WY-FI Project

West Yorkshire – Finding Independence | Supporting people with multiple needs

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And so my recovery journey began…

Back in 1991 I was once again heading down to the dark place that those who are traumatised and addicted know only too well. Sweating and shaking, delusional, and on day one of the delirium tremors, a special horror of demon faces rushing at you from the kitchen wall, insects crawling over your skin, fever and pain.  The mind begins to collapse after such anguish and I’d been through it a hundred times before.  3 days later I had 3 choices, go see some expert addiction councillor my father had found, continue trying to block the madness using any substance I could lay my hands on or hang myself.  Bizarrely I chose none of them and phoned a mutual aid group instead.  Some guy called Maurice appeared at my door and took me to my first mutual aid meeting. I hated it but recognised that these people sat in a dusty church hall had been where I’d been and knew about something that I’d never heard of before, recovery.

And so my recovery journey began.  I stopped drinking and taking drugs and soaked myself in meetings and I spent hours in people’s houses drinking copious amounts of tea and learnt about the recovery community. I suddenly had friends. A man who lived just round the corner from me started coming round to mine sharing his story, he scared me at first, proper Wythenshawe lad, and his experience was both different to mine and the same. Where I’d spent years locked up in psychiatric hospitals he’d spent years in prison; I’m god father to his daughter who is now grown up, he is my brother and one of the best friends I have ever had.  I met so many people from all walks of life and they bent over backwards to help me. They explained why I behaved in the way I did and I saw that every time I spent time with others like me I felt a relief,  a lessening of the horror that has plagued my head for years and years.  Connection with my friends in the community had a healing effect.  I have found this to be true in the many different types of mutual aid meetings, connection with other addicts is fundamental.  I also learnt that the substance is really of very little importance, if it was simply a matter of stopping drinking/using then once you’d done that everything would be fine, but as all addicts know it’s not fine. Recovery has to be a way of life, a lifestyle that never takes a break, connection with others has to be maintained.  I have found that you also need to be connected closely to a small group of friends, just 2 or 3 that truly know you. I’m lucky to have such people in my life, my little sister who I share everything with, a woman I would never have met had I been normal, keeps me sane, she is my soul friend and we are connected, this is what the recovery community really is. I also learnt that unfortunately I had other conditions that needed addressing, mental health and significant trauma. A life spent in addiction utterly traumatises a person and of course those childhood traumas that most addicts have lurking in their cupboards ready to jump out and re traumatise them at any stressful moment. A catalogue of failed relationships and damage to self and to the many others that were damaged in the addictive journey, regrets and shame pile up till you can barely look at yourself in the mirror anymore.

And this gets me to the point of all this.  If you want to help people recover from addiction or trauma or mental health then it’s quite simple really, you create a space that’s safe and kind where people who suffer can connect. Secondly in that safe place give people a chance to explore their condition, knowledge really is power, and lastly you help connect people with the recovery community.  My own recovery has nothing to do with the professionals I met and all to do with the people I connected to.  I was at a big conference event and a professional, a service provider, was talking about mutual aid and unfortunately he was completely wrong. I don’t mean this in a nasty way it was simply that as with most professionals their understanding of mutual aid and recovery is still rooted in the old school war on drugs harm and crime reduction and outcomes and a focus on the substance in the case of addiction. This mentality has dominated services for decades.   There are very few professionals who get what recovery actually is though there are workers who really try to help and some that don’t.  Mutual aid is anarchistic, there are no managers or leaders, no policies and procedures, just a few guide lines, each group runs itself, there’s no safeguarding or risk assessment and somehow it bumbles along and has worked for decades unseen by the professional world. And more than this is the recovery community that comes out of this connection; it’s huge and worldwide.  I connected with the recovery community in Barbados, Greece, France, Spain and spent times in stranger’s houses who then became friends. The governor of Philadelphia looking at the poor outcomes of services in his state asked the question is there any one recovering in America, he found there were, 20 million. So he then asked the question, what are these people doing and how can we do something similar. A good man. The doctor I was seeing when first in recovery was astounded that the wreck of a man she had been treating for years suddenly and inexplicably began to recover. She became interested in what I was doing and attended open meetings and guided others towards the recovery community.

