Nurture Development

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) come to life

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A place to thrive

The following article appears in today’s (8 Apr 2014) Drink and Drugs News Magazine. Download the magazine as a PDF here.

Like recovery, addiction is a social issue that cannot be divorced from broader social, economic and political contexts. These are contexts that concern us all and which, for us at Nurture Development, situate issues of addiction and recovery firmly within the bounds of social justice.

I doubt many would disagree. It is rare to find a discussion about these issues without looking to the families and networks that the individual is part of; the economic prosperity of the communities they have come from; the emotional or physical trauma they may have suffered; the opportunities they have for education, training and employment; or an investigation of their well-being, physical and mental health. And so on.

It is these issues that reveal the catalysts and journey to addiction for people and will often suggest the likely trajectory of their recovery journey. But they are also the same issues that are pertinent to all of our lives and it is through the mapping of these issues over time that people like Bruce Alexander as well as our ABCD colleagues, John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann, tell a story of ‘the globalization of addiction’ in a post-modern society that promotes individualism, free market economies, competition and professionalisation.

‘It is the people, caught in this web of counterproductive systems, who must seek survival in the hopeless spaces available. They react in many ways, just as we would. They strike out in anger, as some of us would. They create productive, phoenix-like new ventures and initiatives, as some of us would. They despair and retreat into addictions, as some of us would. They are normal people in an abnormal world, surrounded by expensive, costly helping systems that are the walls that bound their lives. To defy those walls, they must live abnormal lives – often productive sometimes destructive, always creative.’ John McKnight – The Careless Society. Community and its counterfeits

This may seem like an odd way to start a discussion about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), which tends to err on the side of strength, positivity, and abundance. But it is an important layer of context to what follows. Because as we’re talking about addiction and recovery as issues of social justice, we propose that we must stop focussing on addiction and recovery, in the same way that we must stop focussing on mental health, on rehabilitation of prisoners, on domestic violence, or on tackling levels of obesity. We must move away from siloed thinking, siloed budgets, siloed cultures and siloed practices and start focussing on how we collectively address the weak communities in which these social ills thrive and build the competencies of communities so that they can reclaim their power in addressing them.

Recovery is only possible in healthy communities but our communities need to recover too. We need a whole community recovery agenda, not just a whole person recovery one, that doesn’t simply focus on a single issue and offers a radically different approach to the ‘four pillars’ of traditional responses to drug and alcohol addiction (treatment, prevention, law enforcement and harm reduction) that have ultimately failed.

This is where we suggest that an ABCD approach will add the most value. For us, this approach goes beyond traditional strength-based approaches and it promotes citizen-led community building that is independent of service provision and single issue agendas. The things that people in recovery need to live a full life, for example, are no different to what everyone else needs e.g. positive relationships, job/purposeful activity, somewhere safe and secure to live, and they are no different to the things that are needed to address anti-social behaviour and crime, loneliness and depression or obesity and declining mental health.

ABCD focusses on what is strong, not what is wrong, in individuals and communities. It seeks to enable people to become active contributors to their communities, building relationships and connections with the abundance – both potential and actual – that exists in relationships with their neighbours and in the communities around them.

Our approach to community building is a method for individual and whole community transformation. It is not about building ‘recovery communities’. That is not to say that recovery communities are not important: there are some incredible examples around the UK, especially those that have been built by grassroots groups and organisations. But too often these become part of the service landscape. Something happens when they become professionalised, something that means they begin to conform – often without realising it – to the deeply entrenched thinking of the system they are now linked to.

Despite the mountains of data collected about people within the various systems e.g. benefits, housing, treatment etc., there is still an incredible lack of evidence about what works, at what points and for who when it comes to a number of things including drug and alcohol addiction and recovery. For us, it is not necessarily a question about harm reduction or abstinence. Our money is on healthy, vibrant and hospitable communities that welcome people in from the margins.

