My Journey: 17. Wired In’s Cardiff Recovery Community

I move to Cowbridge, near to Cardiff, and my house becomes the centre for Wired In operations. Lucie brings together a group of recovering local people to form our first recovery community. We make a film about young heroin users, and give talks at conferences on this topic and on drug overdose. I talk at the Annual FDAP meeting about Wired In’s recovery advocacy work, and challenge government policy focused on substance use problems and the way that the treatment system operates. (2,931 words)

Now that I wasn’t tied to the university, I decided to move nearer to Cardiff, so I was closer to the Wired In team who lived in the vicinity of the Welsh capital. Lucie helped me to look for a house to rent. I’d planned to rent somewhere small, but she emphasised that I must rent something larger, a place that would be like home for my three youngest children when they visited every other weekend and during their school holidays. I saw the logic in what she was saying.

Eventually, I found a lovely place to rent on a farm just outside of Cowbridge, a small town located 12 miles west of Cardiff. It was a fairly expensive house, but the children had the space they needed, and they could walk out of the front door and immediately be in the countryside. They loved ‘Ivy Dene’, as I did, so I’m grateful to Lucie for insisting that we find such a place.

In November 2006, Dave Watkins and Keith Morgan of WGCADA helped move my furniture from my old house. Soon after moving in, I headed to Australia again to see my family and friends there. These trips to Australia were an important part of my healing process.

In April 2007, we had a birthday party for my youngest son Sam at the house in Cowbridge, now the centre of  Wired In ‘operations’. Annalie had come down from Edinburgh to be there for Sam, and so were members of our Wired In Family—Keith Morgan, Dave Watkins, Becky Hancock and her mother Cheryl, Kevin Manley and his mother Kerry, Lucie and her mother Carol, Sarah Davies (now Vaile), filmmaker Jonathan Kerr-Smith, and my best schoolmate Jeff Zorko (one of our charity Trustees) and his wife Marian and daughter Rosie. The closeness of my families—biological and work—was very special to me.

Around this time, I met up with my cousin Simon Tarry, who was a successful manager in a medical instruments company. He loved what we were doing with Wired In, but thought that we needed some solid marketing experience. He suggested that I work with his friend Inga Rose, who had set up her own company Air Marketing.

Inga agreed to work with us on a consultancy basis, and later introduced me to Geoff Allman of Spoken Image, who ran a multimedia company in Manchester, and web-designer Nathan Pitman of Nine Four.  She also introduced me to a few business people who offered to act as Advisors for Wired In. 

We decided the best way forward at this time was to develop education and training packages about addiction and recovery for the field. A number of people working in the field who loved what we were doing had suggested that we start preparing multimedia CDs, as they felt that treatment services urgently needed educational content and would be willing to purchase such material. They felt that film of recovering people talking about their lives would be of particular value.

We started preparing content for our first CD-ROM,  ‘A taster of the unique approach adopted by Wired In to tackle substance use problems’, which was developed by Geoff Allman and his colleague at Spoken Image. We were proud of the final product. 

In August, Jeff Zorko and I arranged a reunion in Cowbridge with two of our old best schoolmates, Tom Wragg and Bruce Marriott, both of whom I had not seen in over 35 years. Both had done really well over the years. Tom had worked in the media business for many years and at one time was Head of Production for BBC TV News and Current Affairs. Despite never having shown any interest in ballet as a youngster, Bruce became a well-known ballet journalist and even entertained the Bolshoi Ballet when they came to London. The four of us spent a special day together. 

Whilst staying at my place, Tom read through a draft business plan I had put together with one of our business advisors. He was really impressed with what Wired In was doing and thought it had a potentially amazing future. However, he strongly suggested I change the name from WIRED to Wired In, to distinguish ourselves from the technology magazine WIRED.

Tom also suggested that if we were to try and finance the initiative, at least in part, by selling training and education material, we needed to find a bulk-purchaser. He suggested that I approach the National Treatment Agency (NTA), who were ultimately ‘in charge’ of most of the drug treatment field, and offer to develop education and training packages on interactive CD-ROMs that they purchase in bulk and supply to all treatment services. Tom also offered to come with me to the NTA if I could set up a meeting. 

We visited Annette Dale Perera, Director of Quality at the NTA, and showed her our interactive CD-ROM taster. She seemed impressed by what she viewed, in particular our film clips, and was enthusiastic about our suggestion that the NTA buy our education and training materials in bulk and distribute. However, she pointed out that she must show the CD-ROM to a new Director of Communications (Jon Hibbs) the NTA had just hired, before making any firm decision.

