My Journey: 22. Two Sides of the World

I return to UK from Western Australia in March 2009 to give a talk alongside Bill White at a conference in London organised by Wired In and Action on Addiction for leading UK recovery advocates. I then visit Scotland to attend recovery conferences, fly to Dubai to  pick up my children and take them to Australia, return them to Dubai, and travel back to the UK to visit various recovery initiatives. Wired In To Recovery is developing fast, but we are not able to attract funding. (4,076 words)

1. Fundraising Efforts

My initial fundraising efforts for Wired In To Recovery were unsuccessful. I had asked five UK government departments if they would help kick-start our initiative with a contribution of £5,000 to our charity Wired International Ltd. The Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly Government both declined. The NTA said they were considering us amongst a large number of other requests for funding, but we never heard anymore. We received no reply from the Home Office and the Department of Health to both my original and follow-up emails. 

I contacted all English DATs/Community Safety Partnerships (around 150) but only received two replies—both said they couldn’t provide funding. I wrote to about 150 Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in England and received a small number of responses, only one of which was positive, for a £1,000 Associate Sponsorship. Like the DATs, the vast majority of PCTs did not reply. 

The major outcome of this failure to obtain funding was that Lucie and Kevin had to start looking for other jobs to be able to live. The funding I was providing couldn’t continue, as I couldn’t keep using my personal money. I would now run the community, with part-time support from Lucie and Kevin, and would continue to try and raise funding. 

2. Bill White Conference

Early in March, I started my first trip back to the UK, staying in Dubai with my three youngest children for three days en route. On my arrival in the UK, I spent a few days with my brother and family. My mother had very recently passed away, so I visited where her ashes were buried in Fareham. I then headed to Cardiff to visit Lucie and Kevin, Gower to see good friends there, and Bracknell (with Lucie) for a meeting with Nathan Pitman about our online community website. 

Some months earlier, I had heard that US recovery advocate Bill White was going to be in the UK, so I asked if he would be willing to give a talk if I set up a one-day recovery event in London. He agreed. Nick Barton offered financial support from Action on Addiction for the event, to which we invited leading recovery advocates from around the UK, Pavel Nepustil from the Czech Republic, and three senior members of the NTA.

With Bill White at the Recovery conference in London, 18 March 2009.

Tim Leighton of Action on Addiction introduced Bill by describing his enormous contribution to the field. The latter gave an awesome two-part presentation in the morning on ‘Recovery Advocacy, Recovery Management and Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care.’ After my presentation, ‘The Importance of Community in Facilitating Recovery’ in the first part of the afternoon, there was a long discussion session. 

The event, which was filmed by Alex Mackie of the Park View Project [1] in Liverpool, was very well-received by the vast majority of the audience. I felt deeply honoured to speak alongside Bill and greatly enjoyed our fruitful discussions. Sadly, the NTA members did not appear impressed and one of their team was heard to express strong derogatory words about Bill and that ‘f……’ word recovery.

Lucie and I really enjoyed catching up with old recovery friends and meeting other recovery advocates. There was a strong feeling that exciting things were beginning to happen and important connections being made in the UK. We thought that 18 March 2009 would go down as a special day in the history of the UK recovery advocacy movement.

On the night before the recovery event, Lucie and I met up with Carl Edwards, Alex Mackie and Nick Mercer. It was fascinating to hear how Carl had created the Park View Project in Liverpool, which involved the development in 2003 of a residential 12-step abstinence-based rehab where all the key workers and frontline staff were in recovery themselves.

Carl had started his recovery in the early 1990s through accessing AA, at a time when there was no rehab in Liverpool, and went on to gain a degree from the University of Liverpool. Later, he and two others started talking about the fact that there were rehabs in the south of England, but not in Liverpool. They simply asked themselves, ‘Why can’t we have one in Liverpool?’

Lucie and I were really impressed by the fact that not only did Park View offer a range of activities to counter the intensity of the therapeutic work clients did in treatment—complementary therapies, yoga, swimming, running, and football tournaments—but also held drama classes and workshops through their contacts with Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre, the Playhouse Theatre, and Liverpool Actors Studio.

They had also set up their own film, theatre and media production company, Genie in the Gutter, run by Carl’s sister Carolyn. They had also been commissioned by the Liverpool DAAT to produce an advocacy film that was distributed to agencies and prisons across the North West. [2]

3. Scotland

I flew to Edinburgh the day after the London event recovery, where I spent the evening with my daughter Annalie and the following day with patients and staff at LEAP.

After a weekend in the country, I attended a special recovery meeting in the Scottish Parliament building, organised by Scotland’s Futures Forum, at which Bill White spoke again. He was followed by Pat Taylor, Executive Director of Faces & Voices of Recovery (FAVOR), who gave a stirring talk on the new recovery advocacy movement in the US and how FAVOR is co-ordinating a multitude of activities conducted recovery groups/organisations across the country. Leading US researcher Professor Keith Humphries gave an excellent talk on self-help and mutual aid groups, which included research showing the considerable value of AA, NA and other mutual aid groups. 

