Changing Lives are currently celebrating nine years of our structured day programme Oaktrees in Gateshead. In this blog, Area Manager James Ward talks about how the programme was developed in partnership with the recovery communities of Newcastle and Gateshead after the need for an intensive, abstinence based, non-residential treatment option was missing for people in the North East.

Over the last 9 years we have celebrated the graduation of 361 people who have achieved and maintained freedom from dependence. Oaktrees has ensured that recovery is at the heart of Changing Lives’ services and a part of our day to day language, even before being enshrined in the UK’s Drug Strategy 2010. It has also influenced the development of our recovery offer including our Recovery Centre model and is currently a crucial part of our coproduction of system change in York.

Since 2009 the model has evolved based upon changing needs. We now deliver the programme in four other areas and each varies to meet the needs of the local communities in which they operate.  The programme now has an enhanced pre-treatment offer for people who have been prescribed opiate substitutes for more than six years, options for people to reduce and come off their prescriptions whilst in the structured day programme, and has incorporated the Women in Recovery programme.  What we consistently see however, in each of the areas, is the development of a vibrant and diverse recovery community including the increase in mutual aid and engagement with the wider community breaking down the stigma often associated with drug and alcohol dependence.

This success – as with recovery itself –  has been hard won and we continue to work hard to promote opportunities for abstinence and dispel myths around the 12 steps.  Even with the recovery agenda being supported through two consecutive drug policies this has been challenging and I have written in a previous blog about how recovery’s message of hope is not as effective in attracting funding, or attention, as the pervasive instillation of fear that previous agendas and the wider media have.  Maintaining the programme through austerity and the impact of budget cuts to Public Health spending has also been challenging, and yet despite this our evidence base shows that the Oaktrees programme continues to outperform on Public Health Outcome Frameworks compared to the national and local treatment systems.

Our approach is a simple one which is key to Changing Lives’ hope for people who suffer from addiction. Our aim?

To empower people to challenge their dependence, achieve their goals, find meaning for themselves outside of addiction.

To achieve this we:

  • Connect people and communities
  • Deliver high quality interventions that address underlying origins of dependency
  • Ensure equality of opportunity for all
  • Challenge and are challenged

It is clearly impossible to say what the next 9 years holds for drug and alcohol services let alone the Oaktrees programme.  However we can say with certainty that Changing Lives will continue to believe in people’s ability to change, regardless of their past, and that this will remain central to the services we provide.

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