I went back to the NTA to meet Jon Hibbs, this time without Tom. When he viewed one of the film clips of Kevin Manley, he said, ‘We can’t be involved with this. He’s criticising treatment.’ I replied, ‘No, he’s criticising bad treatment practices and praising good practices.’ ‘No, we’re not getting involved with this,’ was the response. That was the end of Tom’s great idea!

I had the feeling that Annette was disappointed by what had happened. To her credit, she later organised for the NTA to provide urgently needed sponsorship for Daily Dose.

Meanwhile, we eventually decided that producing Wired In education and training CD-ROMs was not the best way forward. This approach was not going to provide a sufficient income to help sustain Wired In. As it was, I was now paying Lucie, Kevin and another person, as well as Air Marketing and Spoken Image, out of my ‘retirement fund’.

Lucie was bringing together a group of people in South Wales who were recovering from drug and alcohol problems, our first local recovery community. They had regular evening gatherings, where they would hold a recovery group gathering and also enjoy themselves socially. Kevin Manley and Mark Saunders was also real stalwarts of the group.

Over time, participants told their stories, reflected on key issues related to addiction recovery, and discussed their experiences in treatment. They were all proud when Lucie ‘signed them up’ as Wired In volunteers. They wanted their voice of recovery to be heard far and wide.

I was not involved in the regular recovery meetings, as I didn’t want the group to feel restrained in any way by the presence of the ‘Prof’. Besides, this was Lucy’s ‘baby’, ably supported by Kevin and Mark. However, I did participate in the occasional social gathering, like tenpin bowling. And Kevin and Mark used to come over to parties at my house and spend time with my children, who came to love them both.

Top from left-right: DC, Lucie James, Mark Saunders, ? . Bottom: Kevin Manley, Chris Hobbs, Pavel Nepustil. Cardiff, 15 September 2007.

I also organised a restaurant lunch for some of the group when we were visited by Pavel Nepustil, an addiction researcher and worker, from the Czech Republic. He was also working on his PhD thesis, Identity Shifts in Former Drug Users. Team members and I were deeply touched by a blog post that Pavel later wrote about that day:

‘One year ago, I visited a group of people in Cardiff headed by Prof David Clark. They had called themselves Wired, later they turned into Wired In and today they are creating, in my opinion, the future of the substance misuse field. From the very beginning, I have noticed several things which clearly distinguished these people from the drug workers I have known from Czech Republic. 

Firstly, it was the goal-orientation, self-efficacy, strong belief that they will achieve what they want. I saw people who are used to winning and who are not afraid to risk. Then, it was something more abstract that was tying them together—an idea, belief—the commitment for which we do not have any proper word in Czech Republic. And finally, I have noticed the radical shift from the common relationship between ‘professionals’ and ‘ex-users’. There was not any kind of hierarchy.

We went to a restaurant together (the prof, two university graduates, three ex-users and myself), and we were talking together about everything. I noticed no kind of prejudice or presumptions. Even if the life experience of everyone was totally different, everybody was using it in order to achieve common goals. In short, I saw the community which is committed to recovery.

Currently, this community is making a huge and crucial step. Wired In is in amazing way reflecting the huge digital technology expansion and they are creating an online space which will be open to the whole world. Ex-users are sending the message to the world that it is possible to live happy and meaningful lives after long period of drug use.

Their families are calling that one does not need to be alone through all their troubles, and practitioners have a possibility to talk freely and openly about their own dilemmas, dissatisfactions, and critical reflections. I am just happy to be part of this community.’

In June 2007, Kevin, Mark and I were asked to give a talk about drug overdose at a one-day conference in Swansea organised by Ifor Glyn of the treatment service Swansea Drugs Project (SAND). Lucie and I were so proud of the professional and inspiring talks given by the two young men. I could see their talks had really impacted emotionally on members of the audience.

My talk included reference to some of our earlier qualitative research conducted by two of our undergraduate students, Laura Davies and Emma Murphy. One project focused on the experiences and views of family members about drug overdose, whilst the other focused on people who had overdosed or seen someone else overdose.

Ifor later commissioned Wired In to make a film about young heroin users who were accessing SAND in Swansea. He wanted to highlight the negative impact that heroin use was having on young people, who were starting to use the drug at a younger and younger age.

Filmmaker Jonathan Kerr-Smith, Cardiff, 17 July 2007.

Jonathan Kerr-Smith filmed Lucie interviewing five youngsters, aged between 17 and 19 years. I still vividly remember Lucie coming back to Cowbridge after the first day’s filming and just breaking down crying. She described how young the girls she interviewed that day were—one was 14 when she first used—and how they lived in an environment where heroin use was rife and the drug easily obtained. And what chance did a youngster have when her or his parents were heroin users?

