Kevan Martin’s Birthday and Story Update

Birthday greetings to my good friend Kevan Martin. I celebrated Kevan’s 60th Birthday last year with a blog post; it was the same day that I launched my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. Kevan’s Story, He’s a Loser and Will Never Be Any Good, is one of 15 stories in the book. The major part of the Story also appears on this website. It’s an impressive and moving story about the overcoming of adversity… and a commitment to helping other people overcome addiction.

Kevan is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. After 25 years of problem drinking and eight years in and out of psychiatric hospitals, Kevan set up and ran NERAF (Northern Engagement into Recovery from Addiction) which eventually had nearly 100 staff and volunteers and provided a support service across the north-east of England. It all began in the following way:

‘So, I started a support group for people with alcohol problems in my own home. I often used to meet people that I had been in treatment with out and about, and eventually I started to say, ‘Come down to my place Tuesday night.’ Within a month, I had six people attending. Word of mouth ensured that my home was soon packed with people I had met throughout my years of spinning through the revolving door of treatment.’

If you’ve not read Kevan’s remarkable Story, please read it here. And then you can read the Story update below, which appears in my Recovery Stories eBook.

‘Eight Years On: November 2020

1. Trouble at NERAF

Things started to change at NERAF in the middle of 2013, not long after we had a funding application knocked back. The potential funder informed us that we had not explained clearly enough the impact the project would have. 

Immediately after this rejection, the Chair of NERAF’s Trustees, Lynn Duggan, who I had appointed as a Trustee some years ago and who had been involved in writing this particular project proposal, changed her behaviour towards me. For example, she would terminate conversations she was having with our Operations Manager (Graham Frend) when I entered the room, and stopped welcoming me in the morning in the way she did with everyone else. It was all rather disconcerting. I had the feeling that Lynn thought I was blaming her for the funding bid failure, but this was certainly not the case.

In early September 2013, a meeting of the Trustees was held which I attended. Strangely, I had not received a copy of the agenda, which I had always previously received in my position as Chief Executive of NERAF. 

Lynn Duggan and Graham Frend started to talk about the necessity for a restructuring of the organisation, as well as the need for positions and salaries to be based on professional skill-sets and qualifications. They had earlier discussed these ideas with an external firm of human resources advisors, Professional People Management, again without my knowledge. 

I was very concerned about what they were suggesting, as it was biased against recovering people holding key positions, or potentially any position, and it was against the ethos and identity of NERAF. The organisation was built on the premise that it needed to be run by people in recovery (with or without business qualifications), not by people who had such qualifications but knew little about addiction beyond text book knowledge. 

I was also concerned about my own position, since I suspected strongly that I would be removed from my Chief Executive position and replaced by Graham Frend, a former police officer who had business qualifications. My concerns increased when I attended a Trustees meeting later that month. 

I was so worried about the situation that I posted ‘a word of advice’ on Facebook the following day, warning ‘folks’ who were setting up addiction recovery initiatives as charities to be careful when selecting their Trustees. I indicated that our Chair of Trustees wanted NERAF to be working in a way of working that was against the ethos and identity of the organisation, as well as remove me from my position as I did not have business qualifications. It only seemed fair to warn friends and colleagues working in the field and let them know what was happening with NERAF and me.   

Ann and I headed off to Tenerife for a holiday, returning on the 11th of October. I then tried to access my work email account and found it to be blocked. 

When I returned to work, Lynn Duggan took me aside and informed me that I had been formally suspended from NERAF for bringing the organisation into disrepute. I was told I couldn’t go anywhere near the building, and I was to hand over my keys and computer. 

When I remonstrated about the latter, I was told the police would be called if I did not hand the items back that day. I was also informed that my NERAF email account had been terminated. I was shocked, devastated! I was being locked out of the organisation that I had started over seven years earlier. 

I initially didn’t tell Ann what had happened. She was still living in the Lake District, although she and her son Aidan were due to shortly move to Sunderland. I hoped the NERAF nightmare would go away. 

The Trustees had meanwhile brought in Professional People Management to deal with the matter. I was interviewed in mid-October by a member of this firm and I expressed my concerns about Mrs Duggan. I then had to attend a disciplinary hearing in mid-November headed by a member of the same firm. There was no representation by NERAF staff or Trustees. 

On the 3rd of December, I had a meeting with the same person who put forward a proposal to me, whereby I would be given a written final warning, redeployed within the organisation, and have to resign as Chief Executive. I was sure that this proposal would have come from, or been approved by, the NERAF Trustees. I was told that I would be made the volunteer co-ordinator. Not only would my role helping determine the running of NERAF be taken away, but my salary would be greatly reduced. 

