I’m thrilled to be working with Wulf Livingston on this Recovery Voices initiative. It’s funny to think we’ve come together to work together on this project, living on opposite sides of the world, over 20 years after we first met in North Wales. At the time, I was leading an evaluation of the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund projects in Wales. My colleague Becky Hancock and I used to visit North Wales as part of this evaluation and we always enjoyed getting together with Wulf. He was a breath of fresh air!
Since working on Recovery Voices, I’ve been really impressed by the recovery initiatives and activities in North Wales. You can see details of two peer-led recovery communities there, North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC) and Eternal Media, on our website.
I’ve recently booked my next trip back to the UK and I’m really excited by the fact that I’ll be spending a week in North Wales, in the second half of April, meeting the people I’ve read about and watched during our interviews (and my editing). Roll on April!
It’s clear to me that the recovery activities in North Wales have been developing over a number of years. Here is a film of Wulf describing the development of just some of these activities. This conversation took place during my first interview with Wulf back in May 2023.
Whilst working in probation, Wulf organised monthly two-hour meetings in Wales, in what he called ‘an agenda-less space’, in which 10-15 people came together to discuss all things recovery. Every four or five months, he organised similar but larger (50-100 people) meetings, where as many as 70% of the participants had ‘lived experience’ of addiction. Wulf emphasises that the key to the success of drawing people to these meetings was to have ‘curry and cakes’. Some very exciting things happened out of these meetings. The most exciting was when three people from Anglesey decided they needed to set up their own organisation, which later became AGRO (Anglesey and Gwynedd Recovery Organisation), which in turn was a forerunner to North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC).
Wulf provides examples of innovative use of probation funds that he controlled. One of the people they worked with, a former heavy drug user who had just come out of prison, told Wulf and his team that he had been offered a number of job offers which he couldn’t accept. He was a qualified asbestos remover, but when he was sent down for drugs he lost all his breathing equipment. Wulf’s team bought him £800 of breathing equipment and he worked flat-out throughout his two-year Probation Order.
Some radical thinking was going on at this time, including around the idea of supporting advocacy agencies. At the same time, other people went out of the way to try and close down these agencies and they succeeded in the end. Wulf provides an example of one of their initiatives that was closed down, to be replaced by a ‘system’ approach which was more costly. He points out that it was just a way to ‘stop these people causing problems.’ People in the treatment system started claiming that ‘we’re doing this stuff in-house now’, ignoring the fact that advocacy is about independence and accepting legitimate challenge.
Wulf points out that all this activity reached a threshold of community that has led to the positive things that exist in North Wales today. He says there are about 20-30 like-minded people spread across North Wales, many of whom have been around a long time. They all know each other, have been on the same journey, and share the same values and principles. Everyone knows how to get 60-70 service users into a room for a discussion or other event. Wulf emphasises that this period was an incredibly rich time that has left a strong legacy. He points out that there were three commissioners who were really committed to the cause.