Posted on: 31 May, 2023
Over four years ago I started attending Cranstoun Inspire in Sutton as an Abstinent Service User at the Recovery Hub. At that time, I was lost. With physical health implications due to alcohol addiction, I needed help. I didn’t know who I was, or where to turn. The groups at Cranstoun Inspire’s Recovery Hub helped me find my inner strength which helped me develop tools to use in my recovery. The groups and my peers supported me and helped bring me out of myself to discover who I actually am. They gave me a new direction and sense of what life can be. I decided to give back and try to ‘pay forward’ so became a Service User Rep at Cranstoun Inspire. Then the world flipped and along came coronavirus…
At what was a particularly unnerving and scary time during the pandemic, being a Service User Rep and then joining the other reps and their leads by becoming part of the National Service User Involvement Team (SUIT) gave me a sense of direction and helped me to develop in many ways that I never dreamed possible. The National SUIT influences organisational mechanisms where we consult upon and co-design (amongst other things), SUI policies etc, so regular SUIT meetings gave me a structure and focus, and a valuable connection that I needed at that time. In the very early days I had to quite quickly develop computer skills to attend these and other meetings which is something I have continued to use in many ways in my daily life.
Working as part of a team was challenging at times (we laughed, we cried but we got a lot done!). It taught me a lot about myself, and the support and encouragement from the National Service User Involvement Team greatly helped with my self-growth. I also feel a great sense of achievement from everything the SUIT managed to achieve during the pandemic. From learning to communicate via online technology, developing protocols for gathering Service User feedback, to assisting with writing the co-production strategy, I felt useful and my self-confidence has grown. Working with others from different parts of Cranstoun I felt part of something bigger, not just part of Cranstoun Inspire in Sutton. I can never thank Cranstoun and the other National Service User Involvement Team members enough for our time during the pandemic!
The skills and attributes I have gained from being a SUIT member continued to be with me and it’s one of the reasons I chose to enter Cranstoun’s Peer Mentor Programme which developed into becoming trained as a volunteer which I currently am at Cranstoun Inspire in Sutton. The role can be quite varied at times and pushes me so far out of my comfort zone that I could be in Timbuktu, but everything I experienced leading up to my role as a volunteer has equipped me with the skills to be confident in achieving this. The faith shown, and support given by others gives me enough courage and confidence to believe in myself. As a volunteer I co-facilitate Freetalk which is a peer-led group: “a safe place for Service Users in the abstinence programme to talk about all things recovery related and just about anything else they want as well.” I also assist with the weekly check-in group and the Friday Feelings group, where I choose the readings to discuss. I’m still involved with Cranstoun Inspire’s Service User Forums: I support the Service User Rep, (even if at times it is just a friendly face and a smile) and support the SU Lead in whatever capacity this requires at the time. I’ve progressed to becoming involved at an organisational level. I assist the National SUI Lead to facilitate the National Service User Forum and the Service User Rep training by sharing some of my experiences as a rep as this seems to be very helpful to them. I also attend the National Volunteer Steering Group and currently lead on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Working Group.
It can be quite daunting when looking back at how far I’ve come since I entered recovery four years ago, but I don’t tend to live in fear anymore, more and am excited for my future. I will always be grateful to Cranstoun for the opportunities they have offered to me for self-development, with their support, it has allowed me to grow as a person. Being a Service User Rep, a SUIT member and going through the Peer Mentor/volunteer pathway to become a small but fully fledged and important part of Cranstoun and Inspire Sutton has ‘inspired’ me. I just hope that reading this may have inspired you too!