‘A North Wales Perspective on Grass Roots Recovery’ by PM

The inaugural 'AGRO Road to Recovery around Wales trip'  about to leave BangorBirth of a Recovery Organisation.
AGRO – what a strange acronym! It conjures up visions of difficult situations or awkward people. Perhaps those people that some services just don’t want to be involved with.

The truth is that AGRO stands for Anglesey and Gwynedd Recovery Organisation! A grassroots movement borne from the hopes and aspirations of a few dedicated workers in the field – all of whom are in recovery – and their wish to fulfil some of the principles that were coming across the Atlantic from already established movements such as Faces and Voices of Recovery.

The message we heard was loud! The message we heard was clear! Recovery is more than possible. It’s happening and it’s underway… NOW!

Communities of recovering people, coming together, organising and proclaiming very loudly, “We’re here! And we can provide a much-needed place for those people seeking shelter and healing from the rigours of addiction and mental health issues.”

One of the key messages touted very loudly at the time by Mark Gilman of the then NTA was about ‘bridging’ the gap between services and mutual aid. At the same time, Dr David Best came to North Wales and trained people in ITEP [International Treatment Effectiveness Project], but more importantly, talked at length about hope, freedom from addiction, and the creation of recovery communities.

Getting ready to leave WrexhamWe soaked in these messages. They were like fresh breezes of sea air coming from a sea of positivity. We were excited! These were exhilarating times in North Wales.

Against this backdrop, AGRO was formed. Its founder, Huw Harries, brought us together and created the group. The group’s primary purpose was three-fold:

  1. A recovery group open to anyone, regardless of their background. Families welcomed, carers welcomed, professionals welcomed.
  2. Recovery through activity. Perfect, given that North Wales is such a stunning place of natural beauty and a great playground for activities.
  3. Lastly, and one of the most important aspects: taking recovery to the rural populations. The vision was to have groups in all the localities meeting regularly and fulfilling a timetable of activity-based events that were open to anyone in recovery. The ONLY requirement was, “Please don’t turn up for the activities off your face. You don’t have to be abstinent, maintained or anything else. Just a desire to be with other recovering people and prepared to have a smile on your face at the end of the day!”

So, two and a half years down the line, AGRO has realised most of its primary objectives. There are groups running in Bangor (Gwynedd), Llangefni (Anglesey), Blaenau Ffestiniog, Pwllheli, Holyhead and Newborough!

The groups have a co-ordinator – her name is Aeronwy (proper Welsh!!) and she has worked tirelessly to develop our activities, manage the groups’ schedules and lots of other stuff.

The tour reaches AberysthwthOur Road Trip.
Aeronwy and other AGRO members recently did a ‘Recovery Road Trip’, taking the principle of bridging one step further. This time it’s about bridging the geographical distance between North and South Wales.

The trip began on Sunday 23rd June in a supermarket car park and culminated in a sponsored walk up Pen y Fan (the highest peak in South Wales), which is an annual event organised by Choose Life (South Wales).

In between, there were visits to other recovery communities en route, such as the West Wales Substance Misuse Service (WWSMS) in Aberystwyth. AGRO were welcomed by Wynford Ellis-Owen and hosted a session in the ‘Living Room’ in Cardiff. We then attended the annual Welsh Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs annual lecture given by Professor Keith Humphreys on ‘Transatlantic Perspectives on Recovery From Addiction’. And then onwards to visit projects in Neath and Port Talbot.

Outside the Living RoomBy having taken AGRO across the country and visiting other groups, we hope that our bonds, the very things that bring us together under a common aim, will get stronger.

We hope to have made friendships and connections that will last a lifetime. We know that our members had experiences that will boost their recovery, but more than anything we wanted to convey these and other recovery messages to the powers that be.

AGRO Today.
We exist in the community, which has the potential to be a resource for the good of all. We want to help eradicate the shame and stigma that is associated with addiction and mental illness. We are helping people regain their identities. We give people a purpose and a sense of belonging. We need you to know that Recovery Communities don’t just exist in cities.

Outside choose life's 12 Cafe in NeathTo keep our dream alive and moving forward, AGRO had to request financial assistance from the Welsh Assembly Government and this funding has helped AGRO to grow. It gave us our coordinator Aeronwy, and for that we are eternally grateful.

Whilst the future remains uncertain for mainstream voluntary sector and statutory organisations, we are now asking the Welsh Government to think carefully about how they support services. If there is recognition that Addiction is a chronic relapsing condition, then surely short-term fixes aren’t the answer. Community Based Recovery Organisations provide the answer to this dilemma. We are prepared for the journey and we are still excited!

recovery groups at the summit? at Pen y Fan.AGRO currently have a growing membership. We have a gardening/allotment project, which is co-run by GROUNDWORKS, and a very full weekly activity schedule. These activities are developed by members for members and include fishing, walking, bowling, sailing and football.

We have plans to develop more activities and some of them will be slightly more specialised, such as mindfulness meditation sessions and the like.

We do not wish to become another provider of treatment in North Wales, which is why we have set our stall out very carefully. We are about helping people to help themselves. We are about community. We are about Recovery.

 In Deepest Gratitude,