Since we began emulating the work of FAVOR in America, back in 2009, we have learned a great deal about the addiction sector and its very different dynamics across the UK, as well as in other areas of the world. Since we first started organising & mobilising the recovery community and its friends & allies in the UK, we always had a very positive campaign style. However, this changed when we began to advocate for individuals in the efforts to enter the treatment access they required.
For our first decade, our work focused on celebrating the many paths to recovery and making recovery visible. These two ideas were the basis of our two most prominent straplines in these first few years and it shaped our ethos and aims significantly i.e. There Are Many Paths to Recovery – All are a Cause for Celebration & Making Recovery Visible.
Our recent high-profile campaign work, especially in Scotland, was prompted by the apparent malaise that surrounded our appalling rise in drug-related deaths. This phenomenon had become a topic of research and debate rather than a crisis that had to be urgently brought under control. We believed that this was unacceptable, and someone had to say so.
As a result, some of those who should already have provided leadership on the matter began to refer to us as “angry trouble-makers”. With over 100 deaths a month, everyone should have been angry, and in the face of such inertia, speaking up is, in the words of the late US congressman, “necessary trouble”. John Lewis also said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” FAVOR UK spoke up. Three years later, there are still more than 100 deaths every month, and we continue to speak up, because we will not allow these deaths to become normalised.
However, trouble, even good trouble, isn’t always necessary. For those who are unfamiliar with FAVOR UK, they could be forgiven for thinking that this advocacy work is all that we do. Therefore, we would like to take this opportunity to give an overview of our history and the range of activities we have created.
Although FAVOR UK was founded and continues to be based in Glasgow, its work has taken off much more successfully outside of Scotland. Our members and supporters across the UK might be surprised to know that in Scotland we are very much viewed as outsiders. This is a very strange dynamic. In Scotland because choice & access of services is so limited & deaths are so high,we have ended up in a place where as incredulous as it sounds we have written a bill – The right to recovery bill.
The reason for this could be that there is more regional autonomy in other parts of the UK than exists in Scotland, and that our communication of the faces and voices of those in recovery is more easily received. If treatment systems & services are more responsive outside of Scotland, with more flexible commissioning structures, then this could explain why they are more amenable to individual needs and less reliant on the rigid referral pathways.
FAVOR UK have been working collaboratively and successfully, for well over a decade, with many of the main charities who provide most of the treatment services in the community across the UK. We have established excellent working relationships with those in the private sector too. We have also contributed as respected valued colleagues within the strategic structures & frameworks with the previously named National Treatment Agency, public health bodies & various governmental departments for over a decade now In England, Wales & Northern Ireland.
FAVOR UK also have live working relationships with other European activist & advocacy charities in this sector such as ASUD in France & Deutsche Aidshilfe in Germany, and have collaborated with them many times to share best practice & campaign skills & successes. We are always keen to develop our understanding of the latest research & pharmaceutical developments, pass this knowledge on & contribute where we can with submissions to the various bodies that approve new medication, in particular for opioid use disorder. Much to our surprise, and dismay, we were recently the only contributor to the Scottish Medicines Council’s call for evidence for the drug Sixmo, made by the pharma company Accord. This is a slow release injectable that lasts up to six months and has the potential to revolutionise this area of the sector.
We have had to break eggs to make omelettes In Scotland. Our You keep talking we keep dying campaign has had wide reaching, positive implications for the sector overall, including £250 million investment in Scotland and £148 million in England, has given us a reputation as serious respected campaigners and leaders. In the absence of ideas from elsewhere, we will continue to articulate the wishes and needs of our members, the voice of those with lived experience.
There has recently been some pontificating about whether or not this direct confrontational style of advocacy and activism is still useful. We can only say that until we see the shift where people who are suffering get access and choice of the services they need, and with the capacity that matches the scale of the problem, we will continue to apply pressure to those with power. Just like the first decade of our positive campaigning where our membership and constituency asked us to do more, we will again respond when needed.
Of course, we hope that this will mean we won’t have to apply as much pressure. Since 2019 more people and organisations agree with us that change and investment is desperately needed both in and outside the sector. We are grateful that it won’t just be us leading the charge going forward. We are very grateful for the friends and allies we have made in neighbouring sectors of homelessness and poverty. Ideally, in fact, it would be good to have a more contemplative, development role rather than being in constant activism.
So, as you can see, we have had a decade of not breaking eggs, campaigning positively, appealing to the intellect, making the case, persuading many, building consensus, developing healthy working relationships & raising the debate across the UK about the importance of lived experiences spaces being visible vocal and, most importantly, valuable.
Much of our work has been about being bridge builders. This is most evident in The UK Recovery Declaration, where we collected the support of 148 organisations across a spectrum of services, over a two year period, from the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland, and as a result of hundreds of conversations with over 2000 people.
Our message, experience & strength is welcomed in most parts of the UK and Ireland and we have seen massive growth and development of our movement’s ideas; culminating in actual lived experience led & developed services being commissioned to deliver services both in the community and in residential care. There still appears to be resistance in Scotland to the Faces and Voices of Recovery. Across the UK and Ireland as a whole, we have a long way to go to match the 7% that the US Government has ring-fenced for recovery community organisations from all addiction spending.
We haven’t yet arrived at a place in Scotland where Lived Experience Organisations are funded with any real confidence, commitment, or investment, while we do have many live examples of this elsewhere as membership of our Association of Recovery Community Organisations (ARCO) proves (21) to date. Again, because of the culture of Scotland’s treatment system, we haven’t yet seen lived experience organisations in Scotland being funded with any real substantial investment or long term commitment.
We hope, though, our contributions to the lived experience collaborative, being led by Professor Alan Miller, and his legal expertise in human rights, will lead to final recognition of significant funding to new grassroots organisations, embedded in lived experience. If we are to reverse our unacceptable levels of drug related deaths, we must first recognise the causes. Just tonight we have heard of a another young man that we know has been found dead. Three years of failing to listen has not worked. It is now time to find the courage to change our leadership & services to ensure we listen to the needs and wishes of those seeking help.