Inclusive Recovery Cities: A visible and inclusive way to challenge stigma

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The concept of recovery has changed over the course of the last 40 or 50 years from something that is seen as an internal quality to something that has a much stronger social and community focus. 

At its most basic, recovery can be described as houses, friends and jobs or, alternatively, as ‘somewhere to live, someone to love and something to do’. And so, the aim for supporting recovery is to create the conditions that maximise the chances for individuals to achieve these things, according to their own needs and passions. 

What is an inclusive recovery city? 

A recovery city is a place which promotes visible recovery, challenges stigmatising and discriminatory attitudes and champions multiple pathways to addiction recovery. However, it is also based on the idea that, through doing this, the whole city will grow and benefit. 

Based on an idea I originally developed with the Belgian academic Charlotte Colman, the aim was to examine what could happen at a municipal level to maximise the likelihood that people could initiate and sustain recovery. 

However, what started as an idea has turned into a social movement with 10 cities in the UK, 14 in the Balkan region and other cities all over the world (including Africa and America) engaging with the recovery cities movement. 

How can a city become an inclusive recovery city?

There are four basic requirements that inform the growth of the recovery community and that would pave the way for any city to become an inclusive recovery city: 

  1. Signing the Inclusive Recovery Cities Charter to commit to embracing the principles of inclusion, recovery and reintegration; 
  2. Hosting at least four public-facing recovery events each year, that are inclusive and fun, promoting ways of celebrating recovery while contributing to civic life; 
  3. Creating an Inclusive Recovery Cities board, that involves grassroots recovery and community organisations, specialist addiction treatment services and representatives from the city or municipality; and
  4. Participating in the Inclusive Recovery Cities movement and exchange of ideas and innovation at a national and international level. 

As with many anti-stigma methods, the primary method of challenging discrimination is through increased levels of contact between the public and people in recovery (regardless of how that is defined or where people are in their own personal journeys). 

For inclusive recovery cities, the mechanism for generating this contact is celebration events like dry dance nights, festivals and Christmas markets, recovery walks and running clubs. Things that bring people together regardless of their background in a spirit of wellbeing and fun. 

This is designed to generate bonding social capital, by bringing people in recovery together to create new social support networks. But it can also link social capital between different and diverse groups to create new kinds of positive contacts, while challenging myths and prejudices about addiction and recovery. 

Great examples from the UK are the Recovery Games held annually in Doncaster, the Sober Social Nights at Recovery Connections in Middlesbrough and the recent Recovery Park Run in Leeds. These events champion wellbeing, bring people together and create the conditions for effective community engagement. 

What is unique about the Inclusive Recovery Cities model and where we are currently focusing our efforts is in demonstrating that recovery events not only serve the recovery community but can be an intrinsic and vibrant part of civic life, dispelling stigma through positive connection and the generation of new assets for the whole community. 

David Best is a Professor of Addiction Recovery at Leeds Trinity University, the world’s first Professor to hold this title. 

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