Joining the dot’s

Dr Kimball, Melissa and Vince’s arrival in Middlesbrough comes around quickly, I drive up to Newcastle airport excited and anxious about the days ahead. I am collecting Vince as Dr Tom and Melissa have been to Scotland and travelling down by train. We drive back chatting about my few days with the students in Prague and the opportunities we could have in the UK. I’ve thought of little else since leaving them, very positive about sharing the concept with a group of 100 attendees at the Teesside University Seminar.

We meet up for dinner and go to The Fork in the Road, Middlesbrough’s not for profit social enterprise restaurant that provides opportunity for those who are furthest away from the job market. I get slightly anxious when Vince orders a steak, a Texan ordering a steak in Middlesbrough, this could go wrong!

Not to be, thankfully, they were all very impressed with the food  and service. Next stop Bar Zero, we chat about how good it would be for a similar venue on Campus at Texas Tech University.



9am and we meet Paul Crawshaw, Dean, Health & Social Sciences, Teesside University along with Georgios Antonopoulos, Professor of Criminology. The discussions around the benefits of a collegiate recovery programme are hard to dispute, the comparisons to  under represented groups at Teesside University further underpin the value. A further meeting is suggested and we all leave feeling very positive and hopeful. Now to convince a group of professionals from various local services, London  and members of the recovery community.

I introduce the day and why I feel we need to consider Collegiate Recovery and Recovery High Schools. I quote a term that I heard during a visit to North Carolina and Georgia Universities which has stuck in my head ever since ‘Universities and Colleges are abstinence hostile environments’ of course they are!

Dr Tom gives an excellent overview, citing relevant research around addiction and recovery, threading through some discussion and questions. It’s all very positive and meeting the overall objective of just getting curious, no more than that. I actually sense a bit of excitement, even better.

Mark Gilman’s turn next to take us through the archives of addiction treatment and the recovery movement in the UK. In true Mark style the room is filled with laughter as he describes our seemingly ineffective approaches to stimulate recovery for the many suffering addiction over the last 3 decades. Thankfully recovery is  evermore growing with peer communities offering endless hope.

We watch Generation Found, a film detailing Archway Academy in Houston, Texas. Started by the community who were sick of seeing young people die, Archway offers 15 to 18 year olds another chance to complete their education, stay clean and sober and be part of a peer group that loves and supports them no matter what their past looked like. Another term that makes perfect sense is ‘Alternative Peer Group’ young people will only succeed if they swap old circles for an APG that is positive, supportive and attractive.

The final discussion is lively, generally still positive and takes us 40 minutes over the finish time. A great day, lots of interest and good feedback. An appetite to stay in touch and keep the momentum going, exceeding the hope of just being curious.

A lot to think about, embedding this approach will take time, needs thought and careful planning. Winning hearts and minds is an organic process, we have a start.

We can’t allow our Texan guests to leave without sampling the Boro delicacy, the Parmo. We return to our building and eat a Parmo with the residents of the Step Up rehab programme, who all very much enjoyed the day. The conversation slows down under the sedative effect of the glorious Parmo. A fulfilling day in so many ways….



The infamous Boro Parmo






Here we go

The day has finally arrived and I’m travelling to New York University in Prague to meet Dr Kimball and some of the Texas Tech collegiate recovery students on their study abroad programme. I have never travelled abroad alone before. It feels slightly scary but the fire in my belly is keeping me looking forward. I often wonder how I end up in these situations!

I open an email from Dr Kimball asking me to meet them at 8.30am as we are spending the day at Prague Zoo. I’m relieved as it will be informal and allow me to get to know folk in a relaxed atmosphere. I meet Dr Kimball and his lovely wife Melissa at the tram stop, the students arrive shortly after looking a bit tired, its early!

