Visiting Blackpool and a fantastic recovery project

Sun 1 – Sat 7 May 2016

Good weather and chillin

A week of improving weather as it progressed. The previous Sunday was quite nice but Bank Holiday Monday was overcast. Then gradually it got warmer and brighter everyday until finishing with a weekend just gone of glorious weather. That lovely ‘summer in the city’ feeling coming and before London gets unbearably hot.

And in fitting with the better weather, I had some lovely chilled days particularly Bank Holiday Monday and the weekend just gone (the latter reinforced by the brilliant news that we had a new Mayor and lazy, pompus, right-wing Boris Johnson was gone).

Previous Sunday was as relaxing as the Saturday detailed in my last blog. I helped mum with her laundry then had lunch with Dave before back to his flat to potter on the pooter and read. Pretty similar on Bank Holiday Monday: gym, lunch with Dave then laying on the sofa simultaneously doing stuff on the pooter and watching ‘Dracula Untold’ on DVD. Latter was good though I can see why it was not too successful as it really was quite tame for the Dracula legend which has been done to death.

Rugby LeagueGot chilled again towards the end of the week. Friday afternoon off work to celebrate my birthday, this led onto a wonderfully relaxed weekend. On Saturday (and Sunday) went to the gym and had that that lovely ‘Billy time’ before the gym opens at 10 where I drink coffee and read. On Saturday, after the gym with Dave for lunch at the snazzy Brasserie Zedel by Piccadilly Circus – Parisian grandeur. Spent most of the rest of the weekend pottering on the pooter and watching rugby league – a great game with sexy men. Weather was fantastic with all the doors and windows open to try to keep cool.


BlackpoolOne of the major events of last week was my visit to Blackpool. This is a city I like though it is down on its luck and still trying to find its role. Part of its problem is that despite being a seaside resort, the weather there is often dreadful. Indeed, Dave and I have been here before when it is pissing down but sunny and warm in the south. Doesn’t help being on the Irish Sea getting the wind and rain off the Atlantic. But when I was there on Wednesday and Thursday the weather was lovely. Bright with blue sky though slightly chilled in the evening. I think the best weather I have ever seen whilst I’ve been in Blackpool with lots of people outside at the bars and cafes having a drink.

Jobs, Friends, Houses

Jobs Friends HousesThe reason I was up there was to see a very successful Abstinence-Based Recovery project. Blog readers will know that I oversee a group of ABR ‘Recovery Community’ projects around England and that I am very impressed with the way some people can overcome their addiction issues by following abstinence rather than just harm reduction.

When we funded the ABR Recovery Community projects about 18 months ago, there were other brilliant projects that unfortunately we didn’t have sufficient funds to offer a grant to. One of these was Jobs Friends Houses, a project in Blackpool obtaining and renovating derelict properties with people in recovery being trained to do the renovation then becoming tenants in those houses. Jobs Friends Houses 2Pushed forward by Steve Hodgkins (seconded from Lancashire Police), JFH has progressed so impressively. The event on Thursday in the Victorian splendour of Blackpool’s Grand Theatre was to celebrate the success of JFH over the first year and particularly the achievements of those within it who are in recovery from addiction to drink and/or drugs. This included commendations from the local police.

The Science of Recovery

One of the highlights of the event was the presentation by the initiative’s evaluator Prof David Best of Sheffield Hallam University and he made some key points about the success of JFH which applies to other successful ABR projects:

  • The average time for a person to be an addict is 27 years and the normal age to desist from addiction is 40. However the desistance age for people involved in crime is 28 so effectively addiction can extend criminal activity by another 10 years in affected individuals.
  • Successful recovery from any addiction is based on CHIME: Connectedness; Hope; Identity; Meaning; Empowerment.
  • Recovery is a social process and the biggest indicator of success is changing a person’s social network from being dominated by others who are addicted to people who have not been addicted or are in recovery as well.
  • The level of an individual’s success in recovery is specifically linked to the amount of people in their network who are also in recovery, and their own involvement in purposeful activities (key to recovery is GOYA – Get Off Your Arse!) but noting it takes about 6 months for a person’s neural patterns to change so that they have moved from their original addiction and towards having other stimuli providing them with a sense of reward.
  • Social connectendess is also the biggest single factor in reducing mortality and morbidity – more important than reducing weight or desisting from alcohol and cigarettes.
  • 80% of people in long-term recovery are active in their local community compared to 40% of the general population. Thus the increased number of people in long-term recovery has huge benefits for general society.
  • In JFH’s first year, there was a 94% reduction in offending by people in recovery linked to the project – that represents a general financial saving to society of around £800,000.

Another Train Story

Good train journey there and back. In a previous blog Brief EncounterI wrote about my train journey to Stoke where the people opposite had a very boring conversation comparing their drug experiences. On the way to Blackpool I had an equally interesting conversation opposite me; another wonderful little human episode. A middle age business man assisted an African lady with her bags as she got on so after sorting them out she sat next to him. He then spent the rest of the journey chatting her up (swapping numbers, etc) and she seemed to reciprocate. But she missed her stop so another man stepped in to offer to assist her at the following station, where he was also getting off, with finding her right connection. Basically first man looked as though he had lost out to the second man as he and the lady got off the train together and stood chatting on the platform.