Check out our new Recovery & ABCD Training Brochure

It is in community building that individuals in their communities are awakened to their capacity to care for one another, to create safe and hospitable environments, to build resilient local economies and to heal and support people to live fulfilled lives. In doing so, reliance on public services reduces so that their resources are focussed only on those things that people and communities cannot do for themselves.

We’re using an ABCD approach in our ‘Learning Sites’ across the UK to build on the largely American evidence base that demonstrates the power that this approach has across a variety of issues. These Learning Sites are championed by local leaders who are brave early adopters of an approach that challenges us all to think and behave differently, work in different ways and step into our citizenship.

As part of the development of this evidence base, we’ll shortly be embarking on an exciting programme of work across 9 prisons and 15 communities in the north-west alongside Mark Gilman, PHE Strategic Recovery Lead, and a range of experienced partners from the criminal justice and recovery fields. ABCD provides the ethical and theoretical framework for this innovative programme in a way that is radical and transformational and corresponds with wider PHE and public service reforms; moving beyond a narrow focus on service / system reform. As such it recognises that it is in strong, connected and inclusive communities that recovery thrives and sets out a community building agenda which reaches into the prisons, through the gates and into the heart of communities.

We share our learning regularly through our website and blogs and invite you all to join our journey and be part of the ABCD movement and contribute to our growing understanding about how we can collectively improve social justice.

In addition to the work at our Learning Sites, we provide one and two day training workshops for anyone interested in learning more about the ABCD approach and the tools needed to bring ABCD alive in their communities. Download the Recovery & ABCD Training Brochure here. Find out more about What We Do.

If you would like to discuss any of the ideas discussed here, please contact Rebecca Daddow, Recovery and Justice Lead on or visit


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Allopathy, recovery and rehabilitation

As a historian cum anthropologist cum criminologist, it will come as little surprise that I am drawn to historical perspectives of the development of behaviours, cultures, norms, attitudes, practices and policies as much as I am to the behaviour, culture, norm, attitude, practice or policy, itself. The journey to the endpoint is almost always a fascinating combination of factors that are wholly revealing about why we – as a society – are in the predicament we are, especially when we investigate issues of addiction and recovery or crime and rehabilitation; the focus of this blog.

Notwithstanding the range of important events and developments that have had a significant impact on these areas, lately I’ve been interested in how allopathy and allopathic models have shaped, and continue to shape, the conventional wisdom that underpins how we think about and address addiction and recovery and crime and rehabilitation. This is something that John McKnight looks at in The Careless Society in relation to ‘rehabilitation services’ and which, although the language is different, Bruce Alexander points to in The Globalization of Addiction.

Allopathic medicine emerged as the primary Western medical model in the mid to late nineteenth century as scientific progress gathered pace and produced a number of vaccines for particular diseases. Its basic premise, as McKnight points out, is that ‘the malady is in the person and the cure is achieved by professional intrusion into that person’; that the problem is within the person and needs to be treated by an expert, with medicine and / or some kind of treatment.

Quote for allopathy blog 1This ideology was a comfortable bed-fellow of the prevailing social, cultural and political interests that defined the ‘late-modern’ era, with politically charged drives for greater individual responsibility and a smaller state towards a globalised free-market economy. And it is this ideology that has led us for so long, to look to professionals, services and systems for a cure or a solution to what are now, politically charged issues of crime and addiction.

But times are a-changing and the conventional wisdom no longer fits as comfortably as it once did. There isn’t the money to be pumped into systems – which are ultimately failing – to keep them afloat. And the importance of strong positive networks in vibrant communities is once again at fore of almost every agenda, from tackling poverty to mental health, addiction and recovery and crime and rehabilitation.

Quote for allopathy blog 2The challenge is that, whether you’re looking at addiction and recovery or crime and rehabilitation, we are all still struggling as ‘allopathic captives’ and even as our understanding about what works develops, we will find it difficult to move beyond the deeply entrenched systems or the false dichotomies (e.g. is addiction a ‘medical’ or ‘criminal’ problem; are people who commit crime ‘out of control’ or ‘acting of their own free will’ etc. etc.) that are ‘irresolvable debates that dissipate intellectual energy, hindering progress towards the paradigm shift that is needed’.

