Visiting UK Recovery Friends: Part 7 (Wulf Livingston)

On Friday 23 September, I left Gower and headed to Tregarth in North Wales, via Aberystwyth and Dolgellau (where one of my ancestors was born), to stay with Wulf Livingston and his lovely wife Melanie. As I had such a tight schedule, I was due to stay there only one day, but my cousin Emma (my next visit) had just tested positive for Covid, so I ended up staying two days with Wulf and Mel.

I hadn’t seen Wulf in person for nearly 20 years, although we’ve been conversing on Facetime for the last year or so. I first met Wulf in 2000 when Becky Hancock and I were conducting the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund (DATF) evaluation in Wales. The local evaluator for North Wales, Annie Stonebridge, used to organise our meetings when we visited the region, and always arranged for us to meet Wulf, as we got on so well and we were learning so much from him. Wulf was Community Services Manager for the treatment service CAIS at the time. I was always impressed that he used go out and meet service users in their homes or other places of their choice, rather than have them come to visit in the formal surrounds of the treatment service, which was the general practice in the field.

Wulf trained as a social worker and started his career in the drug and alcohol field, working for two years for Ian Wardle in the North Cheshire element of Lifeline, before starting work at CAIS. He left CAIS in 2005 and started working with Steve Ray in the North Wales Probation Service, where he became a senior manager involved in drug and alcohol services. He also taught part-time at Bangor University. The Probation Service supported him starting a PhD at Bangor University in 2008 and he graduated in 2013.

Wulf left the Probation Service in 2010, as all senior positions moved to Cardiff, and became a Senior Lecturer at Wrexham Glyndŵr University. He later became a Reader and was then awarded a Personal Chair (Professorship) in 2021. Wulf’s primary role in this position is to conduct research, and his main research interests are alcohol and other drugs, policy implementation, recovery and service user involvement, and social workers’ use of knowledge in practice. He is keen to see research findings implemented into practice. He is currently involved in a number of research projects for the Welsh and Scottish governments that focus on evaluating the impact of minimum (unit) pricing for alcohol.

Although it’s a beautiful trip up to North Wales from Gower, it was a long and frustrating haul, primarily because of the traffic. I was glad to reach Wulf and Mel’s lovely house. After walking around their fascinating garden, Wulf and I headed for a long walk, during which time he elaborated more about his real passion in the addiction field while I also took in the beautiful scenery.

Wulf has spent a good deal time supporting (in an unpaid role) North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC). This initiative was founded in 2014 by James Deakin, who was at the time working in criminal justice services and becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of effective support for people with drug and alcohol related problems.

NWRC began delivering a programme of meetings and recovery activity from Penrhyn House, which at the time was a hostel for ex-offenders. After negotiations with the landlord, James and team took over the running of Penrhyn House and developed a recovery programme for people with addictions to drugs and alcohol. They also provided accommodation at Penrhyn House and elsewhere in Bangor. All staff members at NWRC are in recovery.

Wulf mentored James from the time he started to plan the development of NWRC and has continued in a mentoring/supporting role for the initiative since that time. He passes on his knowledge and experience relating to organisational matters, clinical supervision of staff, risk management, and research and evaluation. Wulf told me how Penrhyn House initially linked up with the recovery organisation AGRO (Anglesey and Gwynedd Recovery Organisation), which organised various activities such as walking in the beautiful North Wales countryside, but later organised walking trips and other activities (e.g. boxing) themselves.

NWRC gained some allotments and ‘Growing for Change’ developed. This initiative is a salad-growing social enterprise based in Moelyci, Bangor, in which all volunteers are in recovery. In November 2021, NWRC opened Bwyd Da Bangor, a recovery cafe/restaurant on High Street in Bangor. Wulf took me to Bwyd Da Bangor the following morning and I was SO impressed. The cafe setting and food quality were outstanding, and the place is held in high esteem by people in Bangor.

Wulf then took me out to Penrhyn House and again I was very impressed. I also enjoyed talking with some of the people staying there who are on their recovery journey. Sadly, I was not able to meet James Deakin, as he was away, but we have agreed that I will interview him on Zoom so I can learn more about NWRC and disseminate this information on our website. For now, I’d like to say ‘well done’ to all concerned in developing this exciting recovery initiative.

Wulf and I then headed down to the harbour where he bought a lovely freshly caught sea bass (which he and Mel later cooked up for a wonderful dinner). We then headed to Dinorwic quarry, which was really quite something. And talking about food, I should mention that Wulf cooked two very tasty curries, a slow-cooked lamb shank curry and a keema (lamb mince) curry, as well as a gorgeous dahl on my first night. Since Wulf was once a chef, I was very lucky!

I left Wulf and Mel’s the next morning, travelling initially through beautiful Snowdonia, and knowing that I will probably be working on a future project with Wulf (more of that later) and learning more about NWRC from James.

I had such a good time in North Wales. You can see more photos on my Flickr pages.