Lucie was deeply moved by the bravery of her interviewees in coming forward, and how committed they were to speaking out about their experiences, in the hope that other young people would avoid the mistake they had made in starting to use heroin. 

I presented the 20-minute film that Jonathan and Lucie made at the SAND conference on young heroin users. There was no doubt that the film had an enormous impact on members of the audience, many of whom came to talk to Lucie, Jon and me afterwards.

I was deeply moved by the film. I was also saddened by some of the beliefs of the young participants, their acceptance: that in their environment, using heroin would happen to them; that addiction develops fast; that when you start ‘clucking’ (experiencing drug withdrawal), that’s it; and of the substitute-prescribing mind-set.

At least the youngsters knew that recovery had to come from them, rather than a treatment practitioner. It was so pleasing that the last interviewee, Sam, had stopped using and now had a house and a partner, and was expecting a baby. ‘There were no future for me before, but now there is.’

After the talk, Keith Morgan approached me in a near-state of shock. He had known the mother of one of the girls and used to hold the girl when she was a baby. The mother had died of a heroin overdose.

Lucie, John, Ifor, Jamie (a SAND drug-worker who had helped set up the project) and I discussed whether we should keep showing the film (in public talks and on YouTube) and distributing it as an education resource—the brave youngsters had agreed that we should do that.

However, we decided that it was in their best interests that the film never be shown publicly. We felt that they were too young to make such a decision. How would they feel the film being shown years later when they were in recovery? It would be different situation with older interviewees who wanted their film shown. The youngsters did emphasise to us how much they had got out of the experience of being interviewed. It did a lot for their self-esteem.

Simon Shepherd asked if I would give the main talk at the 2007 FDAP Annual meeting in November and introduce my audience, who were mainly treatment practitioners, to the concept of recovery and Bill White’s recovery work in the USA. Up to that time, I had met only a few people in the UK who knew anything about leading recovery advocate Bill White, which was amazing (and concerning) given the importance of his work.

This was an important talk for me, as I was also going to introduce Wired In’s recovery advocacy work, and challenge government policy focused on substance use problems and the way that the treatment system operated.

I started by reminding my audience that the treatment system in the UK was focused on: reducing crime rather than trying to help people overcome addiction; the number of people accessing treatment, not on people getting better; and substitute (mainly methadone) prescribing with little other choice of treatment. There was a paucity of ambition for clients, and the system had become a revolving door, with clients accessing treatment, leaving, and then accessing again (and repeating that cycle).

The system had become dominated by paperwork, more and more practitioners were becoming disillusioned, and clients were being blamed for failing. At the same time, the NTA was talking up their successes, despite the fact that there was very little evidence of success. I emphasised that what happened in the US—people realising that the addiction treatment system did not work, despite the slogan ‘Treatment Works’—would likely happen here.

I then went on to talk about empowerment, the nature of recovery, the concept of behavioural change, therapeutic principles, recovery capital, and the need to develop recovery communities, to which treatment services needed to be connected. There was a lot of ‘new stuff’ being introduced to my audience, but I needed to tell this story, and it was exactly what Simon wanted. 

Afterwards, I talked to a PR expert (Deborah Parritt) who had attended my talk and was volunteering as a Wired In consultant at the time, and she said that many of the audience looked disinterested and bored. However, she also said that there were many people who were absolutely ‘hooked’ to what I was saying and she could feel their excitement.

I didn’t expect the majority of this audience to be interested—I was attacking the system in which they worked and calling for change—but I wanted to excite some people so they went away to think, read and act. There would be no tidal wave of change; it would occur slowly and in only some places. But the implementation of change and the subsequent successes would lead to more change.

I was pleased that I had given this talk and thrilled by the number of people who came up afterwards and congratulated me. Deborah was pleased with the talk and the positive response it received. It was a big moment in my working life. 

After my earlier trips to Australia, I thought it was time that I took my three youngest children to meet my sister and her family. Their mother agreed that we could make the trip.

We arrived at the Emirates check-in at Heathrow on Christmas Day, 2007. I handed over the passports to the lady at the desk. She looked at them and said, ‘There’s one passport missing.’ I told her that they were all there. She smiled at me, ‘Three young children and just you. I wish you the very best of luck.’ I laughed. It was nice to have a bit of humour before our great adventure. I guess that not many fathers travelled alone with three young children to the other side of the world.

That trip was so very special, bringing my three youngest children together with my Australian family and friends. Little did Ben, Sam and Natasha know then, this was just the first of their Australian adventures.

> 18. A Charter, Vision and Film

> ‘My Journey’ chapter links (and biography)