Beth Collinson will be joining the Fulfilling Lives national evaluation team from April 2019 leading on our learning programme. In this, her first blog, she talks about the inspiration gained from attending a recent event held by one of the Fulfilling Lives partnerships.

Throughout my PhD, the social contagion of recovery (from substance misuse), became a predominant element of my work. In one of my first presentations, I explained that just as human emotions like happiness can be contagious, recovery is too. A colleague of mine (Professor David Best) explains in his work that the social contagion of recovery has the potential for “transmitting hope and the belief that recovery is possible even to those who are not yet ready to commit to abstinence“.

Through the work that I have done and the people I have met, I strongly believe that hope truly is contagious, and holds powerful implications for determining change. Last week I attended Birmingham Changing Futures Together Systems Change Challenge conference – and it was clear that those who spoke did so with absolute passion and determination, and consequently spread hope amongst the audience members. I left feeling inspired… we can all make a small difference. If each attendee spreads the learning from the conference, then the contagion of hope can be spread further and further afield.

So, what can you do to help spread the hopeful message of recovery? Well, if you attended, promise to make your commitment (written on your commitment card from the day) come true, as small steps forward can have monumental effects when we take them together. If you were unable to attend, you can still help! Promise to do something today to spread the contagion of hope, whether that be a conversation with a friend about supporting those affected by multiple disadvantage  or if you are a frontline worker, complementing a colleague or beneficiary by telling them what an amazing job they’re doing.

So what did I do? Well, I returned the next day to teach at Sheffield Hallam University, having planned the seminars for the ‘Life Beyond Crime, Substance Use and Offending’ module around the key conference messages. The students and I engaged in an interesting discussion around the current systems and policies that frequently hinder those experiencing multiple disadvantage. I used Jean Templeton’s (keynote speaker and Chief Executive of St Basils) example of people being passed around services like a “hot potato” – frequently being denied help and struggling to navigate the complex systems. Later I discussed the powerful and emotional performance given by Geese Theatre which leaves my students in shock, asking questions such as – “What? A £46 discharge grant and they’re expected to be OK?” and “They have to request help from all those separate organisations?”

Within the performance from Geese Theatre I again see how significant the contagion of hope can be. Gina (a mother recently released from prison), shows great hope when released from prison. Hopeful to regain custody of her children; hopeful to stay abstinent; hopeful to join a women-only support service. Unfortunately,  and much like the experience of many others, Gina faces a number of significant barriers and challenges which act to hinder her recovery and desistance journey and threaten her previously very hopeful attitude.

So, let’s all be part of the solution and implement change, so that next time – Gina’s contagion of hope can blossom and spread to others who have faced similar experiences, creating a ripple effect of increasing positivity and recovery support.