I first met Huseyin Djemil, Founder of Towards Recovery, in 2006/7 at a recovery group meeting run by Kathy Gyngell at the Centre for Policy Studies. I was very impressed by him and what he had to say. At the time, Huseyin was London Area Drug Strategy Coordinator for HM Prison Services. I had no idea at first that he was in recovery from an addiction to Class A drugs.
Huseyin set up his own consultancy, Green Apple Consulting Ltd, and worked with a wide variety of organisations. His consultancy work gave him great insights into the addiction treatment system, as well as social care and criminal justice sectors.. He is now Head for New Hope Drug and Alcohol Service in Bracknell.
Huseyin Djemil talks to me about Towards Recovery, the recovery community that he developed in Henley-on-Thames in 2012. He also describes some of his work as a freelance consultant, and reflects on various themes relating to addiction, recovery and treatment. Our interview took place on 17 March 2023. It was edited into a collection of 15 films, totalling just under 89 minutes, for Huseyin’s Recovery Voices film archive section.
Huseyin Djemil is in long-term recovery from an addiction to Class A drugs. He is a freelance consultant in the addiction field who has often been commissioned to help charities working in the treatment system to overcome their problems. He also runs Towards Recovery, a recovery community in Henley-on-Thames, UK. Huseyin has previously worked for government in the prison system, and in various capacities within the addiction treatment system. This is the first of 15 film clips from an initial interview with David Clark.
Huseyin describes how he first set up Towards Recovery in 2012, starting out by renting a church coffee shop for monthly evening gatherings. He and his colleagues wanted to make recovery visible, letting people see ‘it’ and decide whether they wanted to connect to it. They also organised a few conferences, with notable speakers from around the country, and various event nights. A key aim was to show that people in recovery are assets. They are people who have walked through deep water, come out the other side, and are now helping others who have problems in their lives.
In 2017, Towards Recovery became a Community Interest Company (CIC). Volunteers make cakes and savouries, and work on Recovery Cafe evenings. Huseyin describes how Towards Recovery moved their ‘cafe’ evenings online, using Zoom, when Covid made its appearance. He also briefly describes two of the recovery community’s educational initiatives, Three Degrees of Change and The School of Unlearning. The latter was developed with financial support from the Big Lottery Fund.
Huseyin emphasises that Towards Recovery is about bringing people together. Members are meeting people who have experienced similar problems to their own, and have overcome them. There is a good deal of empathy in the community. People connect within the cafe, and via other activities, e.g. WhatsApp, or on Strava (which connects people through their sporting activities). David asks what he would experience if he turned up to the cafe in Henley. Huseyin also explains what happens with the online gatherings. Towards Recovery is NOT treatment.
Huseyin provides examples of the sorts of people who visit the recovery cafe. He relates two stories of people who attended. In one, he describes a person who had dropped in on a quiet night, a Narcotics Anonymous Chair who had been put on a pedestal by other group members, but was struggling because he didn’t think he deserved this status. Huseyin believes that cafe members helped him process some of what he was going through.
Huseyin says the magic at Towards Recovery is the connection. Members of Towards Recovery have connectedness and a shared sense of purpose. They support other people’s autonomy and agency. It’s about ‘… being visible, being connected, having a relationship.’
Huseyin talks about how Andy Partington, in his new book ‘Hope in Addiction’, emphasises the distinction in the way that Spider-Man and Batman accomplish their feats. He discusses this distinction in relation to the nature of recovery. The real deal in recovery is being bitten by the spider and having that internal transformation (like Spider-Man) that makes you look at everything differently. Huseyin had that transformation occur when he was in a rehab. He then ended up having all of Batman’s tools and skills as well, which further facilitated his recovery.
The people who gave Huseyin a job in the prison service knew of his past addiction, but it was something that he was actively discouraged from talking about. His past was considered a weakness. In contrast, Huseyin saw his past as a huge positive. At one stage, he worked for a rehab which helped residents put together a cover story, so that when they entered the outside world they wouldn’t have to disclose their past. He believes this approach is wrong—it buys into the stigma. Personally, he wants to be visible, and he is comfortable with that desire.
Huseyin describes a project he had previously commissioned that involved giving homeless people in Aylesbury cameras to record their experiences on the street. The project participants were given the option of being anonymous when the project report was prepared. They didn’t want to be anonymous; they wanted their voices to be heard. Huseyin also describes the Aylesbury Council’s response to this project, as well as a local project for the homeless set up by a local woman.
