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| March 2014
Make It Happen! |
Service user conference 2014
’m a recovering addict,’
Sophie Strachan
of Positively UK told delegates at
Make It Happen!
’s opening session. ‘I’ve chosen complete abstinence. I’m also
HIV-positive and have been living with HIV for 11 years.’
Positively UK had been an established charity since 1987, she told the conference,
after being set up in someone’s living room. ‘We go to clinics and prisons and we’re all
living with HIV – it’s the therapeutic value of one person helping another. We’d love to
go into more prisons but we don’t receive any funding for that.’
Her organisation also had a mentoring programme, she told delegates –
recruiting and training people to Open College Network accreditation level – as well
as a pregnancy project, a youth project and a forthcoming a children and family
project. ‘It’s that single intervention of alleviating isolation, because so many people
with HIV live in isolation.’
Issues for HIV positive drug users included co-infection of hepatitis C and drug-
resistant TB as well as denial of problematic drug use and their HIV diagnosis, she said.
‘I have a big group of friends and some of themdon’t want to get tested, but there are
somany positives – excuse the pun – about knowing your status. Knowledge is power
– you get to look after your health and reduce onward infection.’
Anyone living with HIV knew the impact that the associated stigma could have,
she told the conference. ‘At one point it was thought that having access to
treatment would help to reduce that, but that hasn’t happened. People aren’t
informed, and we can play a key role in that – I’m one face of thousands of people
living with HIV.’ Peer support was vital, she stressed. ‘When I got my diagnosis I was
in prison, and it was another positive person who sowed the seed of hope. We know
that peer support works.’
Positively UK was also involved in lobbying, advocating, capacity building and
human rights awareness, she said, producing a report called
HIV behind bars
looked in depth at human rights abuses in UK prisons, including gender-based
‘I’ve turned my HIV into a gift,’ she said. ‘I felt so powerless when I was given the
diagnosis – I was raging – but I’ve turned that around. No one should have to deal
with a diagnosis alone. And they don’t.’
Danny McCubbin
of the San Patrignano UK Association described how the Italian
long-term residential rehab facility had helped more than 25,000 people since it
was founded in 1978, with a 72 per cent success rate and 1,300 people currently on
the programme.
‘It’s similar to a kibbutz,’ he said of the Rimini-based community. ‘Everyone gets
involved in the cooking and farming and helping out.’ San Patrignano had quickly
begun selling its own produce and was now firmly established as a social
enterprise, he explained, marketing a range of products including furniture,
glassware, ceramics and cheese. The facility received no government funding but
raised millions of euros a year through sales and charitable donations. ‘When I first
visited I expected it to be very hippy-herbal, but nothing prepared me for the
enormity of it,’ he said.
‘There’s no one story when it comes to addiction – everyone has their own story,’
he stated. ‘At San Patrignano young people are given the context to confront why
they took drugs in the first place, and after that they can start to rebuild their lives.’
The whole process took three to four years, he said, with the first the most intense.
‘It’s very, very hard work and there are a lot of rules. The first year is incredibly strict,
but when people come to the community they learn to respect each other.’
The UK association helped people to go to San Patrignano and offered
opportunities to those who had been through the community, he said, and its aim
was now to make links with like-minded organisations. ‘It’s very challenging for
young people in this country to have a voice in terms of what they want for their
recovery. What I love about the community is that it’s based on the individual. It
offers a chance for young people to develop lasting skills and build pride in their
achievements. It’s one of the most successful drug rehabilitation projects in the
Make It Happen!
’s opening session heard from
representatives of three service user-driven organisations
Flying the Flag