I first met Wulf Livingston when I was evaluating all projects funded by the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund (DATF) in Wales in 2000. My colleague Becky Hancock and I used to visit local evaluator Anni Stonebridge in North Wales and she would arrange for us to visit each of the funded projects, including one run by the drug and alcohol treatment service CAIS. There, we met Wulf.
After that first meeting, Becky and I always insisted on meeting Wulf, primarily because he was clearly a high quality professional and a very interesting character. One thing stood our for us—Wulf would go and meet people he was helping in their space, rather than insist of having meetings in his office.
After I moved to Western Australia in 2008, I was still running the Wired In To Recovery (WITR) online community and kept abreast with recovery-related developments in the UK. I was excited by the growing UK addiction recovery advocacy movement. I also visited the UK a number of times and met up with some of the key players in the field.
However, I had to close down WITR at the end of 2012 and slowly lost touch with a lot that was happening at a grassroots level in the UK. I also lost touch with Wulf.
When we got in touch with each other some years later, Wulf told me that the UK addiction recovery movement had faded at a national level, but there were pockets of strong recovery activity around the country, generally in peer-led recovery communities. It was so good to talk to Wulf again. I was excited to hear about these recovery communities.
Last year, I visited Wulf and his wife Melanie in North Wales. He took me around North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC) and their cafe/restaurant Bwyd Da Bangor (Good Food Bangor). And the rest is history, in that Wulf and I decided to develop this Recovery Voices project.
In the two films below, Wulf talks about the growth and fading of the national recovery advocacy movement in the UK.
Wulf talks about the development of the addiction recovery movement which grew rapidly in the UK between 2008 and 2012. He mentions a long article about recovery written by Ian Wardle, Recovery and the UK Drug Treatment System: key dimensions of change, which describes some of the issues and events.
From his viewpoint, Wulf saw one set of recovery-related activities that were centred around the Recovery Academy, that involved people like David McCartney, the late Rowdy Yates, David Best, Tim Leighton, and Wulf himself. Conferences and other events were organised, and a number of people became Academy trustees. A second group of people, such as Michaela Jones, Alastair Sinclair and Annemarie Ward also organised recovery-related activities. These and others around the UK organised events in September that highlighted recovery, including national walks that attracted more than 5,000 people marching in city streets.
There was lots of recovery activity across the four nations. However, there was a waning of these activities after 2012, although pockets of this activity exist today, including the September Recovery March. Wulf says, ‘It doesn’t feel like an everywhere thing’, as it once did.
Wulf argues that the UK government came to almost treat the recovery movement as a means of promoting abstinence as the only ‘legitimate outcome of services or expectation on individuals.’ The Scottish and Welsh governments had a more mature way of viewing recovery and harm reduction in their policies—both were considered important. The UK government also had a separate drug and alcohol agenda, whereas the other governments had more joined-up thinking.
Wulf is supporting a PhD student who argues that the recovery movement was previously ‘based much more on societal and political change, and what we have been left with is a recovery movement that supports and promotes the individual and community change, but without it hitting at a harder level.’
Wulf argues that North Wales created so much positive development around recovery because people there managed total collaboration without the falling-out amongst recovery advocates that occurred in some other parts of the UK. ‘Maybe the only people we really pissed off were the statutory sector and some commissioners, but maybe that’s okay.’
Wulf and David agree that the system encourages conflicts and fallings-out within the recovery field by ‘dangling bits of money and roles that cause people to have a bit of a bun-fight…. Throw a few crumbs on the table and watch them scrap is a classic systemised behaviour’, also in wider society.
Wulf points out that another problem is that when some people become heads of organisations or movements their ego is fuelled. He has seen this happen to a couple of people in recovery who have then had a catastrophic relapse.
A third and very important factor that Wulf mentions is that after 2012 or thereabouts, recovery became part of the service provider system. Recovering people were taken on in treatment services as peer supporters or support workers. Now that recovering people had jobs within the treatment system, they couldn’t advocate for radical recovery in the same way they had when they were outside the system. They couldn’t bite off the hand that was feeding them.