This was all very distressing. However, I was tempted to take the job, as NERAF was my baby. I couldn’t see life without being involved with my baby. I asked that I be given until the 6th of December to make the decision. This request was accepted. 

By this time, I had contacted a lawyer and he had told me that I had grounds for unfair dismissal. Obviously, the final decision was mine, but he thought that if I took the job, Lynn Duggan, and whoever else was involved with her, would likely find new grounds to sack me. 

As it turned out, I didn’t get the chance to make a decision. I received a letter, dated the 5th of December 2013, from the same person I had met two days earlier, telling me that I was fired with immediate effect. I received it on the day (6th December) that I was supposed to inform the organisation of my decision!

I was devastated by the news and very angry. I felt as if the whole process had been a sham. That a decision had been made by Lynn Duggan and her colleagues long ago that I was to be removed as Chief Executive of NERAF and the organisation be run in a very different way to how it been set up. 

I appealed my dismissal a week later, and in February I received a letter stating, ‘… that the decision of the Board is that they do not think they can work with you effectively in light of what has happened to and after your dismissal and therefore your dismissal is upheld.’ I now had no option but to challenge this decision in court. 

* * *

2. Going to court

By now, Ann and Aidan had moved from Kendal in the North-West to Sunderland in the North-East. Ann soon obtained a job. My case for ‘unfair dismissal’ was heard at an Employment Tribunal in Newcastle upon Tyne on 19th June 2014. In the Tribunal, both parties were represented by barristers before a judge. Ann attended the Tribunal, as well as three people who had written character references for me and would be questioned if required. The fourth character reference was sent by David Clark, the author of this book. 

When Lynn Duggan was in the witness box, the judge pointed out to her that she was trying to assassinate a person who has a character reference from an Emeritus Professor of Psychology in Australia, and three other people of good standing. Two of this latter group had previously applied to be Trustees of NERAF, stating in their applications that they knew me personally. Lynn Duggan had rejected their applications. 

In my humble opinion, Ms Duggan’s performance in the witness box was underwhelming and she was taken apart by both my barrister and the judge. She made statements that were not backed up by written documents, and she lied. 

The judge said a number of times in his report that statements were made about the past by the respondents (NERAF) with no written proof of their veracity. He also pointed out that the respondents provided a whole load of documents at the beginning of the hearing that had never been seen by my barrister or myself. As for me bringing NERAF into disrepute by posting on Facebook, the judge pointed out that my posts would hardly have had a large audience.

Lynn Duggan also referred to my past criminal record, a few ‘drunk & disorderly’ convictions from over twenty years ago. The judge responded, ‘But all those convictions are spent.’ 

What a situation!? I had instilled in NERAF the ethos that we could not hold a criminal record against someone who was coming to us for help. Now, my ‘record’ was being used against me in court. 

Lynn Duggan also told the judge that when NERAF had their AGM three weeks earlier, they had to have a policeman there in case I turned up. Graham Frend was heard by all in court telling Lynn’s legal representative that I had violent convictions in 2003 and 2007, which was totally untrue. It was all very unpleasant.

The judge eventually decided in my favour, that my dismissal was unfair. He said:

‘Taking all of the above into consideration I have found the respondent [NERAF] had failed to show the reason for the dismissal… the way the disciplinary procedure was conducted was inherently unfair. The decision to dismiss and the rejection of the appeal were all done remotely without any input by Mr Martin. The dismissal was unfair.’

The judge did not consider a Polkey reduction [1] appropriate, as the procedure used to produce the dismissal was so flawed that it was impossible to say what the outcome would have been if a fair procedure had been used. He said that the evidence pointed to me being retained by the organisation. I was later awarded substantial damages for this unfair dismissal from NERAF.  

I was able to leave court with my head held high and my credibility intact. The support I had received from people around the country and David in Australia was humbling. The story went into local newspapers, with my face adorning the front page of one. 


A CHARITY founder was unfairly dismissed from the organisation he set up, a tribunal has ruled.

Former alcoholic Kevan Martin turned his life around to establish Northern Engagement into Recovery from Addiction Foundation (NERAF) in Sunderland 10 years ago.

But last year he was sacked after a disciplinary hearing branded ‘inherently flawed’ and a ‘sham’ by an employment judge.’ Sunderland Echo, 26th November 2014.

After the Tribunal Hearing, I heard nothing from the people at NERAF. I kept trying for jobs in the addiction field, but was getting nowhere. I was feeling terrible. 