During his commissioning days, Huseyin set up a ‘Secret Shopper’ project, as he was not convinced that what he and his colleagues were being told by a contracted service provider was actually the reality. Ex-service users were trained to play a number of different roles and told to take various actions with the service. The service provider was informed that Secret Shoppers would be visiting them. The service was provided with a copy of the final report. Huseyin describes some of the experiences of the Secret Shoppers.
Huseyin starts by describing a person who came to the Towards Recovery Cafe and was so impressed by those around him he asked ‘How do I get what they’ve got?’ Huseyin replied, ‘I don’t know. What are you prepared to do?’ The person went off to get help, changed the world around him, and is still doing really well. Something rubbed off him when he was in the cafe amongst a group of recovering people. Huseyin believes this story reflects the power of recovery. If a person is in a treatment service surrounded only by people in addiction, behavioural change is far less likely to happen.
Huseyin goes on to describe giving a one-day training course on opiates for practitioners of a well-known treatment provider. He finished his presentation slides by lunchtime and wondered what was he going to do for the rest of the day? He discovered that there were no opiate groups for clients, despite the fact that 51% of them were opiate users.
He went back into the room of practitioners and asked, ‘What specifically do you do for your opiate clients in this service?’ Staff started to look at the floor and at each other. Finally, someone said, ‘It’s really difficult with the opiate clients, it’s all about the medication.’ Clients didn’t want anything other than their medication. Huseyin asked whether that was where the conversation stopped. The group replied that they didn’t know what to do.
Huseyin and the group spent the whole afternoon discussing the matter, with Huseyin inventing a game to explore the practitioner’s feelings in certain situations. He asked them what they did when they felt really bad. They replied they got through those feelings with help, talking to friends or a counsellor, or taking walks in nature. Huseyin asked them if they could see their clients in that situation. ‘Couldn’t you do some of those things for them, including groups? Huseyin could see that they were beginning to understand.
Huseyin describes there were ten or so practitioners in the room, probably being paid a total of £250,000, and in effect all they were doing was operating the timetable. There were things they could do that would help not just their clients, but also themselves. Huseyin found though his questionnaire that many of the practitioners were thinking of leaving, despite only being in the job for six months. And they had taken over from someone who had only been there for six months. The charity were having to continually recruit staff because they quickly became demoralised in the job. Huseyin felt sorry for both the clients and the staff.
Towards Recovery’s ‘3 degrees of change’ course helps people with a problem to make a small (3 degree change) that can have a big impact over time. Huseyin describes a ‘3 degrees of change’ course he gave at a YMCA, along with the responses of a young lady whose parents did not like her working at the YMCA, where she had at one time been a client.
David asks how Huseyin feels about some people in the field saying, ‘Recovery kills.’ Huseyin tells a relevant story about the prison service. After joining the service, Huseyin was in charge of seven London prisons. The detoxes for prisoners were done very badly when he began his job. After control was moved to Primary Care Trusts, the detoxes were done very much better clinically.
However, the government brought in an Integrated Drug Treatment System (IDYTS) which involved creating an equivalence of care between the prison service and community. Methadone maintenance became more the norm, rather than clinical detoxes. After Huseyin left the prison service, prisoners who had detoxed after being addicted to opiates were encouraged to go on methadone before being released into the community. They were told: ‘They could die out there’.
Huseyin describes how the Quing Recovery Community on the Isle of Man, with which he had collaborated, found great resistance to their recovery-oriented approach from local treatment professionals. Recovery was not accepted by the system. Huseyin explains that this is one problem that recovery communities can face, along with a lack of funding. However, recovery communities can provide real value for money, as evidenced by Towards Recovery. He also emphasises that just small initial changes in the system can lead to recovery flourishing over time in a community.
Huseyin believes there is the opportunity for the treatment system to innovate, just by involving people recovering from addiction. This is happening to some extent, but the treatment system often treats recovering people as their assets. ‘So they get kind of wheeled out… look how wonderful our systems, processes and outcomes are, give us more money, give us that contract.’ Huseyin mentions the proverb, ‘Until the lion learns to write, all the stories will be from the hunters’ perspective.’ The present sorts of video and the recovery-related content on Recovery Stories are ‘the lion learning to write’.
Huseyin’s interview has also been edited into a large number of shorter clips which will be used on our Themes section. You can view these shorter films on Huseyin’s YouTube Themes Playlist.
Huseyin Djemil developed Towards Recovery, a recovery community in Henley-on-Thames, UK, in 2012. He has worked as a freelance consultant in the addiction field since 2007. Huseyin has held roles as drug worker, service manager, drug action team coordinator, commissioner, London regional lead for prisons and a number of other advisory roles both paid and pro bono. He is now Head of New Hope Drug and Alcohol Service in Bracknell. Huseyin is in long-term recovery from an addiction to Class A drugs.