‘Despite the increased focus on recovery in recent years, the evidence remains patchy around what works best, at what points and for who. Combined with this, addiction is still largely considered and treated as a health and criminal issue with allopathic responses seen as the primary solution. Even with the broad understanding of recovery as a social process, this places the fundamental challenge on the individual’s shoulders, focussing on a ‘malady within’ and seeks to bring ‘recovery capital’ to bear in mending the problem. It does little to identify and address the deeply entrenched socio-economic and political conditions that may have led to the substance use in the first place.’ An extract from our new Recovery & ABCD Training Brochure

What we need is something transformational that can navigate the limitations of the allopathic ideology and its consequences. We believe ABCD offers just that. Since the beginning of the year we have been developing a training package* for those involved in the recovery sector, in particular, who are interested in finding out what ABCD could do in their neighbourhoods, for all those affected by addiction and recovery in their communities and through the services on offer. We want to help to build a strong evidence base about what can be achieved together through ABCD and be part of the movement that shifts us all away from a careless and dislocated society.

*Training packages will shortly be available for those interested in Policing, Prisons, and the wider Criminal Justice System.

Download the Recovery & ABCD Training Brochure.

Rebecca Daddow


Are we all addicted?

You’ve probably heard people state that addiction is blind to status, fortune, and situation. It’s often said when talking about drug or alcohol addiction and you’ll be directed to the sad deaths of the rich and famous to make the point all the more resonant, offering a stark alternative to the stereotypical image of the gaunt, penniless, criminal heroin addict so often depicted.

The statement may in fact be truer than we realise at first. Read, for example, Bruce Alexander’s The Globalization of Addiction and you will find a compelling narrative that sets out how, in today’s post-modern world, most of us have ‘severe addictions’. They may not be addictions to drugs or alcohol but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less dangerous. The growth in ‘the compulsion for money, power, work, food, or material goods’ is our preoccupation as individuals and as a nation. They are our addictions… and little we do seems to be having a significant impact.

I’m drawn to Alexander’s work largely as it recognises addiction, as well as recovery, as a social issue that cannot be divorced from a broader social and economic context that concerns us all. And as such, it requires a whole community response that doesn’t simply focus on a single issue whether that’s recovery, well-being, mental or physical health, and so on. He points to the ‘four pillars’ of traditional responses to substance misuse as an example: treatment, prevention, law enforcement and harm reduction. They have ultimately failed and we need a radically different approach.

Unsurprisingly, I think that’s what ABCD offers; a radically different approach that focusses on community building – not ‘Recovery Community’ building – as a method for individuals and whole community transformation. It is an approach that speaks to the broader social and economic contexts in which people develop addictions and recover from them. It’s an approach that asks, if we’re all addicted then don’t we all need to recover?

These are big issues for exploration and we’re looking forward to pursuing them through our growing community-based work across the UK, our training and our online and offline discussions. I hope you will be part of our exploration!

Becs Daddow

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Recovery, transformation and justice through an ABCD lens

Finding genuine community alternatives to prison sentences and other custodial programmes that transform the lives of the people who committed the crimes, their victims, their families and the wider community, is near the top of Nurture Development’s agenda.

We all know that justice is not a product that can be unilaterally dispensed by law enforcement or the judiciary. It is simply not within the power of the Police, judiciary, the prison service, probation or any other professional to rehabilitate people and produce more just societies which is fundamentally about tackling issues of poverty and health inequality. These are issues of social justice, more so than criminal justice, and their complexity demands a community-wide response.

Similarly, we know that the recovery journey is essentially a whole community challenge; that recovery capital does not reside within an individual alone, or in the professional services they receive, but is found, nurtured, strengthened and reinforced by friends, neighbours and wider communities.

In short it takes a village to create and sustain the conditions for recovery, transformation and justice.

