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Recovery is a Co-Production: Building Inclusive Cities Around the Globe

Prof. Charlotte Colman & Prof. David Best


Recovery research shows that people overcome addictions by a combination of three factors: 1) personal factors such as maturation and personal motivation 2) social factors such as support from family and friends 3) community factors such as effective community reintegration and access to housing, work, recreation, treatment and active citizenship. These threefold factors are called “recovery capital”.

Recovery capital teaches us that recovery is not only an issue of personal motivation but also about acceptance by family, by friends and by a range of organisations and professionals across the community, that reduce exclusion and generate pathways to community resources that most of us take for granted. It stresses that recovery is a co-production with people in recovery as active agents in shaping their own pathways.

Initially, research and practice mainly focused on understanding personal and social factors in recovery. But today we know that what is equally, or even more, important in recovery, is one’s relationship with the community, in other words community capital. In fact, recovery happens in the community, it does not happen in a vacuum. Therefore to support pathways to recovery, structural and contextual endeavors are needed to supplement individually-oriented interventions and programmes. Overall, we distinguish three types of community capital: 1. Recovery support groups and organisations; 2. Professional services such as housing and mental health services and 3. Community groups and associations like churches and social clubs.

(Re)building one’s relationship with the community is however a difficult journey. While the community could be central to recovery by building and strengthening bridges between diverse community members, this community could also act as a barrier to recovery. People who struggle with addiction, even those in recovery, might experience exclusion, stigma and discrimination from different members in that community such as employers not offering them a job, landlords who discriminate against them, or neighbours who ignore them. Such a community imposes negative consequences for sustaining the recovery process of its citizens and, as a consequence, on their partners, children and families. In contrast, where clear pathways to recovery exist, there is likely to be a stronger belief that change is possible and hope that recovery can be achieved.

THE GOAL OF INCLUSIVE CITIES: the “Inclusive Cities Charter”

It is against this backdrop of exclusion, stigma and discrimination at a community level that the drive for Inclusive Cities arises.

The idea of an Inclusive City is based on theoretical principles such as community recovery capital resources, and the recovery pillars of CHIME (Connection, Hope, Identity, Meaning and Empowerment). Basically, an Inclusive City is the translation of the concept of a Recovery Oriented System of Care (where all services work together to create multiple pathways to support recovery) to the city level, and with the potential application of this model to other excluded and marginalized groups.

An Inclusive City promotes participation, inclusion, full and equal citizenship to all her citizens, including those in recovery. The central idea of an Inclusive City is to create a community so that no one should walk the recovery path alone, and that there are connections and opportunities for all to be active and participating citizens.

The most fitting setting to create such a community is the city level, rather than at a national level. A city hosts a lot of actors who want to see change, who want to help people with addictions and in recovery. Cities are seedbeds to offer hope and a sustainable future.

The first purpose of Inclusive Cities is to make recovery visible. From research we know that people discriminate more often when they are not familiar with the topic. It means you are more reluctant to and often afraid of something that you don’t know. Also, only the negative consequences of addiction might be visible in our cities through needles in the park, intoxicated people dwelling on the streets. Cities mostly invest in making those negative consequences invisible instead of making recovery visible.

The second purpose of Inclusive Cities is to celebrate recovery by organizing activities that bring people together. After all, we celebrate a lot of events in our lives such as graduation or the birth of your son. It involves a ritual and the role of such rituals is to foster social bonding, strengthen solidarity and social cohesion by bringing people together and celebrating success. Celebrating the change process of a person in recovery is beneficial, not only for the person in recovery, but also for the community as a whole. Visible people in recovery, (we also call them ‘recovery champions’), spread the possibility of recovery among those who need it most…they are the living example that recovery is possible and that a life in recovery is a productive and successful life.

In an Inclusive City, the city council, private and public organisations, housing facilities, welfare and health centers, employers, neighbours, people in recovery and their families come together to make recovery visible and to celebrate it.

Our first focus of Inclusive Cities is towards people in recovery from illicit drug and alcohol use. The larger aim, however, is to challenge exclusion and stigma through a championed model of reintegration for other excluded and vulnerable populations in the near future, by channeling peer successes and building on innovation and existing connections.

Examples of Inclusive Cities

Becoming an Inclusive City is a process that takes time and even small steps, mostly focusing on making recovery visible and celebrate it in the community by raising public awareness, are steps towards the right direction.

Today, several cities across Europe and further afield have raised their interest to become an Inclusive City. To assist them in building this Inclusive City, we have designed an Inclusive Cities Action plan, consisting of the steps that you could take in translating your city into an inclusive city for people in recovery from addiction (see .

Our action plan focuses on three main steps to take and aims to structurally embed the “Inclusive City”- work in local policy and practice. One of the central steps is the organisation of activities. According to the resources available in the community, several activities could be organised, ranging from the provision of mutual aid and peer support for people in recovery and educational campaigns or recovery games over establishing inter-sectoral partnerships to promote social inclusion, to carrying out activities and setting up structures to change attitudes and reduce stigma towards recovery, providing incentives for employers to employ persons in recovery and implementing anti-discrimination policy.

Remember that the overarching aims of the events are to 1) make recovery visible and 2) to celebrate recovery and bring people together. Additional aims are:

  • To create new connections for people in recovery

  • To encourage people struggling with addictions that recovery is possible

  • To engage the wider public and challenge stigma

  • To engage and involve policy makers and practitioners

  • To contribute to the connectedness and wellbeing of the wider community

Case studies and examples of activities that fit within an Inclusive City-idea:

  • The city of Ghent included in their Local Drug Policy plan the aim to focus on recovery and inclusiveness. They kicked off the idea of becoming an Inclusive city with an Inspiration and network event (also called a Recovery College) in 2022. This event brought together a diverse audience of practitioners, policy makers, people in recovery and their family members. It focused on visibility, connectedness and sharing knowledge about recovery. During the event The Inclusive City Council revealed the plans for the future, 6-monthly, activities relating to their specific Inclusive City’s mission.

  • Fork in the Road in Middlesbrough and Café Sobar in Nottingham are recovery cafes. A recovery cafe is a social place where people can support each other in their recovery journey. Because the cafe aims to promote social integration and broaden social networks, it is open to everyone: people in recovery, volunteers and the general public. Also activities are regularly organised in the café, including training programs to become recovery coaches, social and hobby groups and recovery support groups.

  • Recovery Connections in Middlesbrough has a recovery café and restaurant called Fork in the Road, a Coffee Bike that carries the message into the community, a recovery florist called Blooms and a recovery hub which offers drop-in and recovery coaching sessions.

  • Jobs, Friends and Houses in Blackpool is a social enterprise model. In this project, people in recovery learn to build and renovate houses. Afterwards, these houses become available for sale or rent by people in recovery. So, they learn a skill during an apprenticeship and as such could obtain en maintain employment. It is linked to recovery housing and they help the community by renovating abandoned houses and as such prevent “a broken windows” idea in that neighbourhood. JFH is also intentionally visible, with branding on t-shirts and company vehicles.

  • Recovery Games: this event started as a bottom-up project in Doncaster and is organised every year. The recovery games are fun based sports activities with practitioners, people in recovery, family and the community. You could also call it a community party. More than 1000 people from England, Scotland and Wales attended the edition of 2022

By building a learning set of cities across the world, the idea of Inclusive Cities might be implemented and tested in practice. When several cities engage with the idea of Inclusive Cities, ingredients and –hopefully- good practices to improve social justice and community engagement could be shared.

We are here to help you in building your Inclusive City. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Prof. David Best:

Prof. Charlotte Colman:


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