Prague zoo is stunning and well worth a visit. I am told Dr Kimball will deliver his lectures at various points around the zoo. Today we will look at the six essentials for achieving lasting recovery –

Hope: A reawakening after despair; to live with greater confidence

Healthy Coping Skills: Managing the pain and stress of life

Sense of Achievement and Accomplishment: Moving beyond the limits of addiction toward personal goals

Capacity for Meaningful Relationships: The positive support and connection with family and peers

Unique Identity Development: The emergence of a unique positive identity

Reclamation of Agency: The internal knowledge that you have choices in your behaviour

Essentials to Achieve Lasting Recovery
by Sterling T Shumway, Thomas G. Kimball

I really enjoy chipping in my thoughts with the students in response to Dr Tom’s probing. Its hard to grasp some of the students are only 18/19 with 2 plus years sobriety, the more mature students with longer sobriety are still only in their 20’s. There is a mature student in the group who I can see plays the maternal role. We reach the petting  zoo, no matter how many years they have in recovery, they suddenly seem very young, getting all excited feeding the sheep and goats. It feels alien to me, having had little experience with young people who have sustained recovery. Its proof enough we have an opportunity to do something more.

Vince arrives on my 3rd day, his role provides recovery support and directly oversees the collegiate recovery programme. The students are really pleased to see him.Over the next 2 days I hear how the Collegiate Recovery programme works at Texas Tech University and what’s important to the students. The space, good coffee and free printing seems to be at the top, somewhere to hang out and feel connected in between class. Feeling connected is vital for anyone in recovery from addiction and I can absolutely see how within an educational setting it offers resilience. Dr Tom and Vince are also crucial. The relationship the students have with them both is just lovely to observe. Laid back, on the level, approachable and caring. The love they both have for their students is evident. Students who during their addiction would have felt unlovable, were very obviously accepted, respected and loved.

Its time to fly home but I’m looking forward to the following week when Dr Tom, Melissa and Vince arrive in Middlesbrough to help me raise awareness of the benefits of Collegiate Recovery. We have a meeting with Teesside University to talk about the concept followed by a seminar and the first UK screening of Generation Found, a film about sober educational settings.

How did that happen?

A hard night with the baby, Prague Zoo







Collegiate Recovery – for us or just US?

I first saw Collegiate Recovery programmes in the film The Anonymous People. Watching the film back in 2013 got me curious about a number of things. The one area illustrated in the film that seems to be totally absent in the UK is the support of students in recovery from addiction within educational settings. College and university campus are rarely abstinence friendly, student life generally includes alcohol and other drugs. So how do students who abstain experience the other side of campus life?

I have asked a few people who have completed degrees whilst in recovery that very question. Answers included not disclosing recovery status for a range of reasons to being open but opting out of any alcohol related activities.

If we cater for other marginalised groups on campus such as LGBT, Autism/Asperger’s or Eating Disorders etc then surely the opportunity of a peer led recovery programme is viable?

A visible recovery community within the educational setting can offer resilience for themselves as well as students experiencing problematic alcohol and other drug use.

No brainer right?

This prompted me to apply for a Winston Churchill Fellowship on my return from a trip to North Carolina & Georgia in 2016. After visiting two Collegiate Recovery Programmes in both states I could clearly see our need. A successful fellowship award would give me the opportunity to look closely at the set up, maintenance and outcomes of the programme.

I was awarded the fellowship (still shocked!) and will be travelling to Prague to meet up with Texas Tech collegiate students doing a summer school followed by a trip to the USA in the Autumn. I will be spending time with Texas Tech, Archway Academy, Young People in Recovery, Georgia Southern and University of North Carolina.

The most amazing thing that’s come from the planning is Professor Thomas Kimball and Vincent Sanchez from Texas Tech are visiting the UK to deliver a seminar on Collegiate Recovery at Teesside University on June 15th. They have pledged support to help me influence and get a programme off the ground. That’s the beautiful world of recovery.

I will blog regularly to share my learning .
Turn your face towards the sun and the shadows will be behind you.