Nurture Development is passionate about contributing to radically tackling these challenges and I am really pleased that Rebecca Daddow has agreed to bring her experience; heart felt commitment and leadership to this challenge, as Nurture Development’s Recovery and Justice Lead.

Read on as Rebecca introduces her new role. Welcome on board Becs!

Cormac Russell


I’m yet to find a sector, topic, organisation or community in which ABCD cannot be applied. It’s the beauty of the approach. Its relevance to everyone and to pretty much anything in our communities, means that we – Nurture Development – are invited to train and create and implement development programmes with those who have a primary interest in a whole range of areas including mental health, vulnerable young people, system change, probation, disabilities, environment, well-being, prisons, organisational transformation, co-production… You name it and we’ve probably brought ABCD to it in some way.

Our door remains open to anyone wishing to learn more about – and apply – ABCD in their community. But my work will be more focussed; placing the ABCD lens over 2 specific areas that have featured significantly in my research and practical work for the last 6 years:

1. Recovery; primarily from drug and alcohol misuse

2. Justice; primarily criminal justice, looking at meaningful community alternatives to traditional models of desistance and rehabilitation

It won’t be the first time that ABCD has been brought into these areas. There are some fantastic examples of ABCD in action within recovery communities, and, in regards to criminal justice, the Scottish Prison Service has been open about its incorporation of ABCD in its strategic priorities for 2014 onwards.

We have been thrilled to be part of many of these developments to date and we want to build on them. There is so much potential in ABCD to invigorate and catalyse positive change within individuals and communities in ways that will support sustainable transformation.

Keep up with our thinking, ideas and developments here on our blog or via our Twitter feed. And if you would like to discuss training opportunities or possible collaboration, email me at

Rebecca Daddow

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Bring our children back to where they belong: the centre of our communities

“Some people think children are just there to grow into adults, but they’re actually very important. Maybe adults should listen more to children’s ideas because sometimes a child’s idea can be really good and adults don’t listen.”

Children and young people have an enormous amount to contribute to the development of our communities. They are brimming with ideas, imagination and incredible talents that too often go unheard, unsolicited, and are made to feel unwelcome. It’s as if we’re simply waiting for them to grow into adults in order to have a say and to make a ‘valuable’ contribution.

By which point, it might be too late.

Today, Cormac will be giving the Children 1st Annual Lecture in Scotland, in which he will be pointing to some of the unintended consequences that the increase in professional or supervised ‘care’ has had on the perception of children in our communities, our ability to embrace their gifts and on how safe and welcome they feel on their streets. This is because, Cormac will argue, that we have become far too used to ‘exiling’ our children, especially our most vulnerable, from their neighbourhoods into institutions, and the role of strong communities in meeting the needs of all children has been marginalised. Now is the time to bring them back to the centre of our communities, where they belong.

In his Lecture, Cormac will go onto to say that “this is not just a Scottish issue but as Scotland looks to its future, it’s timely for everyone to stand back and consider what really matters. And what matters to me is how children are perceived in societies. Too often, children – especially our most vulnerable children – are a problem to be fixed, instead of the solution. We don’t ask them enough how they feel and when we do, the response is often heart-rending. They want to feel safe, wanted and welcomed.

“Yet, what we do with the most vulnerable children – and Scotland is no exception – is pay professionals to care for them. But care is not a commodity. It can’t be traded, bought or paid for. We – that’s individuals, communities and society – have effectively outsourced our responsibility to our children. Yet, those responsibilities to nurture and to love our children are fundamental to a healthy society.

“My message to Scotland tonight is that we need to change how we think and what we do. We need to stop perceiving children as a problem and start seeing what they offer. We need to think about what they can contribute not about what they receive. Sometimes, it’s the most vulnerable children who have the greatest gifts to offer, yet how often are they asked to contribute those gifts and share them with others, for the benefit of their communities?

All children need strong, capable, loving communities. We need to stop exiling them to institutions, expecting professionals to unilaterally raise our most marginalised children. A good childhood cannot be created by professional systems, it is simply not within their gift. They can of course contribute, support and facilitate, but there is no substitution for a caring community.

