Researching peer support in recovery from drug and alcohol misuse 

This blog explores the ongoing Community Research Grants project ‘Investigating the role of peer support in recovery from drug and alcohol misuse’. This is a collaboration between York in Recovery and York St John University researchers within the Converge Evaluation and Research Team (CERT). The project seeks to understand the perceptions and experiences of those who engage with York in Recovery’s network, to gain a clearer understanding of the role it plays in the wider recovery community. 

 The collaboration context: York’s recovery landscape  

 Although York ranks as one of the least deprived local authority districts in England (comparable with local authorities of a similar level of socioeconomic level of deprivation) the city has a long way to go in addressing its addiction support and treatment provisions. For example, rates of admission to hospital for drug-related mental and behavioural disorders in York is more than double the national average. In York, 45.3% of opiate/crack cocaine users are not in treatment, and 84.1% of dependent drinkers are not in treatment (Public Health England, 2022).

York-CityscapeThis provides the background for a comprehensive report composed by Ruth Lambley from CERT into York’s drug and alcohol addiction landscape. Ruth’s assessment was the starting point for an ongoing Community Research Grant funded collaboration with York in Recovery CIC. The voluntary group operates as a non-statutory, peer-led support system. Uniquely, York in Recovery do not have a determined starting point for those to join, such as already having achieved abstinence. It is open to anyone in the York community who is either in recovery or who may not yet be in recovery but have an interest. 

 York In Recovery: peer-led support system 

 The group offers various support systems including weekly cafes at three different locations (Acomb Garth, St Bedes and Celemthorpe Community Centre). From 2022-2023 the three cafes had a total of 1214 visits. The cafes are a hub that bring together those going through recovery, as well as those working to support them. Support is also offered through a series of WhatsApp groups, which is a practice less utilised by other recovery services. They operate to share information, form an ever-accessible community and meet requests with ‘support, love and understanding’.

It is the use of new channels for recovery support, actioned by York in Recovery, that are being examined by researchers at York St John. The partnership, which started in September 2022, has already forged a strong network and a desire for long-lasting collaboration.  

 Main research approaches and themes 

As explained by Ruth Lambley: “The aim of our research will be to understand the perceptions and experiences of those who attend meetings and to gain a clearer understanding of the role it plays in the wider recovery community.” 

Mark Green, Project Manager for York in Recovery, stated that even the starting point of producing an overview of the ‘recovery landscape’ of York was hugely beneficial. Academics have and continue to attend cafes to observe and chat to people about their engagement with York in Recovery. The researchers will also be creating a questionnaire through participatory research approach, meaning the survey will be co-created with those who work with and utilise York in Recovery services.  

Ruth explained: ‘It is vital that our research is participant led as the words we use, the way we interpret language and ascribe meaning should be best informed by those who engage with York in Recovery and who are, in fact, the experts.’ It was a clear match between York in Recovery and CERT from the get-go, with academics having experience in complex issues in mental health education provision. 

The Community Research Grant partnership formally ends in July 2023. By this time, a literature review on peer support addiction will be produced, aligned with the priorities of York in Recovery and impact driven practices. Also, an evaluation of how York in Recovery’s practice is ‘different’, using evidence from observation, interviews and surveys to provide evidence.

Mark Green said: ‘In applying for the CRG, we saw this as an opportunity to get real insight into what we do, to hold a mirror up to our impact so we can expand on what is working best and address any blind spots we may have. It is a rare opportunity to have the expertise of an academic team behind us, and their prioritising our experiential knowledge has been important for us.’ 

 Advice for Community Research Grant applicants  

 Whilst Ruth and CERT were used to working collaboratively with charitable groups, for York in Recovery this collaborative project alongside academics was very new. Mark expressed in honest terms that, on starting the application for the funding, there was a sense of being overwhelmed as it was a step into the unknown – academia seemed ‘another world’. However, it became evident early on that there were vastly more similarities than differences and the partnership valued expertise of all types.  

 Mark said: ‘We see this as the start of a long-lasting relationship with the University. Whilst it can seem daunting as a non-academic, the CRG has opened our work to new conversations, and we have been on the same page from the start. ‘For any groups who are thinking of applying, I would say have no fear, and be confident in the similarities you share with interested academics. It has been inspiring through our current collaboration to explore the shared care, vision and drive for positive impact we all hold, even though we come from different professional backgrounds.’

There is a briefing event for applications for the 2023 ISJ Community Research Grants on 20 March, with a deadline for applications of the 28 April. Visit our website for further information on how to submit a proposal.