On the following day, I headed off to Glasgow with Dave McCartney to attend the Recovery Master Class at STRADA  (Scottish Training on Drugs and Alcohol), an event organised by Marion Logan at which Bill and Pat spoke again. David Best gave a passionate and informative talk describing his research on the treatment system over the years. I was struck by how little therapeutic help clients received in the agencies in which David conducted his research? How could any genuine caring person not have been disturbed by this appalling state of affairs?

On Wednesday, I was really excited by Mark Gilman’s talk in Stirling on his Recovery Oriented Integrated Systems (ROIS) approach. Mark of the NTA, and colleagues throughout the North West of England, had been implementing a recovery-oriented approach in that region over the past four years. It was absolutely fascinating hearing Mark and he really made me feel optimistic what could be achieved with the right sort of people, environment and support.

After hearing what I had heard during my UK visit, I wondered what was the agenda of those people at the top of the system who were quite clearly annoyed by what was happening on the ground with the new Recovery Movement. Why were they against what is happening? What was wrong with helping people get better? What was wrong with challenging a system that was not working? What was wrong with bringing the leading world experts to talk to interested parties in the UK?

Mark Gilman (left) and the late Rowdy Yates in Stirling, 25 March 2009.

After Mark’s Stirling talk, where I met that great fellow Rowdy Yates again [3], I met up with some friends. I listened to a mother’s story of her daughter, who had been using heroin, and her granddaughter. I watched her face, the emotions she showed as she described her experiences and expressed her views about what she could see going on in the treatment system. She could not understand why her daughter was treated as badly as she was.

It was difficult to explain to her what is going on in the treatment system. I did though and I was honest. When you talk to a mother in this situation and see their gratitude, you know that you are doing the right thing! No matter what the powers above think of you!!’

4. Being a Dad Again 

On 3 April, I headed to Dubai where I picked up Ben, Sam and Natasha and flew with them to Perth. Linda and Sophie were so excited to see them again and the four children spent no time at all becoming the best of friends. Before I knew it, the children’s three weeks‘ was over and I was on a night flight back to Dubai. I dropped the children off to the mother and charged off to catch my second flight on to the UK for a nine-day visit. [4] Mike Ashton later made the comment that most people take their children to school by car each day. My life, sadly, was far more complicated.

5. A Mini Tour

After spending two days with Lucie in Penarth to discuss various matters relating to Wired In and our charity Wired International Ltd, I headed to Manchester to meet Geoff Allman, Director of Spoken Image, who was still doing some multimedia work for us.

Breakfast with Mark Gilman at The bAsement Recovery Project, Halifax, 28 April 2009.

Mark Gilman picked me up the next day and took me to meet Stuart Honor and his team at The Basement Recovery Project in Halifax. We arrived for one of the ‘breakfast mornings’. The excellent breakfast was cooked by Brad Miah-Phillips—years later, I would write Brad’s remarkable Recovery Story. [5]

I was really impressed by the approach used by Stuart, and his recently appointed CEO Michelle Foster, in building an indigenous recovery community. I also enjoyed my time with Mark Gilman, who not only was an incredible recovery carrier, but also a very funny person. He could have had a successful career as a stand-up comedian.

I spent the night with Stuart, his wife Tamsin and their young boys in their lovely house in the country. It was a real pleasure to spend an evening with such lovely, kind people. I realised I was so lucky to be working in the addiction recovery field, meeting and interacting with such good friends. Here, I also had the opportunity to learn more about Stuart’s other career—he was a member of the UK rowing squad, preparing for the upcoming London Olympics in 2012. He was the only part-time member of the squad—the rest of the rowers were training full-time. Simply remarkable!

I caught the train to Liverpool the next day where I was met at the station by Carl Edwards of the Park View Project (see earlier in this chapter). Carl took me to the residential treatment centre where I had a chance to talk with a number of the clients, and then on to their associated project, Genie in the Gutter, run by his sister Carolyn. This is the project which offered people with substance use problems and those on the path to recovery, film, theatre and media opportunities. Once again, I was so impressed by all that I saw and heard. I spent the night with Carl and his family. 

On the following day, I headed to Edinburgh to visit my daughter Annalie and to meet up with Dave McCartney and his team at LEAP. I loved chatting to Dave, his Clinical Lead Eddie Conroy, another person in recovery, and the rest of the team… and the patients. I learnt so much and once again felt so inspired. I also attended a client graduation, which was very moving. I also realised how much I loved sitting in on group sessions whenever I visited LEAP. The following short discussion occurred in group during this visit.

