintended consequences.

Professor John Freyer is on the board of Rams in Recovery and is behind the Free Hot Coffee bike concept and Recovery Roast coffee blend. Hearing how it works and connects people, I knew it could help us in Middlesbrough to engage in conversation with people we might not  normally come into contact with. John thankfully got as excited as me and offered to help me replicate it back home.

John is also involved in the Tate Exchange programme at the Tate Modern in London and somehow wangled a performance by our Recovery Choir at an exhibition in June 2018 where he will be showcasing #freehotcoffee #freeicedwater and #freehotsupper. All three bring together people in conversation whilst sharing food or a drink on a level platform. Recovery needs shared experience and it was only right we opened this up to other recovery choirs to share the experience. So far we will be joined by Cascade choir from Brighton and The Basement in Halifax.

John will visit us in Middlesbrough to support the process of blending our very own #recoveryroast and launch our free hot coffee bike. We have the bike and are working with a joiner in recovery to build the box from which the magic will happen. Everyone in Recovery Connections got really excited when it arrived (as i breathed a sigh of relief!) 

You just never know the outcome of a chance conversation ūüėä

Oh Boy

My time in Lubbock, Texas was very special, Buddy Holly initially put it on the map and I felt so lucky visiting the museum, but for the last 30 plus years Lubbock has had a legacy of graduates in recovery. 

Leaving Texas Tech Collegiate Recovery Community was really emotional for me. Spending time with the team and students has left a real impact. To be welcomed into the community with such warmth, acceptance and authenticity was incredibly special.

 To leave them felt like leaving people I have known for a very long time. I’m on the flight to Houston writing this and trying to process my time there. What is it that literally made me cry when I left?

Well firstly the sense of community, led by Dr Tom and Vince the team are really genuine and caring people from diverse backgrounds, united in their mission to support students in recovery to succeed. They are continuously called upon by students either for support or just to say hello and share the happenings of the day. The reception is reminiscent of the kitchen at home, whilst pottering around someone is always passing through. In fact the centre has a very homely feel with a very large family of 120 members.

 It’s not clinical at all, it’s a space to be real, however you are feeling that day. There’s structure, space to study, chat, drink coffee and be a community of huge promise.

The structure of the CRC is the scaffolding, attending small peer group meetings designed to hold each other accountable and build trusting relationships with each other is a crucial part. The students have a huge amount of gratitude and consequently take service to their own and outside communities very seriously

The weekly Celebration meeting, where families, CRC and outside recovery community members come together to share hope and celebration. There were over 100 people in the room, you could feel the community spirit and genuine love for each other’s achievement, whether it was weeks, months or years of abstinence, the joy expressed was the same. Young people in recovery make a lot of noise when they are celebratory! 

I asked a number of students to share what was important to them as a member. Their responses had some differences but generally the gratitude oozed out for the team and their peers, describing the solidarity and unconditional support of each other. 

It’s a very powerful experience and convinces me further of the need for a similar concept in the UK.

Texas Tech CRP have integrated a week with us at Recovery Connections in July 2018 as part of their study abroad programme. Oh boy!

Please watch the films as detailed in my previous blog, they really will leave you uplifted.

Next stop Houston and the shop for more tissues..

Its the people that make a difference

Its difficult to put the detail of all my meetings in the blog so I just want to dedicate this one to the people I have had the luxury of spending time with to date. I hope my memory does them justice. I am trying to retain all the wonderful knowledge which is often challenging me!

In North Carolina I met up again with Frank Alison the Collegiate Recovery  Initiatives Program Coordinator, I met Frank last year during my visit to North Carolina and I am grateful to him and Emily Eisenhart of Georgia Southern for the inspiration to apply for a Winston Churchill Fellowship. Frank took me to an amazing organic caf√© for breakfast where we talk about the core components of the UNC Chapel Hill collegiate recovery programme. The one thing I have picked up is that each university  programme has it’s own unique components. Frank describes how they deal with relapse and how they can act as advocates when brokering return to their degree programmes.

