A guest blog by the team at Edinburgh Recovery Activities (ERA):
Michael McCarron (Senior Development Officer) & Jemma Eveleigh (Community Development Worker)
From the outset, we wanted ERA to be fresh, innovative and community led. We were both very excited about how the steering group was set up – full of members of the community as opposed to a tokenistic approach – making sure they had the loudest voice in driving the organisation forwards, from our activities through to the operation of the project.
We officially launched in August of 2019 with our community BBQ at Bridgend Farm. In our minds we thought about 30 to 40 folk would turn up and we’d be sending them home at the end with the leftover food. The main focus of our chats was if the weather would be good. On the day of the BBQ, it was scorching hot, we had well over 100 people, ran out of food and had to go and buy more supplies! All that was left at the end was some ketchup and a few cans of juice. It was at this point we both realised we hadn’t sat down all day, never mind getting to eat one of the burgers we’d had our sights set on for a week!
ERA has had its share of challenges to overcome, like the fact loads of ideas for groups but no building to run them from. A lot of our time was spent meeting organisations to see if we could rent space from them, but in Edinburgh that’s no easy task. On a few occasions we were met with apprehension due to the stigma around alcoholics and addiction. However, in time, we managed to piece together various groups – HIIT, Yoga, Book Group and Mum’s group – and began holding one-off events and monthly activities. Who knew there was so many avid bowlers in the recovery community? Our karaoke nights at the Biscuit Factory were a great laugh – at least once people got over their initial fear of the mic. Sometimes tuneful – sometimes not so much 😊 – they were also full of fun and family friendly.
When lockdown hit, we had to change our approach, quickly diverting our focus from designing a service policy to a pandemic plan! Taking lessons from the speedy response of the anonymous fellowships we moved our established groups online and finding ourselves with the freedom to run groups throughout the day – without the constraints of building availability and having to travel from venue to venue – found space to develop new ones.
The ERA mantra has always been ‘Proceed until apprehended’ and while we often worked to that notion, in response to COVID-19 it soon became a firm motto. Being fully aware of the purpose of our organisation, we couldn’t ignore the challenges our community was facing, and had to become flexible in defining ‘recovery activities’. We put in place our ‘Keeping Connected Fund’ which provided devices and data for those in need to get online and introduced crisis grants to help those having to make choices between food and getting online to support their recovery.
In the two years since the project begun, we have had some fantastic highs. Things like the Karaoke nights seeing everyone up, singing and dancing. The formation of Mum’s Groups which has now evolved into a Parents Peer Support group. The success of the Creative Writing group – one published book featured at the Portobello Book Festival and a second about to launch. Recovery month during lockdown – we managed to put together a celebratory day where we sent out picnics to community members all over Edinburgh and played bingo on Zoom! There was also a very funny moment during our Graffiti workshop when Jemma and Holly were working on the “Y” at the end of the word Recovery. Let’s just say, it looked more like something suggestable than a “Y”! It’s still impossible not to see it when we look at the photos.
We find ourselves excited about what the future holds; getting back to Ten Pin Bowling and developing more fun activities and events. We’re very much looking forward to moving into a ‘new ERA’ which will see us with our own building to run out of and continue to grow along with all the amazing folk we get to work with every day.
We also have to say a massive thank you to EVOC for their continuing support of which we are truly grateful.
Mick & Jemma (April 2021)