Comment: Volunteers breaking addiction’s grip

Our social care stars would inspire anyone, says Calum Murray

CrossReach. Picture: TSPL

New Year is a time to look forward, but inevitably inspires reflection on the year just past. At CrossReach, as in other charities and voluntary organisations providing social care in Scotland, we spent 2014 wrestling with public policy shifts, funding constraints and commissioning challenges. But each of the last three years has also closed with an event which puts these challenges into perspective and reminds us exactly why we do what we do.

That’s when we celebrate the graduation of our Recovery Volunteers. People who are in recovery from substance misuse can apply to our Recovery Volunteers programme. They receive training, in much the same way as our staff do, from our people development department then go on to volunteer at one of our rehabilitation services – Rainbow House in Glasgow, for example – using their new skills to support others who have or are experiencing substance misuse issues. Recovery Volunteers are a crucial part of the staff team at Rainbow and are particularly appreciated by people using the service. The programme can also provide a useful step between treatment and employment.

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Just before Christmas, we heard inspiring stories from the remarkable people who completed the Recovery Volunteers’ programme last year. On receiving their awards, each graduate shared something of their recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Providing candid insights to the often unknown and generally unrecognised effort, sacrifice and strength required to begin and maintain recovery, the graduates described the effects of long-term addiction and the homelessness, mental health problems and offending which result. Given the time of year, the thought of separation from parents, partners and children was particularly moving. They shared their deep appreciation for the support received from Rainbow House, the fellowship that supported them in recovery and of the nurture they experienced.

Having heard about the huge amount of work involved in successfully completing the course, the graduates went on to explain their amazement at now being able to support others who are “where we once were”. They told us: “It’s horrible – the drug addiction. I can now hold my head up a wee bit higher and I want to help people,” and “it’s always good to give back, build on potential and give hope and faith to the people in Rainbow. I’m looking forward to the future.”

Having been commended by Dr Sally Bonnar (convener of the Church of Scotland social care council) for putting their personal beliefs about their own recovery into action, the graduates were thanked for their key role within the CrossReach service, giving of themselves in order to support other people in recovery. She noted that “CrossReach couldn’t function to the level it does without our volunteers”.

CrossReach’s chief executive, Peter Bailey, pointed out that volunteering is often undervalued and misunderstood, however “volunteering is not a second- class existence, it is not inferior and it is very often at the top.”

The keynote address at the ceremony was given by one of the 2013 Recovery Volunteers. She recalled that, to be part of the programme, she had pushed herself out of her comfort zone, rebuilt relationships with people and become a leader in Rainbow House, as well as going on to find employment. She said that “the set of skills I learned, that I didn’t have before, are completely priceless. I bring them into my life every day and I feel comfortable again in my own skin.”Hearing about the transformation that can be brought about by something as simple as an opportunity to learn and support others was inspiring.

Stories like these are the reason we are involved in social care. We believe everyone has strengths, talents and skills to offer and that everyone can be an active member of their community. At times, we all need support to achieve this and organisations like CrossReach exist to offer some of that support. It’s easy to become discouraged by the challenges we face, but with inspirational people like our Recovery Volunteers all around us, we will begin 2015 with these challenges in perspective and with a clear understanding of why we do this work.

Our special thanks go to photographer Timothy Aikman ( who took the official photographs at the Recovery Volunteer graduation and who was one of our 2013 Recovery Volunteer graduates.

• Calum Murray is Director of Adult Care Services at CrossReach (