Students in the Chapel Hill CRP have the option to live in campus based recovery housing or off site in Oxford housing.  I met with Paula the Oxford Housing link who told me that this was the only collegiate Oxford model in the state and gave me an overview –

Oxford Houses are a clean and sober housing option for individuals in recovery. The first North Carolina Oxford Houses were established in Durham and Asheville, NC in the spring of 1991. North Carolina is part of a network of 2,000 Oxford Houses with more than 16,000 beds. As of June 2017 there are 232 houses in North Carolina, with locations in 30 cities. With an average of 8 beds per house, there are more than 1,750 Oxford House beds in the state. Individuals typically enter an Oxford House after completing a drug and alcohol treatment program. Individuals living in a house are expected to participate in a recovery program in the community during their residence.

She told me the CRP students functioned well with the Oxford House model but had come up with some local agreements that differed from the usual model. One example was the age limit for house members which they set at 25 and under, over the development of the CRP collaboration Paula acknowledged that trusting the students decisions has worked well. It is really obvious to me that sober housing is a crucial component of a collegiate recovery programme. The Oxford House model offered the students the experience of running a home, paying bills, problem solving and living in the community.

In San Francisco I met up with Jon Anderson the Programme Director for The Haven at College. The Haven is an organisation that provides a recovery support programme and accommodation to Universities and are currently in 6 sites. This model looks very like a community based recovery support service and supported accommodation. Rather than an internal campus based organic growth based CRP, Haven have a standardised model they can implement at any university.

My final meeting in San Francisco was with a wonderful lady Angela who teaches Addiction Studies at San Mateo College, she is very passionate and energetic about training professionals and I am absolutely astounded when she tells me she is 80!

I had a weekend of R & R in San Francisco and met up with friends who are touring California, we crammed in every tourist attraction we could in 2 days and did 35000 steps, more than my first 2 weeks in the USA..

On the plane again to Lubbock Texas and Texas Tech to meet back up with Dr Tom and Vince. The days are flying over and I am still in awe and full of gratitude for this opportunity.


The beautiful south

The day I travel to my first destination coincides with our first Young People in Recovery forum at Bar Zero, Middlesbrough. I was fortunate enough to create a p

ost to focus purely on under 25s, we have an amazingly supportive board of trustees who are as passionate about recovery, as we are as a team. In truth I expected Abbie messaging to say she sat there waiting with no one showing up. I was wrong! two girls turned up, connected, chatted and left feeling less isolated than before they came. It had already started and I was completely elated.

I arrive in Durham, NC to be met by Mary, a wonderful woman who has a similar role in a recovery organisation and kindly offered to host me whilst here. Over the last 7 days we have compared our challenges, many of which are similar both sides of the Atlantic. Mary takes me to an adolescent unit and medically assisted recovery clinic. I think its important to understand the full treatment journey here that students involved in a collegiate recovery programme may have experienced.

The adolescent unit had the most amazing chairs so that the young people can wiggle and bounce during class, I definitely want one for the office..20170906_123217

Labour Day bags me an invite to RCNC Director of Training & Advocacy, Donald’s house, he invites Jesse who has been involved in a collegiate recovery programme that’s self mobilised and receives no core funding. He describes the pressure this brings – no identified accountability structure, no dedicated facilities, no continuity, all based on goodwill. Its crucial I understand the warts and all, I recognise we need to take things slowly back in Middlesbrough and move forward in partnership with the University.

I travel up to Richmond, Virginia to spend time with McShin a peer to peer organisation and attend Recovery Fest an annual celebration and qualification round in the State barbecue competition. Merging the two events is a masterstroke and offers a brilliant opportunity to share recovery messages and challenge stigma. Barbecue teams are serious business in the South, I am amazed at the kit and vehicles they have. I am not sure we could merge non recovery events as successfully in our culture yet but it needs to be a goal.

The McShin recovery family is probably the best culture of recovery I have ever experienced. Chatting to the peers I hear their addiction was very active during their university years, they tell me if there was a peer community on campus it could have made a big difference to them, the younger ones tell me a CRP is something they will need when they do go to Uni.

I visit the Virginia Commonwealth University CRP, Rams in Recovery and hear about the Recovery Roast, a blend of coffee beans put together by the students and the coffee bike. The bike travels around giving away free coffee in return for a conversation about recovery, what a brilliant idea. The Well is their dedicated space to hang out, drink coffee, study and do recovery meetings. The students all tell me the space is really important to them as are each other and the peer connection.