“If we invest in communities to be strong and enable people in our communities to grow, then they will develop the capacity to provide the support and care all our children need.

“It takes a village to raise a child. Just because it’s an old saying doesn’t make it a false one. Instead what we have created is ghettos to deal with people we perceive as problems. Residential institutions for vulnerable members of our society are just wrong. Yet, if we get back to thinking in the old ways, then we can create much brighter futures for vulnerable children, in communities which welcome them for who they are, what they offer and can contribute.”

In a Press Release circulated in advance of tonight’s lecture, Anne Houston, Chief Executive of Children 1st added “We asked Cormac to deliver our Lecture for 2013 because we knew he would set us a challenge. It’s vital that we put children first in thinking about how we shape our future. Our organisation was founded as the RSSPCC almost 130 years ago on the principles Cormac expounds and on the belief that we all have to take responsibility to protect children.

“For some time, we’ve shared Cormac’s concern that we have effectively left protecting children to the professionals. Which is why we are investing in programmes which engage with individuals and communities to think about what they can do to keep children safe. What can they change in their attitudes and behaviour to create more welcoming, nurturing places for children to grow up?

“It’s vital too to make children part of this conversation, to get them thinking about how they can look out for themselves and each other. As our engagement with children around Dr Seuss’s story “Horton Hears a Who” shows, children have great ideas and views to contribute. They want to be part of working out what can make a difference, to their own lives and to everyone in their communities.**

“We cannot leave it to someone else to look out for children. We all have a role to play in that. And if we become a more child-centred society – which not only considers children’s well-being and welfare but thinks about the environment they need in which to thrive safely – then our children will grow up happier, healthier and safer.

“It’s a simple message but a complex one to achieve. But we hope that Cormac’s lecture and activities like ours will give impetus to policy makers and professionals to make a start.”

**Leading up to Cormac’s lecture, volunteers from Children 1st asked several children to read ‘Horton Hears a Who‘ by Dr Seuss and think about the book’s message. The book tells the story of Horton the elephant who – despite ridicule from the other animals – protects the microscopic ‘Whos’. Horton declares, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

The following examples give a flavour of the thoughtful responses the children gave when asked about the book:

“We’ve got to respect everyone in the world because everyone’s the same as us – just maybe smaller, taller, older, younger, different coloured skin. And we’re also different in loads of ways.”

“Even small people should be cared about and not damaged because they’re the most likely people to get hurt, or for their talents to be destroyed.”

“I would tell my friends’ mummies to read it to their kids.”

“Some people think children are just there to grow into adults, but they’re actually very important. Maybe adults should listen more to children’s ideas because sometimes a child’s idea can be really good and adults don’t listen.”

We’re really pleased to be with Children 1st to deliver this year’s Annual Lecture. We really look forward to being part of the conversation that will develop Scotland’s vision for the future in this area.

Follow #abcdScot on Twitter for instant updates of Cormac’s visit and the Annual Lecture later today.

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Around England & Wales in 14 days

Perhaps not as intrepid nor far-reaching as the inspirational venture behind the title of my blog (Around the World in 80 Days), next week sees the start of an adventure that is no less exciting. You may have an inkling about this if you’ve been following our Twitter feed lately… we may have been a little preoccupied with it!

Yes, next week we are delighted to welcome Jim Diers to UK shores. The world renowned community builder has many accolades:

But the one that we’re most proud about – there may be some bias here – is Jim’s association with Nurture Development. And it is with this hat on that Jim, joined by Cormac and Martin, embarks on a 14 day adventure across England and Wales to talk community, ABCD, Timebanking, collaboration, empowerment, connecting and everything in between.