Over the years, I had bought a lot of books about addiction and recovery with my personal money because of my interest in the field. As I had kept them in my office, I asked NERAF to return the books. They sent back just one book back which had a ‘To Kevan…’ inscription on the inside cover. When I asked for the rest of my collection, they asked if I had receipts for the books. I never saw the books again.

In the end, I knew I had to get out of Sunderland, given how I was feeling about Lynn Duggan and Graham Frend. I was angry and knew I would do something that I would later regret if I stayed. I often walked past the NERAF building knowing I couldn’t go in to see my friends and former colleagues, as I was banned. Everything that had happened had finally got to me. Revenge was festering in my mind. However, throughout all of this, I never had a drink. Having a drink occasionally crossed my mind, but I never got close to picking up a glass. 

Before leaving the topic of NERAF, I’d like to say that the time between my dismissal and Tribunal were an emotional rollercoaster and what helped me through it all were the numerous phone calls and messages of support I received from people all over the country and beyond. They were very comforting.

NERAF were working in partnership with NECA (North East Council of Addictions) on a project commissioned by Darlington Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT) to provide support groups and mentoring in Darlington. The day after my Tribunal, I received a call from the CEO of NECE who told me she intended to speak with the DAAT Commissioner about cancelling the partnership agreement with NERAF. 

Two days later, I took a call from the Commissioner who told me she had terminated NERAF participation in the project saying: 

‘I commissioned the NECA/NERAF bid because of the NERAF element and your knowledge and experience. NERAF isn’t NERAF without Kevan Martin.’ 

Within two months, NERAF had lost the remaining three NHS-commissioned services.

* * *

3. A new life

Ann was missing Kendal a lot. I was originally from Kendal and my family still lived there. It was time for us to move back home. We did so in the second half of 2014. I was finally leaving NERAF behind me.

I started working for an organisation called ‘User Voice’, which involved gathering the views of people in prisons and those working in the prison service. I ended up as the North West Regional Manager and had staff in all the prisons and prison services within that region. 

I worked there for 18 months but eventually came to hate the job, as I spent far too much time driving around the country on the motorways. The driving did my head in. The large number of idiotic drivers I came across ‘convinced me’ that I would eventually meet a sticky end on some motorway or other.  

I left this job and worked for the Water Board for two years, making sure that water was safe to drink! 

I then took up my current position as a Night Warden at a Holiday Park in the Lake District. I am in charge of security at the Holiday Park and I deal with any issues raised by our visitors, such as a boiler or electricity failing. It’s a really varied job, one where you’re interacting with people all the time. I love it! I absolutely love it!! The Park is in Troutbeck, close to Lake Windermere and about 15 miles from our home in Kendal. I love the drive to-and-fro work. The whole area is just so beautiful.

Ann owns a pub in Kendal with her brother and is in charge of the catering side of things. Aidan, who is now 24 years old, is a self-employed gardener and his business is going really well. He’ll be employing someone else in the near future. Given all that he’s been through in his life, it’s awesome that he is now doing so well. 

To be honest, I’m glad to be out of the addiction field. I did what I could for people, got ‘shit on’ a bit, but hey… that’s life. 

Reflecting on the past, I guess that even with NERAF in later years, I was doing something that wasn’t really me. In having to do so much organising, I lost touch with the people I wanted to help. I wanted to be working directly with people, but ended up in a more strategic role. I was running up and down the country giving talks and attending meetings; I wasn’t running our support groups, which was what I really loved. I had to do all that administrative stuff to move NERAF along and obtain funding to help more people, but that wasn’t really me. 

I’m out and about in the beautiful countryside. I have a fantastic, happy family life. My Mam and Dad are doing great, and Ann’s mum is doing great. I enjoy the job I’m doing and I’m not living to a routine. Every day is different. People are paying over £1,000 pounds a week to come and stay at our Park. I get to live there for free, at least 42 hours a week. I’m so grateful to be living amongst trees, fields, wildlife and lakes, rather than in the midst of buildings.

I’m so happy now. And I’m at peace with myself!

[1] A Polkey deduction is a deduction made from a compensatory award in an unfair dismissal case to reflect the chance that although a dismissal was procedurally unfair it would have happened in any case.’

Earlier, I said ‘Kevan is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.’ That’s not strictly true: I’ve never met Kevan in person, only on Skype a number of times. Hopefully, all that will change this coming August/September, when I plan to be back on holiday to see my family and friends. I will definitely be heading to the Lake District to meet Kevan and his family. I can’t wait!