DDN July_Aug_2022 DDN July/August 2022 | Page 12

‘ Everybody who comes to our project starts as members ... We like to treat everybody as if they ’ re a member of the family .’
WE ’ RE JUST PEOPLE The hugely successful Red Rose Recovery group had come out of the Lancashire User Forum , Peter Yarwood told the conference , and didn ’ t focus on ‘ labels like harm reduction or abstinence – we ’ re just people . We want to create a space where we can have a little bit of autonomy and make a difference in our communities .’ This year it had celebrated its tenth anniversary and now had one hundred staff – 95 of whom had lived experience . ‘ That might make us the biggest LERO in the
United Kingdom ,’ he said .
‘ I ’ m one of those people who ’ s a lived experience worker ,’ said Red Rose Recovery team leader Sarah O ’ Mara . ‘ I destroyed my life with drink and drugs , and during that time I was given many labels – a failure , irresponsible , a drunk , an addict , and I had no confidence in myself . But a year into my recovery and looking to give back to those people who ’ d held me up when I couldn ’ t hold myself up , I found Red Rose Recovery – people who believed in me . And very quickly I was brought into that community , that family .’
The organisation ’ s community support took many forms , including online and face-to-face groups , and some that were ‘ just about connection ’, she said . ‘ We have a lot of fun . We didn ’ t get clean and sober to spend our lives miserable . We did it to create the best lives we possibly could , and that ’ s what we try to help people to do . We ’ re there to give that continuity of care .’
BACK TO OUR ROOTS Penrose Roots , the Social Interest Group ’ s ( SIG ) garden-based project had started in 2013 , said service manager Samantha Smith ,
beginning with a small allotment space . ‘ We had this vision that we could do something much bigger so we went to the council and harassed them until they gave us a one-acre site in Luton .’ In 2016 the project began taking on volunteers as members of staff , and the project ‘ just grew and grew ’, adding a bicycle recycling scheme and much more . ‘ In 2021 , after being one of the only projects in Luton and Bedfordshire to be able to continue through COVID , we finally became fully funded .’
The project is part of the ‘ green prescription ’ implementation across Luton and Milton Keynes – ‘ getting people out of their social isolation ’ – and also works with the NHS and public health to share best practice to maximise engagement . ‘ We also work alongside the local authority to improve deprived areas and create new green spaces on unused pieces of land ’, she said , as well as supporting churches and communities to ‘ clean up their local unloved areas ’.
‘ I work in a beautiful public gardens in a 150-foot greenhouse ,’ said the project ’ s horticultural trainer , Sally Waller . ‘ During mental health awareness week we planted loads of lettuces and people loved it . We work with local schools , the NHS recovery college , and some of our people worked in local food banks during the pandemic . We harvested around 600 kilos of vegetables , and were working with local community kitchens .’
‘ Everybody who comes to our project starts as members – we
don ’ t use the term “ service user ” – but they can move on to become a support volunteer or a lead volunteer ’ said Smith . Ninety-five per cent of staff were people with lived experience , and ‘ we like to treat everybody as if they ’ re a member of the family ’, she said . According to a member survey , 94 per cent of members had learned a new skill , 100 per cent stated that their mood had improved , and 100 per cent had made new friends , with more than half now meeting those friends outside of the project .
Members had a sense of ownership and were consulted on every aspect of the project , with great care taken to avoid barriers , she stated . ‘ We don ’ t have any hefty paperwork , and if someone doesn ’ t come along then we ’ ll do a weekly welfare check – not to say , “ you ’ re not coming back if you don ’ t turn up ” but purely to let them know what ’ s happening . So if they do come back – whether that ’ s the following week , or month , or year – they ’ ll have been kept up to date with what ’ s going on .’ DDN