ABCD Adventure mapMonday 4 November: ABCD Community Connectors. Croydon

Tuesday 5 November: A variety of meetings with Council officers and elected members, local Community Builders and Connectors followed by a local Community of Practice meeting. Thurrock

Wednesday 6 November: Voices & Influence event. Torbay

Thursday 7 November: Community Builders Immersion Training Course. Gloucestershire

Friday 8 November: People Powered Change event. Kirklees

Monday 11 November: ABCD & Community Timebanking event. Lewisham. Book online.

Wednesday 13 November: ABCD & Health roundtable event. Birmingham

Friday 15 November: ABCD & Community Timebanking. Porth

**Most events are ‘invitation only’. Where they are not, follow the hyperlink to book a place**

All events are being hosted by organisations that Nurture Development has had the pleasure of working with to some degree and who’re keen to continue to learn from the wealth of experience that Jim, Cormac and Martin bring. Together they have more than 50 years of ABCD knowledge and practice.

We will be tweeting and blogging throughout this ABCD adventure so, if you’re not already, follow @NurtureDev for live coverage. And if you have any questions for Jim, post them here.

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Felling the forest

This past weekend, I watched the film ‘Get Low’ – it was recommended to me by Cormac following a conversation about Community Builders (can you spot who the Community Builder is in the film?). It is a film filled with wonderful acknowledgements of the gifts we possess and find naturally around us. In many ways, it speaks to some of the core values of ABCD.

Image from the film 'Get Low' (2009)One of the scenes that resonated most with me sees the main character, Felix, walking through the forest that grows on his land with an old friend, Mattie, who he has reconnected with after 40 years of self-imposed isolation:

Mattie: “It really is beautiful out here. It probably looked like this everywhere 100 years ago.”

Felix: “If you leave things alone, they know what to do”

Now, while trying to avoid reading too much into this seemingly simple exchange, for me this is a comment on the society we have constructed. It brought to mind the discussion in McKnight & Block’s The Abundant Community, about today’s ‘depth of dependency’ on professionals and systems to fulfil the functions that were once the concern of families and communities. To bring it back to the film, it struck me that this scene is a comment about how the world now is (Mattie’s remark) and how it was and should be (Felix’s remark).

For those within the ABCD movement, this ‘depth of dependency’ is one of the core concerns. We have ‘outsourced to professionals’, those people who get paid, everything from the ‘well-being of our children’ to ‘physical health, entertainment, nutrition, employment, mental well-being, care for the elderly, and stewardship of the land.’

‘All have been outsourced to professionals. All are organized in systems designed to deliver these functions in as efficient, low-cost, and consistent a way as possible.’

The systematisation and professionalisation of everyday functions has deskilled many and has desensitised most to their abilities, talents and skills that enable them to lead self-fulfilled lives, create greater equality and ensure a healthier society. To exhaust the film simile further, we have felled the forest with the hope of creating a more efficient ecosystem but are now realising that the trees knew what to do all along. And when you fell the forest completely you are left with a desert; a baron wasteland.

The news headlines over the last couple of days have spoken to this ‘dependency’ – a ‘something for nothing’ culture. In many ways, worklessness is a manifestation of the dependency we have created and, according to research published in July, is being passed down through generations:

‘Unemployed young adults whose fathers were also out of work are actually happier when not working.’

Ivan Illich, the well-known critic of institutions within Western culture, offers an interesting perspective in his essay ‘Shadow-work’ on ideas around ‘worklessness’ which is tempting to bring in here, but deserves its own blog post. In the essay he points to a central tenet of dominant social theory that ‘work is presented as the stone of wisdom, the panacea, the magic elixir which transforms what it touches into gold.’

This is where asset based community development (ABCD) lends itself as a powerful non-political lens through which to view how we turn the tide on dependency – not just in terms of those claiming benefits, but more broadly on those everyday functions that you and I are best placed to do for ourselves and each other.

A system ‘solution’ to a system ‘problem’ isn’t really going to get us anywhere – these approaches miss the wood for the trees, and so just keep chopping the forest down. ABCD enables a different kind of conversation; it is a window to the forest that magnifies the ability of the natural world to work together, to nourish one another, and to thrive. This is what requires a more prominent arena for discussion.