Recovery successes during Covid

Recovery successes during Covid - 08/04/2021

‘Among all the stress and heartache of the past year, we’ve also seen some real recovery successes’, explains Carl Bridden, Community Engagement Coordinator from the Sheffield Treatment and Recovery Team (START).

‘Some of our clients have really pushed on with their recovery and made great progress. For some of them, with their communities being closed down, and everybody staying home, it gave them the opportunity to step back and get some breathing space. Their lives were chaotic before, but with some of that pressure reduced, and the ability to take a rest from negative influences around them, many of our clients have found time to work on their recovery and are doing really well now’.

The START team, based in the city centre, provides information, advice, support and treatment to help people make changes to their drinking or substance use and begin their recovery journey. They also provide support to family members who are affected by someone else’s drinking and substance use.

When people first access support, the team carries out an assessment looking at physical health, the wider social situation, the impact that drinking or substance use might be having, and agree on a plan for how to proceed with care. This may include accessing talking therapies or getting support from medical and nursing teams. For people injecting substances, there is a needle exchange, providing sterile injecting equipment, sharps bins and safer injecting advice to help reduce risks.

When the first lockdown hit in March 2020, the START team began working from home, and face to face groups switched to virtual. The popular breakfast club, originally run from Addaction, switched to a twice weekly online drop-in on Monday and Friday mornings. The drop-in provides the opportunity for people to check in, access support and harm reduction advice, and discuss strategies for the upcoming few days.

Carl explains, ‘the good thing about the breakfast club was that people could access it whether they were in treatment or not. Often, someone dropping in for a hot drink and some breakfast was their first point of contact with us, and through carefully building up that trust over the coming weeks, we could start to encourage them to consider treatment when they were ready. We’ve kept the Online Drop-in, a sort of online cafe open to all, but we still need an email address to send the meeting link out to, so for some that’s a stumbling block, but for others it’s working well and starting to build those relationships in a safe way for everyone’.

Once people begin to access support, they join a Preparation for Change virtual group, which is substance based, and provides regular contact with staff and peers. Work begins on keeping diaries, and looking at treatment options, with a focus on building up rapport within the group. ‘Many of those in early stage recovery find the groups motivational, in that the group all wants to succeed together. They are spurred on by seeing the progress that their peers are making and that gives them the push they need to keep going when it gets tough’, comments Carl.

As clients begin to get more stability in their lives and recovery journeys, they move on to more structured groups, looking at relapse prevention, and then abstinence helping them develop strategies for maintaining the changes they have made in their lives.

‘We’ve seen some great progress with female clients who attend our Woman- Up group’, says Carl. ‘The group looks at relapse prevention and is run in a peer orientated way, with group members developing strategies and methods that work for them, and supporting each others’ progress. Virtual sessions seem to have really worked with our female clients, and we’ve seen attendance and engagement increase, likely because they are able to access the groups from home, in a way that’s safe for them’.

‘That’s something we’re looking to capitalise on after lockdown ends: how we can keep sessions remote for those who benefit from that, but face to face for people who need human contact. We had building work planned for the office this year, and it's fallen well as there are less people in the building at the moment. We’re thinking through what we need in our new offices to enable this hybrid offering that’s a mix of remote and in person. Our focus is on making sure we don’t see people start to disengage again because our service no longer supports them in a way they need. Learning and developing new ways to make recovery work for people has been one of the true positives of this past year’.

You can find out more about the work of START, and how to refer to their services here:


Alison Wise, for Help us Help, April 2021.