Nurture Development

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) come to life


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When we reject the single story we regain a kind of paradise: Why Jubilant Stories matter!

This blog reflects on the dangers of becoming trapped in the single story. This is a ubiquitous risk. From getting trapped in our personal history, to the dangers inherent in how media shape messages for our consumption, we all need the inoculation that a multiplicity of diverse and contradictory stories bring.

“Show a people as only one thing, over and over again and they become that one thing.”

These are the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian novelist who has dedicated herself to writing about the many stories of her life; her country and her continent. Her newest book, The Thing Around Your Neck, is a brilliant collection of stories about Nigerians struggling to cope within a corrupted context in their home country, and about the Nigerian immigrant experience.

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Adichie in her TED talk, which you can listen to here, remarks that:

“At about the age of seven … I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: all my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather: ‘how lovely it was that the sun had come out’. This despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria; we didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.”

In much the same way, when it comes to the stories of disability and mental health challenges or recovery from addiction or for people in (or with experience of) prison, there is a lot of stereotyping. A single story dominates: one of deficit and dependency on professional services.

When we take care to ask people what a good life might look like and invite them to share their stories of how their good life has previously manifested in their lives, a fuller truth is revealed. None of them are single stories, none of them stereotype, or diagnose, or fix. They are in sum, the human story, we understand them because of our shared humanity….

Adichie rightly points out that:

“How [stories] are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told — are really dependent on power.”

To illustrate this point further she notes:

“If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner.”

Similarly when we only hear, record, and tell the single story of people living with disability or mental health challenges for example, and we talk only about need for services and peoples deficits, we take power and dignity away from the people we serve and or love, and we also diminish ourselves. This is exactly what we are working with the Barnwood Trust to mitigate.

Jubilant Stories like this one matter:

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

These stories have tremendous power, in that they testify to the fact that hospitality does indeed exist throughout the county. But they also lay down a challenge to us, to create even greater hospitality, and to set our face against exclusion. They invite us to step over our stereotypes and societal imposed thresholds, to expand our repertoire of stories by coming closer to people with disabilities and mental health challenges or with experiences of addiction or prison. And to listen more carefully and invite more heartily their stories, gifts and dreams into our lives. When we become a character in their Jubilant Story, and they in ours, we will discover the real meaning of community and be all the better for it.

Cormac Russell

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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 rebecca@nurturedevelopment.org or visit www.nurturedevelopment.org.


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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


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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

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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@nurturedevelopment.org.

Rebecca Daddow