Health and Efficiency

Gym on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Just love that feeling of pottering round the gym, trying out different machines and exercises including ones not done for a while. My routine constantly changes though I do keep to some key points like working on calves and achilles plus the main body parts: chest, lower back, upper back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, legs, abs.

Monday and Wednesday were holistic all-over work-outs but on Saturday I tried a different tack. I was supposed to go for a jog-run on Saturday morning but my achilles was still aching after my good jog-run on the previous Saturday. So I decided to do the gym on three consecutive days concentrating on different body parts each day: Sat – legs; Sun – core; Mon – upper body.

Yo-yo weight back up to 13-10.


So last Tuesday my new post officially started overseeing our Tech for Good work as a job-share with my colleague Nissa (plus having oversight of our Abstinence-Based Recovery projects until they finish in Sept). The new directorate structure was launched that day with a celebration breakfast and on a practical level I handed over papers related to aspects of my previous post. These are some of the great TfG projects I am overseeing:

  • CAST – the Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology and specifically two initiatives: Digital Fellowships to train 9 charity CEOs fully to scratch around the use of digital and the Fuse Accelerator to develop 7 new charitable digital services and products
  • Wavemaker – the digital exploration and creation space in Stoke being funded in partnership with Nominet Trust and particularly targeted at disadvantaged young people
  • Toynbee Hall – developing Digital Money Mentors: taking a successful face to face training programme and turning it into an e-learning platform
  • HullCoin – using blockchain technology to reward people undertaking social activity with a ‘currency’ that can then be exchanged for good and services so boosting the local economy
  • Apps for Good – this organisation works in schools to teach young people coding and business skills; our funding will help them recruit more female experts and role models so getting more girls engaged and challenging sexism in the wider digital sector
  • Albert Kennedy Trust – this much respected agency supporting homeless LGBT young people is seeking to develop its successful fact-to-face mentoring service into an e-mentoring service that will help young people avoid becoming homeless

SMITFTuesday afternoon I had a meeting with Tim Bissett. My former boss and now in charge of fundraising at St Martin in the Fields, a central London church with a huge social commitment particularly around homelessness. Tim is an all round good guy and very enthusiastic about the potential of tech. Indeed, when I worked for him he was very forward-thinking developing projects like CUF-X (CUF Exchange) – a platform and network to link all the anti-poverty projects being funded via CUF (Church Urban Fund). We developed this nearly 10 years ago but the platfom was technically not great and our projects not developed enough around digital; it really was an idea way ahead of its time.

I attended a Digital Invention Session at work on Friday morning where we have presentations by digital agencies on products and services that might be of interest. As its appeal is cross-organisation, many of the pitches are by private companies and for means to achieve better marketing and fundraising. Not totally relevant to my work but still very insightful into what is going on in other parts of the digital universe and I am grateful to my colleague Pete for arranging it. Worth noting that simultaneously I was able to check the votes being counted for the London elections live on the internet.

Also on Friday had a meeting with Joe Saxton of nfpSynergy particularly to talk about their report on digital in the not-for-profit sector ‘Long Live the Digital Revolution in Charities’. Good to share our thinking with each other.

Books and Reading

Oliver SacksMy main book read last week was On the Move. A Life the autobiography of the noted neurologist Oliver Sacks, described as ‘the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’. Biographies (and autobiographies) are not normally my thing at all. My recently deceased mate James used to love political autobiogs and I would always say ‘but you know what is going to happen’. I don’t know much about Oliver Sacks apart from he wrote some pretty amazing books (one leading to the lovely film ‘Awakenings’), was super-intelligent, and was gay.

Not quite a revelatory book but one I could take a lot from. Oliver himself was someone with a brain the size of a planet but lacking many social skills – a set of characteristics I have seen many times in real life. He puts forward so many things I can empathise with particularly being peripatetic/nomadic and not wanting to be tied down, the joy that comes through writing, and the value of just observing people – indeed drinking coffee and people-watching is one of my most favourite activities. I’m not taken with his obsession about motorcycling but I appreciated his honesty in admitting his own drug problems. Indeed he shows people with addictions should not be written off and can do amazing things if they can get past their addiction.

Should have attended Velvet Page (LGBT) Book Club on Thursday night but was too knacked after coming home from Blackpool. Arrived at Euston (late) around 18.40 then bus back and voted – basically most of evening gone by then.

Some great Dr Who audio-books listened to. The Eye of the Scorpion features the fifth Doctor (Peter Davidson) and introducing Erimem – the female pharoah who becomes a companion and goes travelling with the Doctor and Peri. A decent enough romp in Ancient Egypt but also with an alien presence. Not the best audio adventure and it did lose my attention a bit towards the end.

Bit more of Dr Who and the Crusaders, the wonderfully rich 1960s story that deserves to be digested in pieces. An episode almost totally about Ian being entrapped by a thief but double-crossing him. A wonderfully unrushed story.

And finally The Rapture – actually one of the best Dr Who audio books. The seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace go to Ibiza. They meet aliens discguised as angels using drugs and dance music for a nefarious end that I’m not entirely sure of. What is wonderful about it is the way that the story understands how the whole rave scene worked and affected people’s behaviour, seeing and believing things that weren’t real. And it’s got various appearances by Tony Blackburn that actually works brilliantly.


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