How does recovery happen?
Recovery research shows that people overcome addictions and recover by a combination of three factors: 1) personal factors such as maturation and personal motivation 2) social factors such as support from family and friends 3) community factors such as effective community reintegration.
This indicates that recovery is not only an issue of personal motivation but also about acceptance by family, by friends and by a range of organisations and professionals across the community.
In the beginning, research and practice mainly focused on understanding personal and social factors in recovery.
But today we know that what is equally, or even more, important in recovery is one’s relationship with the community. In fact, recovery happens in the community, it does not happen in a vacuum. Therefore to support pathways to recovery, structural and contextual endeavours are needed to supplement individually-oriented interventions and programmes.
(Re)building one’s relationship with the community is however a difficult journey. While the community could be central to recovery by building and strengthening bridges between diverse community members, this community could also act as a barrier to recovery. People who struggle with addiction, even those in recovery, experience exclusion, stigma and discrimination from different members in that community such as employers not offering them a job, landlords who discriminate against them, or neighbours who ignore them. Such a community imposes negative consequences for sustaining the recovery process of her citizens.
Building Inclusive Cities
It is against this backdrop of exclusion, stigma and discrimination at a community level that the drive for Inclusive Cities arises.
An Inclusive City promotes participation, inclusion, full and equal citizenship to all her citizens, including those in recovery. The first purpose of Inclusive Cities is to build and promote Inclusive Cities for people who are in recovery from illicit drug and alcohol use. The larger aim, however, is to challenge exclusion and stigma through a championed model of reintegration for other excluded and vulnerable populations in the near future, by channeling peer successes and building on innovation and existing connections.
The central idea of an Inclusive City is that no one should walk the recovery path alone. In an Inclusive City, the city council, private and public organisations, housing facilities, welfare and health centers, employers, and neighbours commit to working together with people in recovery to support them in their recovery process. By focusing on social connection an Inclusive City aims to challenge exclusion, and by doing so reduce stigmatisation.
Examples of initiatives that fit within the idea of inclusive cities are vast in number. These examples could be small steps involving limited budget or more structural steps such as establishing a social enterprise model.
- One of the attempts of an Inclusive Cities is to celebrate recovery and to create a safe environment supportive to recovery. After all, celebrations involve rituals, fostering social bonding, strengthening solidarity and social cohesion by bringing people together. But although we celebrate a lot of events in our lives such as graduations, marriages or births, we do not have the tendency to celebrate successful recovery journeys. Therefore, one of the first steps to celebrate recovery, is to make recovery visible. Related activities such as recovery marches, recovery games, recovery bike rides and recovery cafes have been an attempt to create a visibility about recovery, to create a common bond and to challenge exclusion and stigmatisation. We will attempt to collect stories and successes, and promote innovations and exciting new initiatives through our website (http://inclusivecities.info).
- Another attempt of an Inclusive city is to focus on peer and community support and cohesion. Setting up a recovery café, such as the Serenity Cafe in Edinburgh or Café Sobar in Nottingham, could be an initiative to foster this. A recovery cafe is a social place where people can support each other in their recovery journey. Because the cafe aims to promote social integration and broaden social networks, it is open to everyone: people in recovery, volunteers and the general public. Also activities are regularly organised in the café, including training programs to become recovery coaches, social and hobby groups and recovery support groups.
- Furthermore, an Inclusive City focuses on meaningful life and social roles, such as access to meaningful jobs. Therefore, a city could work together with employers to foster certain skills, promote apprenticeships and as such create access to meaningful jobs. Inspiration for setting up such an initiative could be found in Blackpool’s “Jobs, Friends and Houses” project.
How do you become an inclusive City?
Becoming an Inclusive City is a process that takes time and even small steps, mostly focusing on making recovery visible in the community by raising public awareness, are steps towards the right direction. According to the resources available in the community, the role of the community can range from the provision of mutual aid and peer support for people in recovery and educational campaigns, over establishing inter-sectoral partnerships to promote social inclusion, to carrying out activities and setting up structures to change attitudes and reduce stigma towards recovery, providing incentives for employers to employ persons in recovery and implementing anti-discrimination policy.
Yet our initiative is an indication that there is a growing momentum that we are tapping into and bringing together from its disparate roots.
Today, several cities across Europe have raised their interest to become an Inclusive City. Of course, no plan for Inclusive Cities can have any chance of acceptance and implementation without a positive mindset and the buy-in of key stakeholders involved in local government.
So the first step is bringing several actors, from different organizations responsible for employment, housing, social welfare, in each city together to make an overview of existing practices for people in recovery, as well as to identify current gaps. They will also define the city’s mission, vision statement and related (short-time as well as long-term) goals and actions to support recovery, in line with the available resources and the people’s needs. People in recovery, as well as their families, will be included in defining these actions, leading to services being better used and tailored to their needs. The second step is implementing the identified actions, while monitoring and evaluating the process.
By building a learning set of cities across Europe, the idea of Inclusive Cities might be implemented and tested in practice. When several cities engage with the idea of Inclusive Cities, ingredients and –hopefully- good practices to improve social justice and community engagement could be shared.
David Best & Charlotte Colman