One of the clients hesitatingly said, ‘Professor Clark, we were…’

‘Sorry to interrupt, but please call me, David. There is no need for the professor bit.’

‘Prof… I mean David. We’ve been wondering why you come to our groups sessions. Is it because you have a drug or alcohol problem?’

‘Well, I certainly don’t have a drug problem. I drink alcohol, but not excessively. The reason I come to group sessions is because I rarely ever meet such brave people, people like yourselves trying to overcome adversities you have faced and in some cases are still facing. And then some recovering people go on to help others. In fact, I see you helping each other in your discussions in group. I have learnt a lot from attending group sessions. And it’s much more fun being with you guys than with a bunch of university academics.’

Whilst in Edinburgh, I met up with my old best university mate Saifullah Syed who worked for the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Rome. Coincidentally, he was in Scotland on a golfing holiday. I wrote in my latest blog: ‘It’s been a hectic time—I’m getting too old for this stuff—made worse by the fact that I have been editing Daily Dose each early morning and in the evening. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, DC!’

6. Dad Again

I returned to Perth at the beginning of May and life was much quieter for a while. I quickly adapted to the Western Australian lifestyle and the wonderful Mediterranean climate that we experience here. My youngest daughter Natasha was now old enough to travel as an unaccompanied minor with her brothers. They came to stay with us for a few weeks in July (our winter) and later in December.

I will never forget standing at the airport with Linda waiting for the children to arrive. We would suddenly see them coming out of the arrival area with a member of Emirates staff and hear the yells of ‘Daddy!’ and the sounds of running feet. Those memories still bring tears to my eyes. 

7. Wired In To Recovery

Wired In To Recovery was six-months old on 20 May. I was really enjoying myself running the website. I couldn’t get over the quality of the writing and the really supportive atmosphere that had been generated. The community was growing at a rate which pleased me—not too slow, but not too fast that I became overwhelmed

I was reading every blog—there had been over 700 so far—as I had to choose which ones to highlight for the channel pages, select a short lead-in for each selected blog, and chose appropriate keywords. I also had  to edit some blogs, correcting typographical errors, and slightly altering sentences that didn’t make sense. I also broke some blog posts down into shorter paragraphs, as short paragraphs are easier to read on a computer. 

I also looked over the comments made about blogs, as I wanted to ensure that members weren’t being offensive or upsetting other people. We had it clear in our Terms and Conditions, based on those of the Guardian and BBC, that members must not, ‘… harass or cause distress or inconvenience to any person, transmit obscene or offensive content, or disrupt the normal flow of communication within’

We had rightly assumed that some of our members would be traumatised and/or vulnerable, and we did not want them becoming distressed. Early on, we did have a few people who aggressively attacked other members, and we had to bring in a system of ‘yellow cards’ (warning) and ‘red cards’ (suspension for a period, and permanent removal from the community for continued aggression). This led to some people arguing for a complete ‘freedom of speech’ on the website, although these people were a distinct minority. Some people got really fired up about AA and the 12-Step Fellowship, constantly criticising them.

Nearly 500 people had now signed up as Wired In To Recovery members. Google analytics allowed me to collect all sorts of statistics over time. I had a period of what I’ll call ‘number insanity’.

A total of 15,571 different people visited the website during our first six months, creating a total of over 160,000 page views. We had 52% more unique visits than the typical website of this size and 83% more page views. The time spent on our site was 73% greater than the average website. I also compared our numbers with those of substance use (Americans call it abuse) websites of a similar size. In the previous month, we had double the number of visits and time spent on the website, and three times more pages viewed, than other substance use websites.

We were doing well. As I wrote in my update blog, ‘Thanks to you all. As a collective, you’ve been great. Some great friendships have been made!’ However, one downside was that we were still not attracting sponsors.

8. A Major Statement

I returned to the UK again in August to see Annalie in Edinburgh—where I once again visited LEAP—Kevin and Lucie, and other recovery advocates. Lucie was now going to start a clinical psychology PhD in Cardiff and would later become a successful clinical psychologist. Sarah Davies (now Vaile) would now help out with Wired In To Recovery. Whilst in the UK and through our online community, I was beginning to sense changes in the treatment field, some of which were not good, as described in my blog post of 1 October entitled The Real Recovery Agenda:

‘Recovery is becoming a buzz-word in the UK treatment community. I may be sitting on the other side of the world at present, but plenty of people are communicating with me about what is happening. There is genuine excitement! However…

… it is also very clear that many people (possibly a majority) are jumping on this bandwagon, without understanding what recovery means or what constitutes a recovery oriented system of care. (I’ve seen some worrying stuff purporting to be about recovery.)

Sadly, some of these people have no intention of changing what they do, and are even frustrated by what is happening. Some feel they will lose their position of power and control. (I am sorry I may sound cynical). Some see that there is money to be made here. ‘Let’s position ourselves so we get the dosh when it starts flowing’. So they put on the Emperor’s Clothes.

