Making universities more inclusive for people in recovery

Making universities more inclusive for people in recovery

Since 2015, I have been Chief Executive Officer of Recovery Connections, a Lived Experience Recovery Organisation in the North East of England. Through this work I see the impact of addiction, and the related stigma on the lives of individuals who look for support, plus their families and wider communities.

"With close to 3 million students in the UK, and an estimated 9% of adults in some form of addiction recovery, it struck me that there are undoubtedly students out there who could benefit from this support."
Seen here with Dorothy Smith (LtoR): Professor Tom Kimball, Director Centre for Collegiate Recovery Communities, Texas Tech University and from University of Sunderland, Steve Knight, Chief Operating Officer and Simon Lee, Assistant Director Student Journey. Download 'Dot smith Churchill Fellowship_Blog Banner 2'

But I also see the inexhaustible potential of people too. What someone can achieve, with the right encouragement and support, as they embrace recovery, build a new life, and demonstrate what is truly possible. A key part of this, of course, is making services accessible and goals achievable. And education can play a crucial role in this journey.

But in the UK, there are barely a handful of higher education establishments that endorse a dedicated addiction recovery programme within the university campus. With close to 3 million students in the UK, and an estimated 9% of adults in some form of addiction recovery, it struck me that there are undoubtedly students out there who could benefit from this support.

I applied for a Churchill Fellowship after a visit to the US, where there are now more than 150 institutions providing what is known as a Collegiate Recovery Programme (CRP). These are places where students, in recovery from any addiction - or who have experienced addiction in the family - benefit from sober spaces, events, residences, and build supportive communities on campus.

Within this network of support, communities that are visible and trusted are formed and nurtured. The students who graduate, while part of these programmes, also tend to do so with a higher Grade Point Average than the general student population in the US. And then there is the wider benefit of a visible recovery community for the universities overall, which are well supported from all levels of the organisation.

I recently spoke to Tim Dodd, Dean of the College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech University, who confirmed the positivity surrounding the programme, he said that the visibility it gives the university, in terms of being a good part of the community, is excellent. He also said it is well supported by donors, many of whom have been in recovery, have family members or children who have been through addiction. He added that they are amazing supporters.

My Churchill Fellowship initially enabled me to return to the US, where I enjoyed the practical experience of visits to six further universities, including Texas Tech. The expertise and support from programme leaders there was invaluable in helping me to establish Collegiate Recovery Programmes (CRPs) within two UK universities, the University of Sunderland and Teesside University, over the following years. More than that though, the visit equipped me with the knowledge required to advocate for CRPs in the UK, influence universities, speak at conferences, and become an Advisory Board member for the Association of Recovery in Higher Education.

The UK Government’s own Recovery Champion, Dr Ed Day, has also been involved with the work for several years now. Following further grants from the Churchill Fellowship, we’ve created a website for students in recovery to use as a resource, developed CPD Accredited Recovery Ally training and delivered it to multiple universities, and created a Recovery Friendly University Pledge - which is due to be signed by a third university, this autumn. A recent grant from the Society for the Study of Addiction is also funding the creation of a digital platform and toolkit which will support universities that wish to develop the work within the institution.

But this work is far from complete. I hope to see more universities recognise and resource this work and enable peer support communities to grow and flourish on campuses. But first, the higher education system needs to truly acknowledge and understand addiction. And the problematic use of drugs, alcohol, gambling - and other addictions that people of all ages can encounter in life.

In 2016, there was nothing in the UK that suggested this would be a possibility. The Churchill Fellowship has not only helped to kickstart the conversation around Collegiate Recovery on this side of the Atlantic, it has also created a network of engaged people committed to making it a reality.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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