Unfortunately my first open minded doctor was an exception.  During my journey I have met many professionals who were fiercely opposed to mutual aid.  I’ve been told by mental health professionals and GP’s and substance misuse services that I should stop attending mutual aid, it’s a cult, and it causes more harm than good. Right through the 90’s and beyond, there has been a severe lack of understanding on the part of services and professionals about the recovery community.  It is only in the last few years that a small change has taken place but still the lack of knowledge is astounding.  A chasm exists between services and the recovery community, as an expert, part of the WY-FI Network, I really believe that we have a duty to try and explain what the recovery community is and how it works to services. There are many types of mutual aid and all are valuable.  It’s not just meetings it’s conversations in cafes, houses, social events, it’s connection. I live on my own but when I look out of the window I can see my friends like beacons of light across West Yorkshire. There’s M probably putting his daughter to bed, he’ll text me later. There’s A starting a new chapter of his novel.  There’s J checking the locks and counting things. And there’s D who will ring me later and talk at a hundred miles an hour and jump from one subject to another and bizarrely I’ll understand all of it.  These are my brothers and sisters who keep me safe and step in when I’m not well, we carry each other through the difficult recovery journey, we are a community and we did this ourselves, made this astonishing community, it is separate from services and should remain so but services would be enhanced by an understanding of the community and all it does.  One thing I have learnt is that I often don’t know, in fact I often don’t know quite a lot.  A service that is willing to say those words, I don’t know, but is willing to learn, has the potential to be a great service.  So go on, give it a go. Say those words, actually I don’t think I know.


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Shadowing a Navigator

Naseem Tariq: Sharing my experience of shadowing a WY-FI Navigator

“I have been in post as a Senior WY-FI ETE worker (Touchstone), at the Dewsbury office for nearly a month now; I loved the word my manager used for my induction which was “drip feed”. I certainly needed this, not due to a lack of past knowledge and experience but to be able to really understand what WY-FI is about. As part of my induction period   I spent a day shadowing Carla who is the navigator from BARCA.

This was an opportunity for both me and Carla to share best practice and to observe what the navigators do on a daily basis. The experience bought back many memories from the past as a housing support worker.

I found this to be an excellent networking tool and beneficial in facilitating the break down of any internal barriers across the working environment. It also can improve communication across departments, faculties and sites. Shadowing also allows individuals to view the processes they are involved in from a different angle.

I was looking to gain a greater understanding of what a Navigator’s job role actually consists of, which no doubt has its ups and downs but can be very rewarding after accomplishment; this is what I witnessed with Carla. After finishing off the day I could see the satisfaction on Carla’s face, it had been a very productive day!

Supporting someone with complex needs is very challenging. Navigators have to build consistent, positive and trusting relationships. A personalised approach which addresses the full approach of beneficiary’s needs and is culturally sensitive to particular needs of specific groups including women and people of black and minority ethnic backgrounds. They support beneficiaries to recognise and develop personal strengths and links with other services in an attempt to coordinate continuity in care during key transitions.

If a service cannot provide support, they take responsibility for connecting the beneficiary with someone who can. A flexible approach to support and the ability to react quickly in crisis is a skill in its self.

I would like to take this opportunity to say well done to all the navigators for doing a great job and to keep up the good work. Carla thanked me for giving her the opportunity to share her experiences and gave her the chance to review and reflect on her own area of work. Carla also thanked me for the insight on some culturally sensitive issues which will help her support her beneficiaries more effectively.

What I took away from that day was the calmness and empathy Carla presented throughout the day. Carla achieved her objective in ensuring her beneficiaries support needs were met for that session. I would highly recommend that any newcomers be given the opportunity to be involved in a shadowing experience; it is a different ball of game in reality and very beneficial.

I am now confident the ETE and Navigator teams can work more positively together and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member.  When a team is able to work well together they accomplish more than individuals can do alone.

On this note I would recommend to organise a team building session in the very near future. This would be beneficial in promoting broader learning about each others different processes and approaches.”

