'I can't, but we can.'

Build on Belief has been taking part in an interesting project over the summer, as one of a small group of organisations (so far) trying to create a national network of LERO’s. What is a LERO? Well, Build on Belief is a LERO because it stands for ‘Lived Experience Recovery Organisation’, and we have been working with a group called ‘the Recovery Connectors’. These are organisations created by people in recovery to help their peers, along with some interesting friends.  If you are interested, the current membership consists of the following organisations and people:

There are a surprising number of organisations like BoB scattered across the country, set up by people in recovery from their own substance use battles, all with the aim of helping others trying to walk the same road. Some, like us are well established and quite big, others may just involve a small group of people running a service or activity one or two days, or even hours a week. All of them are important.

What makes LERO’s different from the main treatment providers is that they are all utterly different, providing a wide range of services outside of the established treatment system, each unique to its locality and vision of what needs to be done,  of what will help their local community. There is a flexibility in LERO’s that is missing from the treatment system, partly due to the way the commissioning system works in truth, which fosters a spirit of experimentation that  empowers people in recovery to take charge of their own destiny by helping to create and run their own services. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this, not only as personal development for those involved, but in the creation of a wide range of support mechanisms outside of the structured treatment system for people like us. 

So, what have we been doing all summer? To begin with, we simply spent a few months getting to know each other and laying the foundations for mutual trust and respect. It is not the first time that something like this has been tried, and in the past such groups have often disintegrated in a storm of arguments, recrimination, and bad language. This time we decided to begin quietly and slowly, getting to know each other before making any concrete plans. We really want this to work. The question is, why does BoB think this is important?

From our perspective, there are at least four potential benefits that may come from a national group of LERO’s working with a collective purpose.

EVIDENCE: There is no real evidence base for the work that we do or the outcomes that we achieve. The Build on Belief Impact Evaluations have been useful, but they were an enormous undertaking for a small charity and have sometimes been dismissed because they were not University backed, and therefore, in some quarters don’t count as evidence. This is ridiculous. We know the immense value of the work both ourselves and our colleagues do across the country, but data is money, and we need to find a better way to evidence the value of LERO’s, big and small, if we are to continue their growth and development.

MONEY: LERO’s are often poorly funded (I will refrain from using the expression scraps from the table) and are too frequently the first thing cut when the purse strings are tightened. We often run on shoe-string budgets, are over-reliant on volunteers, and far too frequently are unable to develop and grow our ideas for no other reason that a lack of resources. We hope that a National Voice might do something to address this. We are rarely commissioned independently, and sub-contracting, for a variety of reasons often leaves us short of the resources we need to realise our full potential.

SHARED LEARNING: The organisations listed above as members of this nascent group, among many others, have achieved some incredible things, and what is most exciting, is that none of them are anything like BoB. How wonderful is that? All recovery communities working in different ways, with different ideas and different rules, but all united by the desire to help others. It would be wonderful if we could share our ideas, best practice and learning, not only with established LERO’s, but with those little pockets of people scattered across the country who wish to build their own, but need some help to get things off the ground.

POLITICS: Never my favourite subject, but political power is required to influence policy and good practice, like it or not. We need to find a better way to engage with local authorities and national government(s) if we are to get the value of LERO’s recognised and funded properly. After all, if you are not around the table you often end up on the menu.

I know what you are thinking. This all sounds very well and good, but what have you done? Well, with the support of Ed Day, the National Recovery Champion, we were able to spend a couple of hours meeting with Professor Dame Carol Black, who is currently conducting Phase Two of the Independent Review of Drugs for the Government, intended to examine the harm that drugs cause and look at prevention, treatment and recovery. I think for a group of LERO’s to have a discussion at that level, and then to present a paper to the review, might be but the smallest of steps down the long road of meaningful political involvement, but it feels like a good start. It is especially important when you think about what we collectively achieve in terms of recovery.

Recovery College created by Dot Smith

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On Friday 25th September the Northern Recovery College graciously hosted an all-day on-line event where we discussed the importance of LERO’s in the treatment system, and invited expressions of interest from our peers across the country in joining us over the coming months as we try to shape and build a national consortium. Almost a hundred people joined us for the day, and there was a definite enthusiasm for taking this forward. In a moving day, full of support and encouragement from our peers and friends from across the country, two things were clear; LERO’s are here to stay, and we are better standing together than apart.

In November we hope to meet, face to face for the first time for most of us, to discuss our next steps. We are excited to be a part of this project and committing Build on Belief to supporting LERO’s everywhere, in whatever way we can. After all, had we not had that support from our Commissioner in RBKC, and our friends in the treatment system in the early days, you would not be reading this. Let us pay it forward.

Lastly, here is a wonderful sketch composed of snatches from the presentations made at the on-line event, and a nifty poem crafted from the on-line comments and feedback from the day. Have a look. They encapsulate far better than I can the simple truth – we are not alone.

Beautiful sketch notes created by Yvonne Hollandy

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LERO POETIC HARVEST (by Peter Pula)

 

A collection of phrases spoken by participants and presenters

 

I am a Recoverist,

Supporting, representing, connecting

 

Small local organizations on the periphery

LEROs

Peer-led

A Collective Voice

No two the same

Each utterly Unique and Different

Co Designed

 

Experiential knowledge is a different kind of knowledge

Traditional approaches to society have fallen short

LEROs are an ideal lead

 

An ecosystem of LEROs

 

The power of connection

We are experts by experience

I don’t want to be fixed, I want to connect

 

The struggle is real

 

Co-Producers of our own change

It is nice to not be flapping about in Brighton on my own

 

We are led by the people

We are natural connectors

We are experiential people

We focus on assets

 

We are not fear led

 

What struck a chord,

Walking backwards in life….

 

Somebody believed in us

On person can make such a massive difference

 

It’s not a tick box,

We need maverick commissioners to

Interact in an equitable way,

View people as Citizens

 

I am struck by the power of storytelling

 

Connectivity makes us a community of consequence

 

The opportunity is now