Such moves will not just annoying and frustrating for those people who are genuinely concerned about the recovery agenda, they will also threaten the very existence of what we are doing.

Big organisations have power and by putting on the Emperor’s Clothes and pretending they are interested in recovery—and just tweaking what they do (at best)—they may control potential funds. This is a reality. Remember, big organisations can throw some money at this – and money brings money. So we need to be very wary. We need to help ensure that future funding goes to the right people.

Consider this potential scenario. Most of future funding goes to organisations who already get most of the funds. They do not change. No one gets better. Recovery is seen to be a failure. Bang goes our opportunity. And government decides nothing helps people with serious substance use problems get better, so stop spending.

In moving to a recovery based system, you cannot just tweak the system. You need a major overhaul. We are on the verge of a revolution. There needs to be a rethink of the nature and delivery of our care system from ground up. (This has already been happening in some parts of the country such as the North-West of England due to some visionary people.) There need to be changes in theory, practice and policy.

It would be easy to become cynical about terms such as ‘revolutionary’, but we really must appreciate that we have a window of opportunity here. We mustn’t miss it. With all the best intention in the world, we have to accept that we are not currently providing the best care possible. We are a very long way from that.

Many people would argue that the UK treatment system, in main, is simply managing symptoms and accepting long-term disability or discomfort of people with serious substance use problems. These same people would not argue against the value of treatment per se, rather it needs to be provided in a different way.

The recovery movement is first and foremost a civil rights movement. It is about helping disadvantaged people, people with problems, improve their well-being. It is about helping people with substance use problems (and often many other problems) reclaiming or claiming their right to a safe, dignified, meaningful and gratifying life in the community, sometimes despite their problems.

A recovery oriented system of care places the person with the problem at the centre of the system. It does not just build places where people go and get ‘treatment’—it builds forms of support throughout the community. It accepts that the struggles of the person are not just with what is going on within their own body and mind—it is about their social struggles, which they experience because of the prejudice, discrimination, stigma and marginalisation that occurs in society.

I remember going to the first service user conference and hearing Paul Hayes, CEO of the NTA, telling his audience that the only reason that the government was interested in their problems, was because they committed crime. How far is that from a recovery perspective? That is why there must be a complete rethink of the way that we care for people with substance use problems.

I’ll end this blog by saying there is so much for all us all to do. One thing we must do is educate ourselves about recovery and recovery oriented systems of care. Please read the writings of Bill White…. Read the many relevant blogs on this site. Also read the mental health literature on recovery—their field is well ahead of ours. For starters in relation to this aspect, anyone committed to this agenda should read A Practical Guide to Recovery-Oriented Practice by Larry Davidson and colleagues. I leave you with this quote from Davidson’s book:

“For such a revolution to occur in metal health, we will need to shift from viewing people with serious metal illness as being themselves the problem we must address to accord them the power to redefine the problem in their own terms.

Rather than attempt to ‘fix’ people with serious mental illness through treatment or rehabilitative interventions administered by caring others, the work of transformation entails accepting that these people represent the greatest, if also least tapped, resource a mental health system possesses.

Instead of being considered deficient, disordered, or dysfunctional, people with mental illness must come to be seen as the experts in defining their own needs, wants and preferences.”

Is our field ready to accept this sort of thinking?’


[1] You can read an article about the Park View Project in Drink and Drugs News, 17 November 2008, p.8. It is well worth reading.

[2] Ten years after opening, the Park View project had 70 beds. Mark Gilman, Strategic Recovery Lead at Public Health England, said, ‘Liverpool is the recovery capital of the UK. There is nowhere else in the country where the rate of people recovering from addiction is as high. The difference for Liverpool is that it has a community rehab and services which generate an indigenous recovery community.’ Liverpool Echo, 19 June 2013.

[3] Rowdy Yates sadly passed away on 14 February 2022. Rowdy was a very special person and made an enormous contribution to the addiction recovery field. Please check out the amazing tribute for Rowdy Yates written by Karen Biggs, Chief Executive of Phoenix Futures UK, and Bob Campbell which is on the European Federation of Therapeutic Communities, an organisation for which Rowdy did so much work. He is sorely missed by those who were fortunate enough to know him.

[4] You might wonder why I was flying to the UK again, particularly as I had no specific event to attend. In fact, it was much cheaper to purchase a return flight from Perth to London than it was to buy one from Perth to Dubai.

[5] Brad passed away on 10 February 2023 in the Royal Calderdale Hospital in Halifax. He is sorely missed. Please read a Recovery Stories blog post I wrote in memory of Brad. You might also like to read Brad’s Recovery Story, A Life Beyond My Wildest Dreams.

> More To Come

> ‘My Journey’ chapter links (and biography)