Naseem Tariq

Touchstone Senior WY-FI ETE Worker

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Picture1.jpgJoe from the Hub here, thrilled that the Co-Production Team at WY-FI finally has five new members of staff! Their aim is to connect WY-FI beneficiaries with opportunities to participate in the WY-FI Network and other meaningful activities in their local areas. Here’s how each of them found their first week in the new job.


Edmund Abbott (Wakefield)

“There is something different about traveling to a paid job.  I’ve been volunteering for some time but suddenly finding myself employed makes me feel like a part of society again, joining the rush to work like a fully-fledged member of the working world.  This week I’ve been based in Leeds for a 3 week induction and have met my fellow co-production champions.  I think this has been the best part of the week, connecting with my colleagues and feeling part of a team, and a great bunch they are to with a whole host skills and ideas.

Part of the week has been spent meeting other members of the WY-FI team and gaining an insight into their roles in the organization. We have also attended the inductions for the peer mentoring 12 week course in Dewsbury and Wakefield and have given the new course members and idea of what co-production is.  Joe has been great and given us all a good grounding in DISC policies and procedures and all the practicalities of starting the new role of co-production champions.

The conversations between my new colleagues has been most useful and has given me many ideas of how this new role will best work.  We have also met several members of the DISC team and their input into WY-FI. All in all it’s been a productive week and I’m looking forward to the rest of the induction process.”

Vicky Ashington (Calderdale)

“I have been working as a peer mentor for Calderdale for the last year. In that role I’d placed strong emphasis on group working and engaging beneficiaries. I was thrilled when the paid role of co-production champion came up as it seemed a natural and exciting progression.

This first week; leaving the shire! And commuting over to Leeds has made me feel like a professional person again. I’ve loved meeting my team and felt completely supported in bouncing ideas around and sharing our hopes and fears of how we will best meet the needs of our new role. There has been lots of practicalities that have, had to have been worked through, but equally plenty of time to get creative.

The fact that the role has been designed specifically for us has made the (extremely daunting) transition from benefits to paid work seem far less daunting than I ever thought it would as I was supported by both management and my team.

I’m so excited to see not only how my own role develops,  but also to meet weekly with my team and to share what their successes and failures have been to help us all better understand how to move forward within our localities. My experiences has been very positive so far and I know that when it isn’t quite as ‘rosy’ that I’ll be able to open up to great group of people who are able to support me.”

Rachel Boardman (Bradford)

“Coming from the background of a volunteer/peer mentor in Bradford, I have found that my first week has had its highs and lows. I have enjoyed spending time on team building and getting to know the other Co-production champions. By the middle of the week I was overwhelmed, I did not know what would be expected of me or what my job description would entail and I found this to be quite frustrating and felt quite anxious. However, as the week has progressed I feel like I have found my feet and feel like things are sliding into place. I am confident that I will be able to carry out the duties that will be expected of me. We have attended short training sessions on things like health and safety and policies and procedures which I have found to be informative and I am looking forward to the coming weeks and spending time at our location (Bradford).”

Darren Pedley (Leeds)

“I have been asked by DISC and WY-FI as a project to give some feedback on how I have personally found the induction experience of my new Co-production Champion job role.

I have been quite lucky really that our meeting place has being in the Leeds Hub as this has been my working environment for the last couple of years as a peer mentor.

I also imagine of how difficult and challenging this must have been as an idea to develop and manage, in such a way to try to accommodate us as a team individually, as we all have very different personal needs as employees with lived experience.

From WY-FI’s but especially from DISC’s perspective this new role is a completely different job description to any other role within the organisation as a collaborative venture, which is such a great concept to be part of and really interesting from my perspective. Really exciting work. I think our team will bring a creative range of perspectives to this job role.” 

Jon Mills (Kirklees)

“After peer mentoring for a while and some involvement in Co-production projects, I applied for this role believing it was the way to go and that I wanted to be part of it.

Highlights of my week have included …… sharing our experiences with two new groups of ‘cohorts’ from whom I received support and encouragement for the future and….being part of a new team who all have something different to offer and with whom I feel we have bonded well. I look forward to us growing together and supporting each other over the next eighteen months.

My hope for the future is that I will be able to establish and promote a role which plays a significant part in what WY-FI aims to achieve and that I’ll be able to support /enable beneficiaries to engage in such a way that benefits themselves and their communities.”