The southern states of America have the most friendly, warmest and helpful people I have ever met. I have used Uber, a local hairdresser, dined in, carried out, shopped and rode the Megabus and not met anyone that wasn’t polite, chatty and interested in what I was doing in their state. The southern culture is definitely contagious and makes it very difficult to be miserable even when I’m feeling at times very homesick.

Next stop San Francisco..




Who, what, why, where & when

In 48 hours time August 31st I’ll be on the way to Orlando to start the second leg of my Winston Churchill fellowship looking at Collegiate Recovery programmes and young people’s recovery support.

Here’s an overview of where I’m going and why.

31 August – 14th September Raleigh/Durham North Carolina 

University of North Carolina Collegiate Recovery programme. Here I hope to meet students to understand the benefits of being part of a CRP and living in sober accommodation.

I hope to visit local recovery services to chat to people who have been through a CRP and those planning on going to University to understand how it will add to their resilience. Is a university with a CRP more attractive to someone in recovery?

7th – 10th September Richmond, Virginia

I will be spending time with the McShin Foundation visiting a County Jail and celebrating recovery at Recoverfest and one of their infamous ‘Smokin meat not drugs’ barbecues. I will be again exploring with the people I meet how important young people’s recovery support is and CRP’s

14th – 18th September San Francisco 

San Mateo University and a weekend off meeting up with friends (one of them doesn’t know it yet ūüôąSurprise!ūüôą

18th – 26th September Lubbock, Texas

Following the first leg of my fellowship in Prague I will meet back up with Professor Kimball and Vincent Sanchez at Texas Tech University. I’m looking forward to comparing the similarities & differences with one the USA’s oldest Collegiate Recovery programmes.

26 – 29 September Houston, Texas

 All being well due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey I will be visiting Archway Academy, Sober High School. Having this opportunity to see how an abstinence approach to recovery from the age of 15 in a school setting is really exciting. I doubt we will get anywhere near this thinking in the UK for many years. I will also be cathing up with the president of Young People in Recovery, a national organisation supporting and mobilising recovery ready communities of young people.

And that is it. A challenge and an adventure, the only downside is leaving family behind. A sacrifice worth making in the hope I can influence change when I get back. Wish me luck

1 month to go..


The closer my trip gets, the more excited and anxious I feel. It seems a very long time ago that I first applied for a Winston Churchill Fellowship, not considering for a moment I might succeed! So give it a go folks, its possible http://www.wcmt.org.uk   apply by 19th September 2017.

I have had a wonderful few days starting with a service to celebrate recovery in Durham Cathedral. The recovery community hold the cathedral very dear to them, as an iconic building to many, it has also been a sanctuary for locals struggling with life in active addiction. In recovery it has offered the opportunity to give thanks and share celebration with family and friends. Bishop Mark (the Bishop of Jarrow) always welcomes the congregation with a genuine pleasure and gratitude to be amongst the recovery community. The recovery choirs sing together with such support of one another its humbling to watch and deafening when their friends and families cheer and clap. A stark contrast to active addiction and most definitely cause for celebration. Watch them here     https://youtu.be/Ozc1A3YuMqc


I leave Durham and travel to Blackpool for the FAVOR UK AGM with CEO Annemarie Ward. As a trustee of the charity I feel¬†strongly about the need to¬†advocate for those who face¬†hardship and stigma as a result of addiction and sadly sometimes¬†in recovery.¬†As¬†a trustee not in recovery myself I learn so much from the board members who have ¬†around 80 years worth of recovery between them. The UK Recovery Walk is a large part of our mission and does a lot to raise awareness of addiction and recovery but above all its about unity, solidarity, being visible¬†and coming together as a community.¬† I¬†am privileged to have people in my life who have lived in a way I can’t imagine¬†and are grateful, humble and inspirational¬†teachers.

The 3 days in Blackpool top up my recovery tank and fuel the fire to do more for young people. We have at Recovery Connections created a project to bring together under 25’s in recovery¬†around Teesside and beyond. We want to¬†inspire the same solidarity and unity for the younger generation of recovery activist’s, they are our future and full of promise. Connection, purpose and celebration with peers who¬†tell similar stories will hopefully offer proof that its possible.

Next stop North Carolina, Virginia, San Francisco and Texas…